Battle Hymn of the Republic: Thursday, September 13, 2001

I did the best I could, and somehow I got through the day.  It was my first day back teaching and I don’t think I met the challenge anywhere near as well as most of my colleagues.  I’d decided to gently nudge us back on track, but I also didn’t want to pretend that this was all part of the “new normal.”  So I opened class talking a little bit about why I taught writing: that I believe it isn’t just the means to getting a better job, but that its also a key aspect of developing your self and becoming a more engaged, effective citizen.  I talked a little about the writing I been doing and reading over the past couple of days—inquiries about friends, informational messages to let people know we were all right, the reporting that Mary had been doing, the deliberative writing on the listserv.  I said that one thing I’d learned over the years was that writing was not what you did when you had space and time, but the thing that helped to create space and time.  And I asked everyone to help open up a space for the class by spending the first 15 minutes writing about whatever they were thinking about now.

Date: September 13, 2001
To: Friends and Family
Subject: Day 3

Today the daze is beginning to recede, and the distance is lessening at sometimes breakneck speed. Yesterday as I walked across the bridge, I couldn’t help but wonder – with enormous naivete – why the traffic lights were still operating. Why were people, including myself, going about their business. Why hadn’t the country ground to a halt? We all tried to find distraction in our daily work, but most of us didn’t get much work done.

Yesterday too was useful for me as Georgetown did what Georgetown does well – it provided spiritual comfort for those who were so inclined and it staged a “Day of Dialogue” for students primarily where students and faculty could discuss the events in a more academic and intellectual environment. Georgetown is a school that is very strong in foreign affairs – Madeline Albright is on our faculty, for instance – so the faculty they asked to lead the discussions, which went on for hours, were stellar in their fields.

My colleague Yoko, who is Japanese, and I went to two of the sessions. The first was alternately hopeful as students voiced concerns about escalating an already tense situation with the middle east and questioned the assumptions that this is a war we could win in the long run, and alternately dispairing as other students advocated a good vs evil mentality, talking about “they,” making gross generalisations about both the middle east and America. My hand shot into the air as I listened to about the third student talk about how ethical the US is and how the soldier is taught that civilians are ‘off limits’ and that that is a morality that the military adheres to. My voice shook, but I asked people to stop pretending that the US has been necessarily ethical in the past – reminding them of Vietnam where many civilians were considered expendable and Hiroshima and Nagasaki where the atomic bomb was dropped. I don’t mean to discount the debates and disagreements that took place over these events, but merely to bear in mind that “ethical” is a very fluid concept and we should remember that no matter what the US does, innocent people will be hurt and killed.

Of course I also want to take out the terrorists and I have fantasies of taking them up a 110 floor building and pushing them out the window. Mark and I are learning how easy it is to hold multiple conflicting opinions in our minds at once, without any of them fully dominating our thoughts and actions.

So yesterday Mark and I felt that we were more able to start the process of reasoning that will help us make some kind of sense of all this. Hopefully Congress and other world leaders are doing the same.

Yesterday too the stories started to come out. The firefighter’s individual stories were told over and over again, which we found very difficult to take in. I lay on the couch with a box of tissues and wept for each and every one of them. The news came out late yesterday too, that the plane that crashed into the Pentagon was in fact aimed at the White House originally. This hit me very hard as I realised that Mark was in very real danger. So it was a night of many tears.

In the end I had to leave the television and pick up a book that I’d been given for my birthday – Karin had said that it was a good one for a rainy day and I’d been saving it for when I might need it. So I sat in the bath and read, all the while fending off dogs (Dylan is not afraid of water, so he visits often. Sayla is afraid of water, but doesn’t want to be left out, so she also visits, and her nose is *much* bigger and harder to avoid) and patting Raglan as he sat along the edge of the bath, tail draped in the water.

On Tuesday I craned my neck around to see if the Washington Monument was still standing. For those of you who don’t know DC, no buildings can be built higher than the US Capitol, so the obelisk Washington Monument stands out for miles. It symbolizes so much about the freedoms that this country stands for, so it’s comforting to see that it is still standing, though I’d far rather they took that out than the Pentagon. It’s strange to walk across the bridge in the morning and see the normality of the monument and yet have no planes flying over head – often there are three of four planes every 15 minutes. So quiet.

Mark begins teaching again today. He told his students that they didn’t have to come to class if they didn’t want to. Many students are afraid to come out into public for fear of retribution because of their ethnicity or religion. He’s not sure how to help those students feel comfortable and safe again. There are armed National Guard troops in the streets, humvees on every street corner. It’s not that it feels like a martial state, but it does make one think about the origins of this nation and how wrong it seems to have military seeming in control – while at the same time being very grateful for their presense. See what I mean about conflicting thoughts?

We read in the paper this morning of a woman on the Metro who walked up to a man who is of middle eastern ethnicity and planted her face in his and said “Why?” So we can understand why some people may well feel frightened.

In the meantime, we’re hoping that the IMF World Bank meeting doesn’t take place as scheduled at the end of the month. We just don’t think that the infrastructure of DC could cope with it and we’d hate to see the GWU students once again disrupted as GWU will close and the students forced to leave for five days. We’ve offered to take some into our home, but I hope it doesn’t come to that.

Today we’re starting to return to some semblence of order, but it’s still hard to concentrate. Instead of living in the horror of the moment, eyes are beginning to be turned towards the future. Wondering how long this war will last. Are we in for a quick Gulf War? A drawn out WWII on many theatres of conflict, or the hunkered down, relentless water torture of Vietnam?

This is not what I signed up for when I became a citizen six months ago. But we’re here now and must recognize that continuing to make our lives in the midst of a war is part of our responsibilities as citizens. Only this time it’s a war brought to our shores. That’s different.

Cheery thought to end on, eh? Once again I ramble. I’ll not write more I don’t think.

Be well.



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