America has a heart problem. You know it's true when the president has
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
"Beneath that rough and gruff, no-nonsense demeanor is
a good human being," the president remarked, after it was revealed
Secretary of Defense had a machine signing his name on
death notices to families of service people killed in Iraq, "who cares
about the military, and deeply about the grief
that war causes."
In using the passive voice to describe something as violent as the
war he authored, the president's distancing language
was just as cold as Rumsfeld's machine-written condolences-- almost
When we launched September 11th Families for Peaceful Tomorrows in
2002, we held up an oversized Hallmark heart with a
letter to George W. Bush attached. "Have a heart, President Bush," we
inviting him to create an Afghan victims' fund that
would acknowledge not only the civilian victims of 9/11 but also the
4,000 Afghan civilians lost to our bombing campaign.
We recognized, even then, that our losses on 9/11 were just the first
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
The President never took us up on our invitation, and since that day
body count of Americans, Afghans and Iraqis has been
accompanied by a marked absence of heart in our national character. You
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.
children unacknowledged from Kabul to Kansas City to
Baghdad. Alleged enemy combatants "disappeared" without due process.
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
our hearts. In denying pain, we turn off a piece of
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
at the World Trade Center to trying to outrun a tidal
wave. Sometimes, he says, you have to stop running and let the water
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
to remain human.
Between Christmas and New Year's, parents of 9/11 victims and service
killed in Iraq will join a Global Exchange delegation
to Jordan, bringing $600,000 in humanitarian supplies for refugees from
attack on Falluja. Our choice to take military
action killed 71 U.S. service people and an estimated 2,000 Iraqis,
thousands of refugees, most of them children. In
acknowledging all of those killed, in helping the living, and in
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
Lai could just as well have been written about 9/11,
about the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, about Abu Ghraib, about
"If we turn away and let the rationalizations crowd into our minds to
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?
I take on this suffering on behalf of these victims?
However much we may resist it, the choice has been made for us,
Whether we manage to bear the grief or whether we
freeze, the massacre enters into us and becomes a part of us. The
for self-examination and for action, but if we deny
the call and try to go on as before, as though nothing had happened,
knowledge, which can never leave us once we have acquired
it, will bring about an unnoticed but crucial alteration in us, numbing
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,
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 www.peacefultomorrows.org