9/11: One Year Later  
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Off the Beaten 9/11 Path

The events of 9/11 should be commemorated not with patriotism or mass despair, but with a call for peace and compassion.  And activists across the country plan to do exactly that.
 
 
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By late tomorrow night, the crescendo will begin to subside. And thankfully so, I imagine both the cold-hearted cynic and the compassionately conscious will agree.

There will be no shortage of public 9/11 anniversary events. But as someone whose life is saturated in news and information, I plan to commemorate the day in the privacy of my apartment -- when I get out of work, that is.

In the weeks leading up to now, I've had conversations with lots of folks in different parts of the country who have been making cautious plans on how not to OD on the opium of mass despair expected to be injected into the veins of the body politic -- the mass media serving as the syringe. So in this column today, I offer some off-the-beaten 9/11 path observations:

-- International peace leaders, including Nobel Prize winner Oscar Arias and Gandhi's grandson Arun Gandhi, have put out the "Call for Sept. 11 Commemoration Events That Say No to Terrorism and War." Jason Marks of Global Exchange, a nonprofit human rights organization, informed me last week that in response to that call, as the nation prepares to mark the one-year anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, more than 150 communities in 36 states will be hosting peace events to mark the tragedy.

"All the events have been organized locally, and so each one has its own character and feel. The events are connected through a new coalition called United for Peace, founded by Sept. 11 Families for Peaceful Tomorrows and Global Exchange," he said in an e-mail message.

"The response to this idea has been overwhelming, in large part as a response to President Bush's call for an attack on Iraq," said Medea Benjamin, founding director of Global Exchange and a co-founder of United for Peace.

These not-your-typical commemorations "are honoring those who died on Sept. 11 by calling for no more innocent victims," she added. (For more information see UnitedForPeace.org.)

-- Gandhi once said: "Things undreamt of are daily being seen, the impossible is ever becoming possible. We are constantly being astonished these days at the amazing discoveries in the field of violence. But I maintain that far more undreamt of and seemingly impossible discoveries will be made in the field of nonviolence."

To the hawks, I ask: why not bring the same vigor to bear on the development of nonviolent theory and practice that we have on the advancement of military science? I envision a peace pentagon that would be responsible for the recruitment and training of a nonviolent army who would be deployed to troubled spots around the world.

After all, the intelligent pacifist and the wise general aren't so far apart. Sun Tzu's Art of War declares: "Complete victory is when the army does not fight, the city is not besieged, the destruction does not go long, but in each case the enemy is overcome by strategy."

-- Nonviolent "truth-force" or civil disobedience is often confused with passive resistance, which has led to the widespread misperception that it is the philosophy and practice of cowards unwilling to combat evil. And that's why Gandhi was adamant in his belief that nothing could be done with a coward, and that a violent person could more easily be transformed into a person of nonviolence than a pacifist with no courage.

"I do believe," Gandhi said, "where there is only a choice between cowardice and violence, I would advise violence."

He lauded the courage of soldiers and thought their willingness to sacrifice life and limb for the cause of freedom was worth our collective admiration. It's a lesson the peace movement ought to remember.

"Whilst I should not take any direct part in any war, I can conceive occasions when it would be my duty to vote for the military training of those who wish to take it. For I know that all its members do not believe in nonviolence to the extent I do. It is not possible to make a person or a society nonviolent by compulsion."

-- Peace organizations all across America ought to find one needy war vet, retired police officer or firefighter and commit to him or her some kind of no-strings-attached financial assistance or service, or at the very least offer a one-time gift of thanks, perhaps a donation to a local Veterans for Peace chapter or Police Athletic League.

-- Voltaire said the optimist and pessimist have one thing in common: They both think this is the best of all possible worlds. Well, I don't. And so while self-proclaimed "realists" only see "cold, harsh facts" like Dickens's Gradgrind, possibilities abound.

I interviewed a Christian minister two weeks ago who told me about a couple in her congregation whose twin granddaughters were born on 9/11. For them, she said, that day will forever be "bittersweet," realizing that even amid death, new life can emerge.

And that, ultimately, is our hope for the future. I like how Kierkegaard put it. "Hope," he said, "is the passion for what is possible."
Sean Gonsalves is a Cape Cod Times staff writer and a syndicated columnist.