These remarks were delivered by David Potorti during the American Friends Service Committee’s No More Victims Tour in September, 2002.
The last time I spoke with my oldest brother Jim was on Labor Day, 2001.He and his wife had driven from Princeton, New Jersey to upstate New York to visit my parents. They had bought kayaks and went out on the lake where we had grown up for the first time. I knew they were there so I called to say hello, spoke with him, and I remember saying goodbye and hanging up the phone.
A week later my brother was sitting at his desk on the 95th floor of the north tower of the World Trade Center at quarter to nine, and his life ended that morning, September 11. I think he was sitting at his desk but in fact I will never know what he was doing at the moment that plane hit the building—was he drinking coffee, checking his emails, washing his hands? I will never know.
But I do know that he was three years away from early retirement, and he had plans. He was going to travel. He was going to enjoy himself and his wife’s company. He was going to have time for all the things he had wanted to do, but didn’t.
But someone else had other plans.
At the time this happened, I had a profound sense of sadness for my brother, for his wife—who has one less husband; for my parents, who have one less son; for my other brother, Bill, who has one less brother; and for my young son, who has one less uncle. And I felt a sadness at a world where we do these things to each other.
And I remember my mom’s words when we decided that Jim would not be found: “I don’t want anyone else to have to feel the pain I’m feeling right now.” And I thought, if a mother could have that reaction to the death of her firstborn son, then so could I. And maybe, so could you.
So when we began to bomb Afghanistan, I remembered my mom’s words, and I realized that families just like mine would be affected, and people just like my brother, would be killed. And I spoke out, and I came across others who were saying the same thing, on the internet, and in newspapers, and letters to the editor: that we must have justice for the terrorist attacks that took the lives of our loved ones, that we must find the people who did this and stop them from ever doing it again, but that we should not do it at the cost of other innocent lives, of other people who were in the wrong place at the wrong time, just like my brother.
We met during a peace walk from the Pentagon to the World Trade Center last November, and formed our group, September 11 Families for Peaceful Tomorrows, in February. We came to learn that for those who were not directly affected by the terrorist attacks, the reactions were the same: fear, anger, the need to throw up walls, to lock their doors, and to trade their freedom for security.
But for those of us so closely affected, we had the opposite reaction: that there were no walls high enough, no bombs big enough, no police force powerful enough, to allow us to continue to pretend that we lived on a planet called the United States of America, but that we were part of a shared globe that no longer had barriers to the movement of people, things and ideas. That we could not protect ourselves from every bad person and every bad thought that might exist in the world. That the only way to be truly safe and secure was to create a just society.
We realized that the terrorist attacks of September 11, as horrific as they were, were no worse than any other terrorist attack, anywhere else. That not a single murder is ever justified. That not a single murder ever takes place in a vacuum. And that I didn’t love my brother any more, or any less, than anyone else loves their brother, or sister, or mother, or father, or child. That all life is precious, and deserves to be honored.
We realized that our destinies were linked to the destinies of every other person on earth, and that we much engage them, no matter how hard it might be to do so.
So here we are, a year later, and I’m seeing photos on the TV and in magazines of that rubble from the World Trade Center. And I can’t help but think what a waste it was. What a waste of human life. What a waste of firefighters, and policemen. What a waste of energy, of money, of time. And that there has to be a better way of getting along with each other. That responding to violence with violence only creates more world Trade Centers in other cities in other countries, with their own firefighters, and their own policemen, and their own grieving mothers and fathers and sisters and brothers and kids.
And I realize now that I have two versions of my brother: the brother who entertained me with puppet shows when I was a kid, who taught me how to ride a bicycle and pushed my go cart into our neighbors flower bed. The brother who made a thousand meals with me, and went to a hundred wine tastings. The brother who grew up surrounded by love and had a good education and was cared for and cared about.
And I think about the other version of my brother: the piece of his thighbone found in the fresh kills landfill and identified by DNA this past march. That is my brother, too. And he is the product of hate, of violence, of extremism, of hopelessness. Both my brother. And we have to choose which version we want, which world we want to create by our actions, every day.
I hope that our discussion tonight will bring us closer to a realization of which world we must choose in the days, and months, and years ahead.