Reaping the Whirlwind

by Gene Callahan

For many people, Tuesday morning was like waking to find you were on the set of a disaster movie. The images of planes crashing into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, of the twin towers collapsing, of panic in the streets of Manhattan, all had a dream-like unreality to them. It was only on finding that someone you knew might be involved – killed, injured, trapped in the melee – that the reality of what was occurring would hit like a punch in the stomach.

But this movie set is an all-too-familiar scene to people around the world, outside the borders of our country. We have seen their faces as they searched the rubble for the bodies of their family members, or as they huddled in squalid refugee camps. We have flipped on CNN and watched our government bombing their cities as though we were watching the latest Stallone flick. This was the kind of thing that happened to people far away, with too many consonants in their names or, for God’s sake, towels on their heads.

But those feelings of terror were felt by real people, not extras hired for the filming of American Hegemony II. Those things can happen to you, too. You may find yourself, dizzy with despair and grief, watching rescue workers dig through a pile of stone, looking for someone you love. You may wonder if you will see your children again, or find yourself explaining to them how death may suddenly rain from the sky.

Today’s events should bring home a simple, clear message: It is time to stop the madness. It is time to refuse to lend any support to the ravaging of innocent lives in the world-domination games of the power-mad. It is time for the citizens of every nation to tell their governments that their military power exists only to defend them, and not to make the citizens of other nations behave the way some “leaders” feel they ought. And since most of the readers of are Americans, it is our own nation’s crimes against innocent lives that we must focus on stopping first.

Some people – the very people who have urged the U.S. to poke into every hornet’s nest in the world – will, no doubt, accuse me of cowardice. They miss (or, more likely, quite deliberately ignore) my point. It is not that, because we have been hit, we must now cower in fear. We should attempt to find those responsible and punish them. But today’s horrors, if we are to bring any good forth from evil, must act as a wake up call. This feeling, the one you have today, that gnawing fear at the pit of your stomach: our government has, with far too much regularity, inflicted that feeling on far-flung people who have done as little to offend you as you have to offend the crazed monsters who initiated today’s attacks.

The sudden death of thousands of neighbors, the destruction of landmarks so familiar as to be part of our being, the horrific feeling that neither you nor your family are safe: we now can share these experiences with the people of Dresden, of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, of Vietnam, of Iraq, of Sudan, of Serbia.

When government officials told us that it was a matter of “national interest” that we oppose Hussein, or stop Milosevic, or engage in any of the multitude of other “adventures” we have had overseas, they were endorsing courses of action that would inevitably bring the experience of terror to thousands of innocent victims, who had nothing to do with the policies Hussein, Milosevic, or any other tin-pot dictator were enacting. American aggression does not justify the terrorist actions that took place today; such actions only perpetuate the cycle of violence, and are the foolish deeds of evil men. However, just because rattlesnakes are inherently poisonous, that doesn’t excuse someone who has wandered around the desert sticking his hand under rocks from shouldering part of the blame for the bites he has received.

The terror unleashed today is the result of a horrific, criminal enterprise. Some of those who took part in it are dead already. To make myself perfectly clear, I will reiterate that those still alive should be caught and punished. (Even here, we must exercise vigilance, as it will be very tempting for our government simply to bomb someone, somewhere, to slake the public thirst for vengeance. The call has already gone out, by at least one bloodlust-mad commentator, for us to “strike back one hundred times harder.” If the terrorists have killed 50,000 innocent Americans, then somehow we will set this right by killing 5,000,000 innocent people in some other country!) But you should not doubt this: it is the activities of our own government that have focused the ire of those criminals upon us.

We can only indirectly attempt to control the many violent individuals scattered around the globe, by punishing them after the fact. But, as we live in a democracy, we can try to directly stop the violent activities of our own government. If we can resurrect something positive from the rubble of the World Trade Center, it will be that September 11, 2001 marked a turning point in our nation’s history: it was the day we renewed our resolve, present at our nation’s founding but since tragically lost, to live in peace with all of the other inhabitants of our world.

2001, Gene Callahan

Gene Callahan/Stu Morgenstern Archives