by Barry Amundson
August 2nd, 2006
Speech for Youth Rally
Thank you for giving me the opportunity to speak at such a wonderful gathering. On this occasion when there is so much violence and war in the world for seemingly irresolvable reasons, I think of the value of those who are brave enough to teach peace. I know from experience that even one ‘voice in the wilderness’ can make a difference.
When I was in high school, I remember a teacher who had a woman from Central America into our Spanish classroom to speak to us about human rights abuses in her country. This woman told us of her story of having a family member abducted because of their political beliefs, and many others who had the same fate, some found dead, some never found at all, just gone ‘missing.’ This woman who told us her stories about the reality of the violence that was affecting her family and country was a experience that stuck with me, because I considered her words long after that class.
The power of one person in communicating the truth can go a long way – especially when there are so very few genuine voices. I know that even if this woman who spoke to us saw a classroom of bored high school students, her talk to us made a made us look at the world differently, maybe not right away, but through reflection later. I know from this that seeds can be planted from very small actions, and that our actions do make a difference, even if sometimes we feel like they are not.
On September 11, 2001 I lost my younger brother Craig in the Pentagon. It was really heartbreaking for all of us, he left behind a young family. Craig was (and I prefer to say IS since he is still alive in our hearts) a wonderful person, considerate, wickedly funny. And above all compassionate. I loved him and continue to love him and miss him everyday.
During those first days after September 11th, our family agreed that the idea of a military reprisal that would kill innocents around the world was very upsetting to us – and our family runs across the political spectrum, as most families do. I searched for words of other family members of 9/11 victims, looking for some way to make sense. Many spoke of how there should be “good can come out of grief”. This made so much sense to me.
Since then I, and other 9/11 family members have been engaged in peacemaking through our group “Peaceful Tomorrows.” We have been traveling, speaking, lobbying and engaging in projects that focus on nonviolence as a response to the terrorism that took our loved ones. We take our name from a Vietnam era speech by U.S. civil rights leader Martin Luther King who said that “wars are poor chisels for peaceful tomorrows.”
I often think of what am I qualified to speak about, and it often comes back to describing what I felt because of the mourning and grief.. I had never lost anyone close to me before, and I didn’t know what to feel.
I saw the world in a different light when I experienced the reality of mortality – we only spend a short time here on earth. In light of that realization, all differences become trivial matters. So many felt united after 9/11 – not in the sense of the narrow nationalism but united as humankind, without borders, and a wish to work together to reconcile and to stop the violence. I only wish that all of our leaders could feel this and take these kind of stands – because there are many victims from around the world who feel this way, and want reconciliation. Who want peace in their loved ones names, not more death and destruction. International cooperation, not war or the threat of nuclear weapons.
After 9/11 I met a group of Hibakusha in New York with the 9/11 families for peace to share the common experiences. Their testimony and work to teach the world about the horror of nuclear weapons affected me and other 9/11 family members deeply. Their ability to get past the idea of vengance mirrors the situation of victims of terrorism and war today. New generations in Japan should not forget the testimony and wisdom of the Hibakusha. Say no to war, nuclear weapons and ‘collateral damage’ and YES to diplomacy, peace and international cooperation to eliminate nuclear weapons.
Speech to International/World Conference Against Nuclear Weapons
I am humbled to be invited to the World Conference in Hiroshima and Nagasaki and be a part of such a wonderful gathering of people. Almost 4 years ago, I remember meeting a group of Hibakusha who traveled to New York City to meet 9/11 family members and share common experiences. This meeting further informed our work as 9/11 family members, and made us realize that we are part of a global community. I will never forget their testimony.
9/11 was a watershed event in history. But, certainly what had happened in the US was not an isolated and distant incident; it was something that has been experienced all over the world – from the political violence of war to state terrorism. Violence will only beget violence. I say that with an awakened heart borne out of mourning and not even as a pacifist but a realist. The cycles of violence must be broken.
I’m here today because, on September 11, 2001, I lost my brother Specialist Craig Scott Amundson in the Pentagon. Life hasn’t been easy for any of us in my family since 9/11, I think we will always be grieving.
My brother Craig entered the Army not to go to war but to provide the benefits of health insurance and housing for his family. He drove to the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia each day with a peace bumper sticker, and he sincerely hoped that the U.S. role in the world could affect change for good. As a college graduate, he was given a desk job in the Pentagon as a graphic designer, which is what I was employed as on the west coast in San Francisco, California. We had plans to start a business together once he was out of the Army. I often joked with him about how the Pentagon was really just a big office building like the advertising firm I worked in, only bigger.
