Two Thousand Nine Hundred Seventy-Seven after Three Thousand Six Hundred Fifty

I want nothing more than to live in a world where war is confined to tabletops no bigger than a room, where the plastic casualties are put back into foam carrier trays, where we blame the simulated death and destruction not on madmen and faulty ideologies, but on literal rolls of the dice. I want to live in a world where war is a game, and never put into practice.

Ten years and a day ago I truly felt we were closer to that ideal than we had ever been in the history of the world. We had some conflicts, but by and large people were coming around to the thought that peaceable solutions were better, in both the short view and the long run. I freely admit that my view of world affairs was skewed very much by my position of privilege in the United States, a nation that hadn’t suffered an act of aggression on its soil in well over fifty years, and an attack on its mainland in close to a century and a half. But there was a sense of optimism in the world in the first half of 2001. We had come through the millennial cusp without any of the foreseen problems. The last global conflict– the Cold War– was nearly ten years in the can, and had ended without the nuclear annihilation that had pervaded the bleakest nightmares of many a child growing up even until the end of the ’80s. Humanity still had its squabbles, but we were beginning to turn our eyes outward: we were getting ready to grow up and leave the nest.

All that changed. The world bore witness to an act so desperate that it could do nothing but succeed. Even in failure, the sheer scope of the nineteen hijacker’s plans was so grandiose that it would inevitably call attention to the goals of its masterminds. They purchased something with their lives that day. They would have called their prize “glory”. In truth, it was “infamy”. We know their names now, and they are cursed by all who still live.

Why is it, do you suppose, we know their names now, and not those of the innocents who died? Why is it that we can name nineteen criminals more easily than we can three thousand good people? Why do we know the names of the damned, and not the names of the souls who rushed into fire and darkness to save those still living? Why do we know their names and not the names of those we should be remembering on this day?

I’m oversimplifying, of course. Those lost in that act are not forgotten, by us or by the world. But the point still stands. We are like those who cradle a broken arm protectively, focusing on the pain, unable or unwilling to move it so the doctor can set the bones properly. Instead of using our good arm to heal ourselves, we put a sword into it, lashing out at the shadows of those who blew themselves up to hurt us.

They’re gone. They’re all gone now, ten years now they’re gone. Those who hurt us, those who looked to see us hurt, they are gone. Others took their place, and they too are gone. More will come. They too will be gone. Who are we taking swings at? Who is it we’re trying to hurt?

I lament this day. I cry. Not for our wound, not for those we lost, but for the us that we lost. Ten years and a day ago, us meant the human race. We were united in our common purpose: to live our lives in peace and gradually better ourselves, to bring us closer to the ideal of a God we couldn’t see– couldn’t even agree on, either in God’s attributes or even very existence– but yet an ideal we all could see was clearly good. Ten years and a day ago, we all were us.

At the end of that day, I went to bed in tears. I was far from home, far away and unable to find comfort around me. There was none to be had. Something had been torn, something had been broken. We had the rare opportunity– all of humanity did– for the first time, not merely to react to what had happened in the past, but to actively define it, to declare exactly what had torn. How we viewed what happened, and how we dealt with it, would forever change us.

We chose– all of us– to tear us apart. The word was redefined. There was us, and over there were them. They had come back, only instead of the Soviets it was now just them. We couldn’t define what made them them, so we decided just to wing it. We had a new choice now: how to bring them back into being us.

I suppose it goes without saying that we chose poorly. We chose war, we chose the path of destruction. We sacrificed our hope for the future and our plans for betterment on the false altar of vengeance. We raised Vengeance up ourselves, the twenty-first century homegrown golden calf, and our prayers to that autochthonic god were answered in blood and bombs. Somewhere in the pantheon of American animism, Columbia, our patroness, wept, seeing her children gone so far astray. Her Creator also wept, and weeps still.

Today I want to end our tears. I am tearing away the bandage, tearing off the thing that isolates me from anyone else. I declare myself a citizen of Earth, foremost and above all things. I condamn to Hell the thought of violence upon another person. I condamn to Hell the thought of vengeance. I condamn to Hell the thought of personal glory outstripping the good of all life. And I condamn to Hell the thought that an opinion held by someone else, that I disagree with, must automatically be wrong. These are principles I live my life by, and have done so for a long time. I’ve strayed from them in the past, and I freely admit as such and accept the punishments that have been given to me for those sins. But on this day I will see an end to the violence that has ruled my heart for so long; and on this day I renew my hope that one day– soon, I pray– we will have back the optimism and foresight that we threw away ten years ago.

Whether you agree with me or not, whether you follow or not, is up to you now. It’s not my place to demand you do so either way; it’s not anyone’s place. All we can do now is lead by example. We must continue to strive towards the ideal we all know to be right. We must become us again.

Take care of yourselves, folks, and of each other.