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Amber Waves of Pain
4 December 2001
Over the next few days you will be bombarded with comparative analyses between the first "day of infamy" - the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor 60 years ago - and the new day of infamy, 9-11.
For me, December 7 is especially important. It's my mother's birthday! She came into this world exactly 10 years after Japanese pilots unleashed a deadly surprise over the Hawaiian islands.
One of the many things for which I owe her my deepest gratitude is for exposing me to a profound moral principle, demanding as she did, that I spend some time in "the Lord's House" as a youngster.
In the black Baptist church tradition that nourished me, Jesus is considered the embodiment of Truth - the Word of God. And based on the Gospel accounts, Christians believe that this same Jesus suffered violently for proclaiming Truth.
Adding Truth, the Word and suffering, a theological formula and ethical guide presented itself to me: It is a condition of Truth to allow suffering to speak.
That means you can't know the truth about, say, economics, until you've heard from poor people. This doesn't mean that poor folks have a monopoly on economic truth or that the theories of privileged professors and policy-makers are wholly mistaken.
It means even if you have a Ph.D. in economics or were personally tutored by F.A. Hayek, you can't know the truth about "the dismal science" until you've spent some time among the destitute, trying to understand and incorporate their voices into your vision.
It means you don't know the truth about say, free trade, until you have candidly confronted the concerns of, not only corporate investors, but also of workers and the residents whose communities serve as host to these business enterprises.
Applying this notion of Truth to the war on terrorism requires that we listen carefully and compassionately to those who have suffered the most in its wake - the survivors and family members of the victims.
"We don't want to see more widowed mothers like my sister-in-law, more little kids without a dad like my niece and nephew, more moms and dads outliving their son like my parents, or more brothers losing brothers like me," says Ryan Amundson, whose brother Craig was killed in the attack on the Pentagon.
"The current reliance on military force does not confront the political, social and economic foundations of terrorism. By emphasizing a military solution, the United States will not effectively combat terrorism," he continues.
Craig Amundson's wife, Amber, who is a domestic violence counselor, has this to say: "I call on our national leaders to find the courage to break the cycle of violence."
The chicken-hawks (opinion-leaders like Rush Limbaugh and George Will who call for a military solution by any means necessary but who have probably never even been in a fist fight, never mind a war) have been spending lots of energy, denouncing those who voice these nonviolent sentiments.
I wonder if the chicken-hawks will accuse the Amundsons, naive, anti-American, unpatriotic, terrorist sympathizers.
At the risk of being attacked once again - this time at the hands of the patriot police - the Amundsons, and about 20 others, last week began "A Walk for Healing and Peace."
Under the banner, "Our Grief Is Not A Cry for War," these brave souls set out from Georgetown University's front gates at 37th and O streets in Washington, D.C. They walked through Baltimore and Philadelphia. On Sunday they arrived in New York City and were joined by Colleen Kelley, whose brother was killed in the World Trade Center attack. When I spoke to Amber the other day, they were making their way through New Jersey. After the walk ends, she plans to "continue on this path. I plan to continue to be a voice, pleading for nonviolent solutions," she said.
Her spirits have been buoyed, she said, by the response they have received in the streets, and in the churches and schools she and her brother-in-law have been invited to speak in. "The response has been absolutely inspirational - people honking, waving and supporting us. Even in working on domestic violence issues, I haven't seen this kind of sensitivity," she said.
Amber wrote a letter to President Bush, which you can read at www.vitw.org, along with other statements from 9/11 victims' families.
"My husband, Craig Scott Amundson, was an active duty multimedia illustrator for your Deputy Chief of Staff of Personnel Command, who was also killed. I am not doing well. I am hurt that the U.S. is moving forward in such a violent manner. I do not hold you responsible for my husband's death, but I do believe you have a responsibility to listen to me and please hear my pain."
So far, no response from the White House.