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A Time To Speak
September 14, 2002
By Gloria Hayes

To everything there is a season,
and a time to every purpose under heaven:
a time to be born and a time to die;
a time to plant and time to uproot;
a time to kill and time to heal;
a time to break down and time to build up;
to everything there is a season,
and a time to every purpose under heaven,
a time to weep and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn and time to dance;
a time to scatter stones and a time to gather stones together,
a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
to everything there is a season,
a time to seek and time to lose;
a time to keep and time to cast away;
a time to rend and time to sew;
a time to keep silent and time to speak;
a time of love and a time of hate;
a time for war and a time for peace.
To everything there is a season.

Ecclesiastes 3:1-8

The one-year anniversary of last year's stunning terrorist attack on America has arrived and the words from the book of Ecclesiastes seem particularly apt in describing the tumultuous emotions a majority of Americans are experiencing in the aftermath of this traumatic event. It is indeed a time to remember and mourn, as all would no doubt agree, but the country which stood united one year ago is now tragically split as to their stance in the final lines of this verse.

For those who could bear to watch it on September 11th, American television transmitted an unending onslaught of images, images which packed an emotional punch. The accompanying commentary and analysis was carefully crafted to present to the viewing audience a nation content with the official explanations of last September 11th and united in purpose in the ongoing war against terror.

Voices that weren't heard so widely that day were those who comprised the 9-11 Families "No More Victims" National Speaking Tour. On Wednesday this disparate group was in Northampton, Massachusetts, its fifth stop since September 6th when it kicked off a nine-city speaking tour in Philadelphia, PA.

The list of speakers includes men and women from America and abroad, all of whom in one way or another have experienced the devastation which accompanies war and terrorism.

David Potorti, Co-Director and Eastern U.S. Coordinator of Peaceful Tomorrows, an advocacy organization formed by surviving family members of September 11th victims, spoke last week at the Friends Center in Philadelphia of his concern that George W. Bush might possibly exploit the anniversary to expand war and our need as a nation to engage in open dialogue and to seek effective nonviolent responses to terrorism.

Potorti, who lost his brother James at the World Trade Center last year, spoke eloquently, not only of his loss, but of the incredible learning experience the aftermath of the tragedy presented to the members of his family and the other members of Peaceful Tomorrows.

"We learned that for those who were not directly affected by the terrorist attacks, the reactions were the same: fear, anger, the need to throw up walls, to lock our doors, and to trade our freedom for security. But for those of us so closely affected, we had the opposite reaction: that there were no walls high enough, no bombs big enough, no police force powerful enough, to allow us to continue to pretend that we lived on a planet called the United States of America, but that we were part of a shared globe that no longer had barriers to the movement of people, things and ideas. That we could not protect ourselves from every bad person and every bad thought that might exist in the world. That the only way to be truly safe and secure was to create a just society."

Another powerful presentation was given by Miyoko Matsubara, a leading Hibakusha (atomic bomb survivor) from Hiroshima. Ms Matusbara was a 12-year-old junior high school when an atomic bomb exploded less than one mile away from where she was standing. Despite being horribly burned that day, burns which required extensive grafts and have left telltale keloid scars on her body, Ms. Matsubara considers herself "one of the lucky ones." She was one of fifty of the original 250 children to return to her school seven months after the blast.

Ms. Matsubara is particularly disturbed at the American government's talk of the possibility of using limited nuclear weapons in the war against terror. Through an interpreter she said, "I would like to say to young people in the United States and other countries: Nuclear weapons do not deter war. Nuclear weapons and human beings cannot co-exist. We all must learn the value of human life. If you do not agree with me on this, please come to Hiroshima and see for yourself the destructive power of these deadly weapons at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum. "We are at the threshold of the 21st century. It is time for us to change the international trend from confrontation to dialogue, from distrust to reconciliation, and to move towards the solidarity of nations in the world, so that every creature on Earth can live in peace on this beautiful planet. It is war itself that is wrong."

As the talk of an expanding war on terror into Iraq ratchets up in the near future, it is imperative that American citizens, as well as government officials, hear the wide array of voices and viewpoints. It is equally important to listen respectfully to all who step up to express their opinions. David Potorti believes that to be our biggest challenge.

"I have learned a lot in the past year. And I say this sincerely, I have learned how much I love the United States of America, our values, and what we aspire to be. And I have learned that the one possession that is most endangered today is our civil society: the way we talk to each other, the way we behave and interact with each other. If we do not have the framework of a civil society, we cannot begin to address the challenges and threats we face today.

"And if we cannot be civil with each other, if we cannot support each other in these difficult times, especially in our disagreements, then we have already lost this war."

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