Breaking News & Views for the Progressive Community
We Can't Do It Without You!  
Home | About Us | Donate | Signup | Archives
   Featured Views  

Printer Friendly Version E-Mail This Article
Heart Problem
Published on Monday, December 27, 2004 by

Heart Problem

by David Potorti

America has a heart problem. You know it's true when the president has to acknowledge that Donald Rumsfeld has a heart - not that it's two sizes too small, like the Grinch's, but that it actually exists at all.

"Beneath that rough and gruff, no-nonsense demeanor is a good human being," the president remarked, after it was revealed that the Secretary of Defense had a machine signing his name on death notices to families of service people killed in Iraq, "who cares deeply about the military, and deeply about the grief that war causes."

In using the passive voice to describe something as violent as the pre-emptive war he authored, the president's distancing language was just as cold as Rumsfeld's machine-written condolences-- almost heartless.

When we launched September 11th Families for Peaceful Tomorrows in February 2002, we held up an oversized Hallmark heart with a letter to George W. Bush attached. "Have a heart, President Bush," we asked, inviting him to create an Afghan victims' fund that would acknowledge not only the civilian victims of 9/11 but also the estimated 4,000 Afghan civilians lost to our bombing campaign. We recognized, even then, that our losses on 9/11 were just the first of a series of losses to come - a loss of our perspective, a loss of our humanity, a loss of our unity with each other and with the rest of the world.

The President never took us up on our invitation, and since that day the rising body count of Americans, Afghans and Iraqis has been accompanied by a marked absence of heart in our national character. You see it in our perpetual denial of reality--not just political reality, or fiscal reality, but human reality: a stubborn resistance to acknowledging the human suffering resulting from our choices since 9/11. Military coffins hidden from view of cameras. Suffering children unacknowledged from Kabul to Kansas City to Baghdad. Alleged enemy combatants "disappeared" without due process. Torture denied. Families destroyed. Everywhere, hearts broken. And always, we try to deny the pain.

Americans using Vioxx, Celebrex and Aleve recently learned that these drugs taken to avoid pain may actually increase their risk of heart attack. It's an interesting notion: in seeking to avoid pain, we damage our hearts. In denying pain, we turn off a piece of our humanity.

As we approach the new year, could it be time to feel the pain? I know a 9/11 father who likens his continuing grief over the death of his son at the World Trade Center to trying to outrun a tidal wave. Sometimes, he says, you have to stop running and let the water crash over you. Sometimes you have to be immersed in your grief, drenched in your pain. It's the only way to carry on. It's the only way to remain human.

Between Christmas and New Year's, parents of 9/11 victims and service people killed in Iraq will join a Global Exchange delegation to Jordan, bringing $600,000 in humanitarian supplies for refugees from the U.S. attack on Falluja. Our choice to take military action killed 71 U.S. service people and an estimated 2,000 Iraqis, creating thousands of refugees, most of them children. In acknowledging all of those killed, in helping the living, and in creating a climate of understanding that can lead to peace-- these grieving parents hope to recover what was lost with the deaths of their children: Their humanity. Their connectedness. Their hearts.

What Jonathan Schell wrote in the New Yorker in 1969 about the massacre at My Lai could just as well have been written about 9/11, about the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, about Abu Ghraib, about Falluja:

"If we turn away and let the rationalizations crowd into our minds to protect us, we are degraded. We want to go on with our daily lives, and we may wonder, why should my life be interrupted by this? Why should I take on this suffering on behalf of these victims? However much we may resist it, the choice has been made for us, irrevocably. Whether we manage to bear the grief or whether we freeze, the massacre enters into us and becomes a part of us. The massacre calls for self-examination and for action, but if we deny the call and try to go on as before, as though nothing had happened, our knowledge, which can never leave us once we have acquired it, will bring about an unnoticed but crucial alteration in us, numbing our most precious faculties and withering our souls. For if we learn to accept this, there is nothing we will not accept."

For some of us most closely affected by loss on, and as a result of, September 11th, we have learned to accept our broken hearts. But we will not accept losing them.

David Potorti is the co-director of September 11th Families for Peaceful Tomorows


Printer Friendly Version E-Mail This Article
Breaking News & Views for the Progressive Community.
Independent, non-profit newscenter since 1997.

Home | About Us | Donate | Signup | Archives

To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good.