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Ground Zero 9/11/02
By Jim Willingham
[Printer-Friendly Version]To suffer woes which Hope thinks infinite;
To forgive wrongs darker than death or night;
To defy Power, which seems omnipotent;
To love, and bear; to hope 'til Hope creates
From its own wreck, the thing it contemplates.
These words are from poet Percy Shelley, an antidote to the John Wayne thing, and we need symbolic alternatives to the glory of immortality formed around the warrior ethos - anti-war commitment and anti-John Wayne softening, changing attitudes toward maleness.
We need to mourn. As we grieve for our losses of September 11, we also mourn the losses, military and civilian, of Afghans and Americans. Our military response to the attacks has caused more civilian deaths in Afghanistan than the hijackers caused in our country. Now the broadening of this undeclared war to include a so-called "Axis of Evil" loosens the standards of defense to include pre-emptive strikes.
The cause we are fighting for is madness and grotesque death. A direct image of death, empty and naked, came to us again with Ground Zero, September 11, 2001. "But that was different," you will say. Why? It was us, not them. It was an act of direct terror against a civilian population, not part of a war.
Several years ago, I was telling someone about my Vietnam experience, the defoliation and bomb damage. Suddenly, she said, "You don't care about the Americans. You only care about the Vietnamese." That's the problem: us and them. I spent a year as a cargo pilot picking up dead soldiers and flying them back to the morgue. You think I don't care about my country? I can feel those body bags, their weight, the blank stares and angry grief around them.
Remember the famous picture of the girl running away from the napalm? As awesome an image as the twin towers burning into our psyche for today. An attack fighter swooped down and dropped napalm. It was flown by a young man who grew up in a good family, was educated, went to church and then to war.
We cross the threshhold into another realm, the heroic life trajectory of the call to adventure, the road of trials, going to war for the masters, whom we revere, in the name of patriotism. This formula of the shining hero going against the dragon has been the great device of self-justification for all crusades: the socialized warrior becomes a distorted and manipulated version of the Hero-as-Warrior to cultivate skills in killing for the political-ethical-religious vision of his cause. This process is the same for all, from Napolean to Al-Qaeda to the cavalry at Wounded Knee.
The faces of power prefer manipulated social warriors to less manageable heroes who are dedicated to principles which go beyond either themselves or their country's rulers. Dissenting voices, anti-war veterans and a manifesting culture of peace and peacemakers have emerged. We changed.
We became softer, more tender and vulnerable. It took a war to do that - Vietnam Veterans Against the War and a larger youth culture's collective mockery of prevailing arrangements, the Sixties Generation. As one vet put it, "It's too bad all those people had to die so we could work through our stuff."
From Tennyson's "Charge of the Light Brigade" (Theirs not to reason why, theirs but to do and die) to Country Joe's "Fixin' to Die Rag," (And it's 1,2,3 what are we fightin' for? Don't ask me, I don't give a damn, next stop is Vietnam. Open up the pearly gates!)
George Mizo, a Vietnam veteran for peace, handed me his poem on a march to protest the School of the Americas. In battle, he was the only survivor of his platoon. He died last April.
You, my church, told me it was wrong to kill -
except in war.
You, my teachers, told me it was wrong to kill -
except in war.
You, my father and mother, told me it was wrong to
kill - except in war.
You my friends told me it was wrong to kill -
except in war.
You, my country, told me it was wrong to kill -
except in war.
But now I know
you were wrong -
And now I will tell you -
My father and mother,
It is not wrong to kill - except in war.
It is wrong to kill - period.
And this is what you have to learn, just as I did.
Ground Zero for New York is the same as Ground Zero for Hiroshima, for the 3,000 civilians who were killed in Afghanistan as collateral damage, to the dead and dumb ones burned in the bomb shelter when the cruise missile struck in Baghdad.
Once again, you say: but that was different. How was the terror and immolation for those 1,000 families inside the bomb shelter in Baghdad when struck by a cruise missile any different from the immolation and terror for those trapped inside the airplanes, human missiles, as they struck the twin towers in New York City?
"We strongly oppose any open-ended carte-blanch use of U.S. military power without proper cause or justification from the American people and the United Nations. We in Vietnam Veterans Against the War and Veterans for Peace call upon all who support peace with social justice to act on their principles and join with others in their communities to oppose the 'war on terrorism' as it is currently being waged and we demand the equal protection of everyone's civil rights."
The poet Diane di Prima, wrote:
Alba, for a dark year.
The star, the child the light returns.
The darkness will not win completely,
nor will the green dragon entirely devour the sun.
What is this softness that will not take no for an answer -
That penetrates and masses like love in an empty heart?
Buddha has seen the morning star dawns purple
and then gold in the snowy mountains.
Your hands flicker like sunlight among candles.
Children sit down in the streets
they buy peace with their blood.
It shines on the
Our prayers envelop us like a crystal sphere in which
we are all moving.
Dwight D. Eisenhower, U.S. president, said, "I like to believe that people in the long run are going to do more to promote peace than our governments. Indeed, I think that people want peace so much that one of these days governments had better get out of their way and let them have it."
Jim Willingham is a VVAW contact person in Florida.