Ten Years Later, War or Peace?
By Bridget Moix on 09/07/2011 @ 05:30 PM
Ten years ago I was living in New York City and working with the Quaker United Nations Office when the attacks of 9/11 happened. I’ll never forget listening to the live report of the first plane striking the towers on my walkman (yes, we still used walkmans back then) as I walked into the office. Soon we saw a stream of UN diplomats and personnel evacuating the UN buildings across the street and then evacuated ourselves, heading to Quaker House a few blocks away where we huddled together around the TV and watched history - tragically - unfold.
Later we met dust-covered fellow New Yorkers who had walked up 2nd Ave. from downtown, and then we joined the flow of people trying to find a way home. In my case, that was back across the bridge to Queens where I went up to the roof of my apartment building each day over the next week to stare at the spot where the Twin Towers had reached above the New York skyline and where now just a cloud of gray dust hung sadly. Once when I was up there I met a neighbor who was looking down at the street of our diverse Astoria neighborhood, and then turned to me to say, “I wish they’d all just disappear.” Most of our Muslim neighbors had already retreated to their homes where they would lay low for the coming weeks, but I knew what he meant. I realized at that moment how much anger the attacks had sparked, and how dangerous it was for the world, and for ourselves.
Over the next ten years, our worst fears did indeed come true. The US responded out of fear and anger - as well as a desperate desire to maintain its control and power in the world - launching a global war that has added thousands more deaths to the 9/11 toll. US policy also played directly into the attackers hands – leaving failed states in its wake and recruiting thousands more to an extremist cause in the process. Here at home, the Patriot Act and other anti-civil liberties policies stripped our own freedom and democracy and changed our country – for the worse – forever.
In the early days of the post 9/11 world, few people had the courage to stand up and speak truth to power in the midst of such overwhelming pain, fear, and rush to war. But FCNL did. Out of worship and seeking a Quaker response to the unraveling violence, FCNL began its War Is Not the Answer campaign, which both sadly and encouragingly, is still relevant and active ten years later. I keep a picture of FCNL’s old building (before the new green one) with the original War Is Not the Answer banner hanging on it. Hanging such a banner seems almost a mundane act now, but in those early days after the attacks, it took enormous vision, courage, and yes, faith, to declare that message to Congress and the world.
Realizing the war path my country was headed down, I soon felt compelled myself to let others work at the international level and return instead to rejoin FCNL’s staff and focus my energies on the enormous work of changing US policy for a more peaceful world. Soon our War Is Not the Answer work birthed our Peaceful Prevention of Deadly Conflict program, which has made significant strides in advancing policies to prevent, not just fight, wars over the past decade – even as the global war on terror drags on.
So where are we now as the tenth anniversary of 9/11 approaches? A seemingly endless global war drags on and now includes assassination and robotic drones as standard aspects of US policy. Over 6,000 US troops and countless thousands more civilians across the globe have died. Trillions of dollars have been wasted on war while the US faces a massive economic crisis. It's enough to make you wonder if peace really is ever possible.
But that's not the whole story. I've never felt more hopeful about our work to change US policy for the better. Thanks to the uphill work for peace of FCNL and many others, the US is planning troop drawdowns in Iraq and Afghanistan. The failures of war policies over the past decade have pressed policymakers and military leaders to call for reducing the militarization of US foreign policy and improving the tools of diplomacy, development, and international cooperation. The US government is building new structures - though small and underfunded - for preventing, not fighting, wars. Despite the enormous challenges 9/11 has brought, FCNL's message that war is not the answer, and that peace is both possible and good policy, is taking hold. That message became a campaign ten years ago, but it has been a core purpose for FCNL since Friends set up a lobby in Washington in 1943, in the midst of another long and painful war.
In honor of the tenth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, I want to say thank you to everyone who has stood for peace and supported FCNL’s work and the work of many others over the past ten years to heal the wounds and build a better world. Whether you put a WINA yard sign up or wrote and met with your members of Congress, prayed with your church or meeting, or spoke your truth with your friends and neighbors – you helped bring a bit more light to a darkened world. I believe that light is still growing, and I hope you'll keep working with us to spread its reach a bit further.