In Memorial: What Does it Take to Rebuild?

Today marks the 11th anniversary of one of the most impactful U.S. experiences that has occurred during my lifetime.  It is the 11th anniversary of 9/11, the devastating event that killed nearly 3000 people and moved the nation to a collective state of shock and unity.  I’ll keep this post brief, because honestly, there isn’t much I can say.

I was a freshman in high school at the time, and knew very little about international politics or fundamentalism.  I knew that a large number of people had died, and I watched the planes hit the towers over and over again, because every classroom TV was replaying it (I lived on the west coast, so school had started already that day).  And as I watched those planes repeatedly hit the buildings, the most striking thing I remember  experiencing was my lack of surprise.

Bear with me on this.  I had grown up in a very sheltered, conservative community.  I never read the news, I didn’t watch TV, and I had only recently started attending a public school.  I didn’t yet know that the field of psychology existed, and I couldn’t have told you why the previous year’s election had been important.  Basically, I was a clueless 14 year old.  But somehow, the fact that people from halfway around the world hated our country so much that they would choose to commit an act like this was not a surprise to me.  This wasn’t because I thought the U.S. was a terrible place that deserved such a violent assault.  It was because ever since I was little, whenever I learned about American history, I learned about war.  We fought the British for independence.  Then we fought each other when the country was split on ideologies.  We fought in World War I and World War II.  We fought in the Korean War, the Vietnam War, and we very nearly ended up fighting during the Cold War.  And these are just the major ones.  Every time there’s a conflict, the U.S. is there, in one form or another.  Our country has only been around for a few hundred years, and we’ve been fighting virtually this whole time.  And only one of those wars was internal.  Basically, we’ve spent our country’s entire history fighting other people.

So when I saw the attacks of a country that hated us enough to kill thousands of people, I wasn’t surprised.  Because, regardless of our motivation, and regardless of the outcome, we’ve been killing citizens of other countries for our entire country’s history, and I was honestly surprised someone hadn’t counterattacked sooner.

Which brings up an interesting point.  If war is so ingrained in our country’s history that even an oblivious 14 year old girl  can be so jaded, what can we do to break the cycle of violence?

I think there are many answers: improving education, cultivating an appreciation for nonviolence, trying to reduce the fear-based mentality that is so prevalent here…but honestly, I don’t know.  How do you change a country whose entire life has been war?  How do you change a culture that has spent so long demonizing others?  How do you implement an attitude of nonviolence, when already, just 11 years later, we’re involved in so many new wars?

What do you think?


5 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Nick Kaplan
    Sep 12, 2012 @ 00:46:43

    Hi Mari,
    As always, I’m loving your straight forward “blunt” style of writing and expressing yourself! I don’t think you are being insensitive at all. My reaction to 911 was even more subversive and controversial than yours. My first thought, honestly, was “It’s about time.” It’s about time the US got a taste of it’s own Imperialistic medicine. We are so cozy and safe sandwiched between two pansy countries who pose no threat to us and two huge oceans. That geographic safety is the only reason we are still on top and do not experience endless attacks from the people we intimidate and control all over the world.

    Tonight in Human Development Diane asked us to pray for all the victims of 911 and all the loss of life since then. In closing, she said something about “staying awake”. All i could think was…”Stay awake?!?! Ok, let’s get real and let’s ‘stay awake’. Let’s talk about blow-back and why the hell most of the world hates us! Let’s talk about installing puppet governments (including Sadam Hussein, who was described as a ‘presentable young man’ in a government document before his installation) and providing weapons to the Taliban “. Sure, I have sympathy for all the people that died and who have been traumatized by 911, but all Americans are guilty of allowing, through their complacency or ignorance, the US to be a violent global aggressor. While sitting in the well-lighted, nicely air-conditioned room at Naropa I thought about what it would mean to “stay awake” as our teacher suggested. The way I see it, most of our interests throughout the world really boils down to maintaining our high standard of living in this country. Said another way, taking all the shit we want from other countries so we can have the posh lifestyles we have learned to think of as our god given right. No one seems to wants to stay awake enough to see THAT reality, but that is the one I see.

