Remaining a Quaker Pacifist: Open Letter to Scott Simon about His Essay on 9/11

Dear Scott,

I don’t think that we have ever met, but I am a young adult Quaker. I felt led to write this letter to you after seeing Friends General Conference post your 2001 essay about September 11 on social media today. I remember reading it shortly after Friends Journal published it in December 2001. As a 17 year old, I was challenged by your essay. Yet 14 years later, I am disturbed by how simplistic and American apologetic your essay is.

My memory of September 11 is indeed very different from yours because I was living in the Midwest at the time in a small town. I watched this all unfold on the news in the evening at my job. I had just started washing dishes at a new Sports Bar that had 11 TVs (I counted in the days after September 11th). For weeks afterwards, I remember hearing endless news coverage of the terror attacks from these 11 TVs while I washed dishes. For me I did experience it from afar, certainly not like you did living in Washington DC.

Yet, a dear friend, another young Quaker, Caitlin, had a more direct experience that day than I did. Her father worked in Manhattan, not far from the World Trade Towers, and he became covered in dust after the collapse of the Twin Towers. She also knew others in her New Jersey community who lost their loved ones that day in Manhattan. Immediately, after September 11, she was intent on making sure something like the 9/11 attacks wouldn’t happen again. She, like you probably did, wanted to feel safe again and be reassured that her loved ones would be safe too. But, as time passed and the war in Afghanistan raged on, she had a dream about being called to stand for peace in Afghanistan. She went to her Quaker meeting and asked for a support committee to understand what this dream/leading meant. Through this process, she was able to realize how more bloodshed would not attain peace. In the end, she did not travel to Afghanistan, but she has since devoted her life to working on improving relationships between Chinese and Americans through cultural exchanges and advocating for better foreign policy.

As I read your piece now, I grieve for the American apologetics that you seem to embrace after September 11, 2001. This kind of apologetics have led to endless wars and violence in Afghanistan and Iraq, leaving both countries in precarious conditions. These wars have led to heinous war crimes being committed by US troops, like the horrors of Abu Ghraib and the endless detention of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay. Not to mention the unmanned drones or civilians killed because of a “shoot first, ask questions later” policy. Those stories feel distant to many Americans, because we don’t hear anecdotes about loved ones dying like the stories we hear around the each anniversary of September 11. Every year around September 11, we hear heartbreaking stories about people calling their loved ones from high up in the World Trade towers after the planes had hit to tell them they were safe only to perish when the towers collapsed or how passengers on the airplanes called loved ones to say goodbye, like the the story of Jeremy Glick you recounted in your essay. How can we humanize the dead who do not happen to be American and whose last conversation with their loved ones we never have the chance to hear? Our lives shouldn’t not be treated as having more valuable as others, but it seems to happen often, especially in our yearly remembrances of September 11, 2001.

According to Iraq Body Count today, between 142,655-165,530 civilians have died so far due to violence stemming from the US’ invasion of Iraq in 2003. This number vastly outnumbered the number of people who died on September 11, 2001 and Iraq is just one of the many battlefields where the War on Terror has been fought and is still being fought. Even the current Syrian refugee crisis has roots in our failed War on Terror. Are we actually safer today with all of the carnage that has happened so far?

We are often misled into war by people trying to profit off of war. Another Quaker, Major General Smedley Butler, wrote “War is a Racket” in 1935. He opens the piece by writing: “WAR is a racket. It always has been. It is possibly the oldest, easily the most profitable, surely the most vicious. It is the only one international in scope. It is the only one in which the profits are reckoned in dollars and the losses in lives.” Eighty years later this still rings true, as the defense contractors rank in billions and billions each year. In 2001, as you wrote that essay, the Vice President at the time was a former CEO of Halliburton, a major defense contractor. Calls for war after 9/11 help his former company make billions. We need to recognize how warmongering has led to people profiteering off of death and a now-constant need to be at war to continue the profiteering. How has patriotism and seeking revenge recklessly aided this greedy effort?

This American fervor for war and revenge have also led to increased hostility towards American Muslims and people perceived to be Muslims in the United States. I subscribe to daily emails from the Council for American-Islamic Relations (CAIR). Over the two years I have subscribed, I have read countless stories of mosques still being targeted for hate crimes, building permits being denied for new mosques, illegal spying by government agencies on Muslims, and violent attacks against Muslims and others just for being perceived as Muslim in America. Just this past Tuesday night, a Sikh man was brutally attacked in Illinois with his attacker shouting: “Terrorist!” “Bin Laden!” “Go back to your country!”

War also forever wounds the soldiers who fight our battles. In the days after September 11, there were calls for vengeance and military action. Fourteen years later, there are still calls for this to continue. In the between time, far more US soldiers have been killed since September 11 than the number of people who died in the September 11 attacks. Yet, when these young men and women come home, they come home to inadequate mental health resources. Today, our soldiers and veterans are more likely to die from suicide than in combat. How does this endless violence help to restore peace, both in the world and in our personal lives?

Sorry I do not find your essay insightful as Friends General Conference did today. I find it to be another piece that uses logic that unwittingly favors endless war and violence. This current level of violence leads the world to be forever unstable in the world after 9/11. I will stay steadfast in my pacifism as an answer to violence in our world.


Greg Woods