The morning of 9/11 I turned on the TV and saw the destruction. I knew Craig was in the Pentagon, but I assumed that he was OK – I had always thought we were lucky – how could this time be any different? The hole resulting from the attack on the pentagon looked very small compared to the immense size and significance of that building on the television, and compared with the devastating collapse of the World Trade Center. But as the hours dragged on Craig did not call home, and gradually I became numb, knowing that the worst had occurred.
I had never lost someone as close as my brother before, and I did not know how I should be feeling. Alternately the feeling of loss, regret, sadness, anger, resentment at the world, and even joy in holding him up in remembrance were all there.
I remember having a conversation with my family about the inevitable military response to this – we were all concerned about the people who would be the innocent civilian victims – just like us, those who were in the wrong place at the wrong time. Regardless of the different political views in our family, we did not feel that killing more people in military retaliation would bring comfort – rather more horror.
We agreed talk of revenge was not what my brother would have wanted. This kind of violence that came to our family was something that we wished on no one else.
Amidst the outpouring of compassion for the victim’s families the media called for ‘vengeance.’ Voices of moderation in response to 9/11 were often shouted down by war supporters: “try to tell that to the victim’s families” they said. Various pundits in the media were claiming to speak for 9/11 family victims, and demanding military retaliation.
I, like everyone I knew felt reconciliation between my family and friends. Division and petty resentments between family and friends became insignificant in light of the immense tragedy. The artificial walls that people had created between each other seemed to not matter. Past problems were trivial compared to what had happened and people seemed to have a bittersweet knowledge – that life is precious, our time is short, and the one thing that truly makes a difference in our life on earth is to help other people.
I feel that this culture and this world needs to know grieving in a healthy way. In all our material pursuits we in the modern world seem to ignore death – pursue life as if there is always something more to acquire.
In popular culture retribution and vengeance at whatever cost to others is often glorified. It makes for an easy plot element in a feature length film (or a simple way to discuss a tragic situation on the nightly news), but the reality of violence’s effect on a family is quite different.
We wanted a way for something good to arise from so much destruction. And a desire to grieve in a healthy way – to not end up focused on anger as the sole response, as was being called for in the media and the Bush Administration. I remember being very affected by a funeral eulogy written by Debi Corcoran, who lost her brother:
“It would be easy for us to shun culpability, to claim victimization… But I don’t believe my brother and all those other beautiful spirits made the supreme sacrifice so we can go on with business as usual. We cannot harm another without harming ourselves. Let our collective goal be justice for all.”
There was an idea that 9/11 could be a ‘teachable moment’ – and that we had had enormous responsibility thrust into our lives to make sure that our loved ones names were not used for violence, but to teach peace.
Soon after 9/11 families started seeking each other out with similar views in order to provide solace, and organize. We formed Peaceful Tomorrows in order to put our “grief to work for peace as a path toward healing,” seeking to highlight nonviolent responses to terrorism and to identify a commonality with all people affected by violence regardless of borders.
One of the first actions of members of Peaceful Tomorrows was to go to Afghanistan to share grief with civilian victims of the U.S. military action — to show the world that our experiences were not so different from theirs. This generated the first television news reports concerning Afghan civilian casualties. News editors did not have a way to present the story without seeming ‘un-American’ in this time of fear. But because 9/11 families went they were able to have a sympathetic story about the Afghan people presented to the public.
Since then there have been other delegations to Afghanistan and then Iraq, lobbying and speaking out. That is what I believe the role of 9/11 families for peace is – to show the larger society and the world that those who have gone through violence and mourning want peace and reconciliation by standing with victims of violence. To respond to violence with nonviolence. Certainly it is the challenge of any victims of violence to overcome the simple desire for revenge and retaliation and speak out for reconciliation.
Currently members of Peaceful Tomorrows are putting together an international conference comprised of people affected by political violence in early September 2006. There are families of victims of violence invited from Israel, Palestine, Algeria, Chile, Columbia, Italy, Cuba and other places in the world. We hope that this event will be the start of more international cooperation between those who are victims of conflict, and to use their voices to advocate non-violence in resolving conflict.
I believe the world can be shown a way out of violence. I believe those who have experienced it in their lives and who can overcome hate, fear, nationalism and a desire for vengeance can do a great part, but that this work will never be done.
Thank you for inviting me. I hope that our actions are a seed for more involvement and it is my fervent hope that millions will join our voices and demand that the world will be rid of all war and nuclear weapons.