    I heard recently that it is going to cost $60 million dollars per year to operate the 911 memorial in NYC. I can only imagine the pleasure the perpetrators of 911 are getting out of this insanity. I can imagine them laughing their asses off at our patriotic wastefulness. Encouraging us to further contribute to our own demise was part of their intent in attacking us. Congrats, terrorists. Mission accomplished.

    I applaud you for having the guts to speak your truth about this. You are really going on a limb to do that. You are really awesome, Mari! Respectfully, -Nick


  2. Nick Kaplan
    Sep 12, 2012 @ 00:52:48

    In regard to you inquiry about what to do to stop the violence…I’d say minimizing your income to avoid paying taxes and living as simply as possible are all the average citizen can do. Minimizing global trade by decreasing one’s consumerism, living locally and using as little foreign oil as possible are the only ways to protest the violence and war mongering. Man, I hope the FBI doesn’t come knocking on my door tomorrow. I hear they have an army of agents patrolling the internet for rogue citizens like me. If you don’t hear from me you’ll know what happened.


  3. Walter Piper
    Sep 12, 2012 @ 02:23:37

    Cultivating appreciation for nonviolence is the best IMHO. Education is a lot better than it used to be (I had to teach my parents that Christopher Columbus was a mass murderer, because they didn’t learn it in school like I did. Even more important could be cultivating an appreciation for compassion and equanimity. I mean, that’s the Buddhist approach, but it’s making inroads into American psychology so quickly that it’s sure to reach the mainstream culture. I’m just honored to be a part of that.

    I was also 14 when 9/11 happened. I didn’t have the insight that you had at that age. There are many good things about America, and if we can focus on those while ameliorating the culture of violence and military aggression, then I think we will eventually discover America to be a beautiful country.

    I’m optimistic, but realist enough to know I may leave the U.S. someday.


  4. Mari
    Sep 12, 2012 @ 23:58:45

    Thanks for your comments, Nick! I appreciate hearing people’s opinions on this topic, because it really is so complex, and a wide array of input is needed. I have a couple of thoughts on this that I thought might be worth posting.

    My first thought is that there are a lot of ways to look at 9/11, but the one that I (personally) think deserves the most immediate attention is the survivors, and the families of those killed. I don’t think the rest of it is unimportant; far from it. But I think that whenever a great wounding happens to a nation, those hurt by it need to be taken care of. Regardless of who did it, what caused it, why it happened, and what could have prevented it, nearly 3000 people died. This event has permanently torn apart families, ruined lives, and caused incredible trauma to thousands. The memorial at ground zero is our country’s way of trying to ease the suffering of these people. I’m not generally a fan of spending millions of dollars on structures when they’re not necessary, but I actually do think that this one is worth it. I think if we didn’t try to offer some solace to the survivors and chronicle the victims’ deaths in some way to prevent them being forgotten, then this would have indicated that the attack succeeded in breaking our spirit.

    My second thought is of the zen starfish story (which I’ve copied from

    Zen master Ryokan was walking on the beach. A storm had just blown over. Hundreds of starfish had been washed up by the waves; they were beginning to die in the sharp sunlight. Ryokan picked up the starfish one by one and threw them back into the sea. A fisherman who had been observing Ryokan came up to him. “Why do you do this? Every time there’s a storm, this happens. You can’t save them all, so what difference does your attempt make?” “It will make a difference – to this one,” replied Ryokan, as he flung yet another starfish into the water.

    While this is again a personal belief, I think that anything you can do that positively impacts someone else’s life is worth doing (as long as it’s not an unhealthy sacrifice on your part). If I can be the one voice in the community that pipes up against violence, and one person hears me and starts to consider it, then it was worth doing. Humans are social creatures, and the only way to change the way people think is through interacting with other people, and causing them to question their beliefs.

    That’s partly what my blog is all about 🙂


  5. Arsen
    Sep 13, 2012 @ 22:21:26

    I was born during the Vietnam War. Every night as a pre-schooler and early elementary school kid the tv news would blare out the details of the war in our living room. When the U.S. pulled out of Vietnam I was confused. I asked my father that if the war ended would we still be a country. I completely equated being American with being at war. What else would hold us together?


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