OpEd: Finding Inspiration for Peace

October 2011

It’s been a month since 9/11. A month since we collectively sighed and reflected on the events that shattered our peace. A month of now-familiar bloodshed around the world that has given us little hope that either our nation or the global community is any closer to even a relatively harmonious existence.

The assassination of Burhanuddin Rabbani, Afghanistan’s leader of the High Peace Council and a former president came days after an attack on the American Embassy. Both actions were emblematic of strong opposition to that nation’s movement toward peace.
In the Middle East, disillusionment with the prospect of peace is widespread. A survey of Israeli Jews noted that two-thirds of the respondents said there was no chance of reaching peace with the Palestinians — ever.

In Syria, the prospect of civil war has escalated as intolerance for violations of human rights and the use of force against civilian protesters by the government is reaching a crescendo. In Egypt and Yemen unrest is so prevalent that many in those countries live in constant fear.

Those of us who have been touched only indirectly by violence in Afghanistan, Iraq, and elsewhere, or by the loss of loved ones on 9/11, can only imagine the ongoing grief, anger, and loss suffered by the victims’ (and soldiers’) families and friends. Yet amidst this violence, or perhaps because of it, we can still be touched deeply, as 10 years ago, by stories of astonishing humanity. My campus’ 9/11 vigil was held on the steps of our own Judge Hall, named for Fr. Mychal Judge, the brave Franciscan FDNY chaplain who died offering aid and prayers to the victims and rescuers at the World Trade Center.

The tale of Welles Crowther, the “Man in the Red Bandanna,” a 24 year-old graduate of my alma mater, Boston College, made a deep impression on me. Appearing in the Sky Lobby on the 78th floor of the South Tower, where the airplane had hit, he directed dazed victims to the one open stairway and made successful trips with injured survivors — most of whom were likely strangers to him--all the way to the main floor lobby. He was discovered there, with members of the FDNY, under the rubble of the tower, preparing for still another trip up the tower to rescue others. Two survivors who later identified him from a picture have talked about how knowing his identity helped their healing and offered them hope.

Heroism of a more familiar kind was celebrated days after the 10th anniversary of 9/11 when a young marine sergeant, Dakota Meyer, became the first living soldier from the current wars to be awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor. Disobeying the orders of superiors not on the scene, Meyer made repeated trips under heavy fire to rescue (or recover the bodies of) Afghan as well as American comrades. As he accepted his award at the White House, memorial services were held at his request for four comrades who did not survive the firefight.

Amidst these and other inspiring stories, it is surprising how little commentary on 9/11 has probed the costs of the wars initiated in response to that horrific day, producing extensive civilian as well as military casualties and having significant economic impact. Bi-partisanship is virtually invisible in Washington . . . except for the almost universally shared silence about the “costs” of this strife. These and other wars are now considered part of normal business to be taken for granted.

In contrast, Marie Dennis, co-president of Pax Christi and an internationally respected, award-winning peace and justice activist, spoke on Alvernia’s campus and challenged prevailing thinking through her address, “Love Your Enemies: The Lessons of 9/11.” Yes, she decried the horror of 9/11, shared her anger at the loss of a dear cousin, and affirmed the need for a strong response. But then she offered a perspective that made us all pause.

She noted that the Church’s age old “just war theory,” once widely cited as justification for military action, was now virtually impossible to apply to global conflicts. She questioned the efficacy (and the morality) of the response to 9/11. And as a veteran of peacekeeping and human rights trips to dangerous conflicts in Africa, Latin America, and the Middle East, she suggested that genuine peacemaking, based on humane, countercultural gospel values, and requiring economic justice and respectful dialogue, is the world’s best hope.

Can the problems of famine, genocide, human rights violations, even terrorism be solved without just war? Perhaps not. But 10 years after 9/11, the cycle of violence doesn’t hold much hope for a future with peace. And hope that peace is achievable is what we need right now.

Heroes like Mychal Judge, Welles Crowther, and Dakota Meyer deserve no less. Their moral courage should inspire in us a stronger, more confident effort at peacemaking. Dennis might just be onto something....we have to hope.

Published:

The Morning Call

Photo: Thomas F. Flynn 
Thomas F. Flynn, Ph.D.
President of Alvernia University




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