It is the anniversary of the attacks on the 9/11 attacks. And, of course, with regularity, the “Never Forget” crowd posts on social media. Yes, I remember. I remember that as a nation, we responded with violence and vengeance. Our president told us to go shopping to save the economy.
This was an utterly traumatic day for those who lived through it. We will not forget. I remember frightened students at the community college where I was teaching. None was more terrified than the young woman whose mother was en route that day from Kabul to upstate New York. None was as terrified as the one whose sister worked at the World Trade Center. None was as terrified as the children who watched the gruesome scenes on repeat in classrooms. None was as terrified as a world that knows the American empire all too well.
If there was any question about whether the United States is a Christian nation, the history of that day and the following months should make it clear we are not.
Jesus taught about loving our neighbors, our enemies, welcoming strangers, doing justice, and taking good news to the poor and oppressed.
We had an opportunity to change the world, to respond as Jesus taught. Instead of acting out of violence and vengeance and greed, what if we had used the opportunity to confess our sins to the world? What if we had confessed that we are complicit in the hatred of our nation? What if we had sought reconciliation and understanding rather than immediately going to war?
We use the world’s resources as if they all belong to us, often at the expense of local populations. We have a military presence in eighty nations around the globe!Infographic: US military presence around the world, Aljazeera, September 10, 2021 As a frame of reference, the British Empire had fifty-seven colonies at its peak. In 2022, the US has five permanently populated territories (colonies) and nine others across the globe. We have a hidden presence around the planet.See Telling the History of the US Through Its Territories, Smithsonian Magazine, Anna Diamond, January 2019.
What if we had taken time for our grief and, yes, held the perpetrators accountable but also learned from this horrific experience? The World Trade Center, a symbol of American greed, would have been transformed collaboratively by our enemies, friends, and ourselves into a place of peace and learning. If the 76% of Americans who identified as Christians in 2001See American Religious Identity Survey 2001, Ariela Keysar, Study Director, The Graduate Center, City University of New York followed Jesus it could have happened. If they were transformed by Jesus, the response to the 9/11 attacks would have been very different. Jesus commanded his followers to “Put your sword back into its place, for all who take the sword will die by the sword.” Our American violence not only harms those outside our borders, but it also results in the death of our children. As a people, we are dying by the sword we wield at every threat.
Never forget? I will never forget the missed opportunity to grieve honestly, to hold accountable, to confess complicity, and to seek wholeness and reconciliation.
I will not forget that it is never too late to become a nation of peacemakers.