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Remembering 9/11, and its Ongoing Aftermath

It’s a sobering day. Twenty years ago, on September 11, 2001, 19 hijackers took control of four planes and crashed them into a field in Pennsylvania, the Pentagon in Virginia, and the World Trade Center in New York. The Twin Towers were completely destroyed, and with them, thousands of lives, and life as we knew it. The effects are still being felt today.

I remember where I was that day, as you probably do, too. At 8:50 AM, I had just pulled in to the parking lot of a funeral parlour when I caught word of an attack over the radio. Entering the lobby, I asked the staff if they knew what was going on. They didn’t. As I entered the room where the funeral was being held, one of them entered a back room to check the news.

For the next hour I celebrated the life of my dear friend, Gizi, who had overcome many tragedies during her own, long life. A rising movie star in Berlin in the 1930’s, Gizi had survived the direct hit of a bomb on her house during World War II. Her uncle, a dissident against Hitler’s regime, was captured and executed by the Nazis. She lost her beloved husband to cancer, but somehow the glamour and strength of the young silver-screen star was still evident 70 years later. For an hour, my full attention was on the legacy of this remarkable woman.

When I got home, my full attention joined the world’s, as I watched the unfolding chaos in America with horror. The emotional and visual impact of the collapse of the Twin Towers is indelibly etched on my memory, as I’m sure it is on your own.

This week, during a meeting with global peacemakers, one of them suggested that a powerful way to envision positive futures is to ask, “Wouldn’t it be great if…?” How would you finish that question?

Today, on September 11, I would finish that question by asking:

  • Wouldn’t it be great if, instead of responding to violence with violence on 9/11, we had denounced violence in all of its forms?
  • Wouldn’t it be great if, instead of unleashing the War on Terror on 9/11, we had unleashed unprecedented global peace efforts?
  • Wouldn’t it be great if, instead of spending $8 trillion dollars (US) in Post-9/11 wars that directly killed over 900,000 people (while displacing 38 million more), we had invested $8 trillion dollars on education, healthcare, sustainable energy and livelihoods in the Middle East and beyond? According to global experts, this is enough to vanquish world hunger 18 times over*, even in the midst of the current COVID-19 and climate crises.

 

If we had done so, the world would be a much different place. Can you imagine that alternative future?

A few years ago, I heard the testimony of an Afghan refugee to Canada who had joined the Taliban at age 14 because it was the only viable option to support and protect his family. Shouldn’t all children have better life choices in the twenty-first century?

As I watched the Taliban regain control of Afghanistan within days of US military withdrawal this month, my heart sank. I mourned the legacy of twenty years of war on their country. I fear for their future. I can barely imagine how different Afghanistan could be today if we had invested peace instead of war. What have we done, at what cost?

On September 11, it is important to mourn deeply its losses. 2,996 precious lives were lost that day – of spouses, parents, children. It is also important to reflect on its legacy. Responding with the war on terror cost 900,000 more lives, over 40% of them civilian. Does that align with your values? Politicians have said that some values should be compromised for the greater good, but have they delivered the greater good, or demanded too high a price?

Research shows that the price was unequivocally too high. Brown University’s Cost of War project counted the cost of post-9/11 wars in terms of lives, dollars, displacement and moral compromise, and it was excessive. Twenty years later, we need to soberly reflect on this legacy, and the legacy we want to build in the next decade.

Friends, the past doesn't dictate our future. We get to choose the future we want to invest in each new day. I choose to invest in:

Peace over war

Love over hate

Life over death

Unity over division

Hope over fear

 

These values are celebrated in my peace song, We’re in This Together. Are you with me?

The only path to a sustainable human future is to invest in positive peace instead of war. Love is the path to peace. The world’s shared values – including universal education, health, livelihoods and peace – are most concretely reflected by the UN Sustainable Development Goals. We have tangible targets, plans and budgets to make significant strides on them by 2030. The cost of missing them are lives lost and squandered. No one will be exempt. Can you imagine the strides we could achieve if we invest $4,000 billion in the Sustainable Development Goals over the next 10 years - the same rate of spending as the US war on terror? The vision is remarkable! I encourage you to spend some time reflecting on it today.

 

It takes a great leap of imagination to envision a world where we invest as much on peace as we do on war. Just 2% of the world’s military spending would eliminate hunger by 2030. Shouldn’t we – can’t we – accomplish at least that much?


It is hard to envision this future, but only because our investments aren’t aligned with our values. If we truly valued life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for all people, not just the select few, we would put our money where our values are. Instead, we put money where our rhetoric is – falsely claiming that more soldiers, nuclear warheads and submarines will buy us peace. They won’t. They can’t. By definition, to use them contradicts peace, and the hope that they will be a detriment to war hasn’t proven a successful strategy.

The world spends $1.7 trillion dollars a year on military and armaments. $45 billion a year would eradicate hunger by 2030. This may seem expensive, but it’s only 2% of the world’s war budget. Suppose we spent another 2% on global health (which would have helped us save millions of lives lost to COVID-19), and 2% fighting climate change? We are seeking security in the wrong things. Justice, not retribution, builds peace.

 

Justice, not retribution, builds peace.

 

What legacy are you investing in?

Each day, we get to choose our values anew. They are revealed by how we live them out. What values are you investing in? Perhaps asking the question, “Wouldn’t it be great if…” will help you envision creative ways to build a better personal legacy. To tackle bigger issues, join a group that is working on systemic change.

 

Each day, we get to choose our values anew. They are revealed by how we live them out.

 

CryPeace's Values

CryPeace is living out its values with several exciting projects:

  1. We are creating a One Global Family curriculum to promote positive peace. Our pilot of Session 1 was well received in August.
  2. Our grassroots partner in the Democratic Republic of the Congo is conducting “train the trainers” workshops for 15 student peace ambassadors this month. Their goal is to train 4,000 students through 2022. And at each of our weekly meetings, I'm amazed at their progress.
  3. We are digitizing and sharing Global Peace Hut Uganda’s proven peace curriculum for wider use.
  4. We are updating our website to highlight global peace stories and ambassadors more clearly.

If you share our values, would you please consider becoming our partner in peace? There are many ways to get involved, including sharing your time, talent or treasure, for local or global initiatives. We also want to hear how you are waging peace in your own life.

Friends, the past should inform, not dictate, our future. We need a vision of a life-giving future that includes everyone in the One Global Family - and the strength to live it out.

My name is Carole, and I’m your sister.

 

*According to the CERS2030 report, compiled by global experts on hunger reduction and extensive research, it will cost $45 billion a year for the next 10 years to eradicate hunger (or $450 billion) using proven strategies. That's 1/18th of the $8 trillion US war on terror expenditures from 2001-2020. $45 billion is also 2.35% of CERS2030's estimate of $1,917 billion on global annual military spending - a fraction of the cost.

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