The Response to September 11 (Editorial)

By Kenneth Cloke

Posted January, 2006

As a nation, we need to re-examine how we responded to the conflicts that occurred, and are still occurring, as a result of the September 11th tragedy. In the aftermath, we began searching, as individuals, nations, and human beings, for some ritual of release, completion, and closure; some acknowledgement of the horror, grief, fear, and confusion we experienced. This search led many, unfortunately in my opinion, to seek release for their grief and anger through blind patriotism, constriction of civil liberties, and "preventative" unilateral war, directed not against those responsible for the tragedy, but a nation and people who had nothing to do with it.

This response has led to increased suffering, including grief, fear, divisiveness, and confusion -- not only for us, but those whose lives we have similarly shattered by violence. While it is clear to me as a mediator that dozens of alternatives to war in Iraq were readily available, these were largely ignored. This failure to pursue peaceful alternatives contributed to the rise of aggressive, adversarial attitudes toward those who opposed the war, a refusal to listen or cooperate with other nations, a reduction in our personal freedoms, and a division in national and international consensus, sapping our spirits, closing our hearts, and dissipating the unity and desire for peace that spontaneously arose after September 11.

By responding to violence with violence, we not only lost a unique opportunity to unite people and governments around the world in opposition to terror, we helped strengthen a culture of war rather than peace, bullying rather than compassion, revenge rather than forgiveness, and isolation rather than collaboration. By our aggressive statements and unilateral actions, we have deprecated the importance and prestige of peace-making, conflict resolution, international partnership, and public dialogue, thereby contributing to future conflicts, making them more serious, and constricting opportunities for settlement and resolution.

To have acted differently would have required us to recognize and respond with compassion -- not only to the pain we experienced in the U.S., or in Israel, but no less equally to the pain Iraqis and Palestinians have experienced for decades. This would have required us to see ourselves as partners in a world community of nations and peoples, to cease using our superior military and economic power to coerce compliance, and to seek dialoguenegotiation, and mediation before reacting with violence, even against those we have defined as evil. Sometimes, as poet May Sarton wrote, "[o]ne must think like a hero to behave like a merely decent human being."

September 11 challenges us to take the lead in developing dispute resolution skills and applying them proactively, preventatively, and strategically to the full range of international disputes -- not to augment our power, wealth, or status, but to create the conditions under which conflicts can be resolved without war or terror. September 11 challenges us to understand that we cannot separate peace from justice, but must link interest-based conflict resolution skills with an unwavering commitment to political, economic, and social justice, without which it will prove impossible to build a global community that can resolve its differences without terrorism and war.