On September 11th, sick 2001, my brother was sitting in his office at the World Trade Center, when he learned a lesson about life in the 21st century. The lesson he learned and my family learned was that terrorism can happen to anyone, anytime, anywhere, even in a country that was spending nearly one billion dollars a day on national defense.
We learned that in the 21st century, our bombs could not protect us anymore. Our guns could not protect us anymore. The oceans surrounding our country could not protect us anymore.
We learned that a sensible level of national defense was appropriate and justified, but it was not enough.
It was not enough to ask our military to protect us from the rest of the world. It was not enough to ask our bombs to serve as diplomats. It was not enough to use the chaos of war to achieve the stability that comes from mutual cooperation.
September 11th taught us that we would have to join the rest of the world, whether we liked it or not, in a shared destiny. That we would have to use intelligence, diplomacy, coalition building, and cooperation, if we were going to survive.
From this recognition, we created our group, September 11th Families for Peaceful Tomorrows. We created our group in response to the false choices we were offered after September 11th: That it was us versus them; that we had to respond to violence with greater violence, to force with greater force, to murder with greater murder. That we had no choice, in the “post 911 world” but to respond the way we responded—in Afghanistan and in Iraq.
But we learned that we had a choice. That we could choose to join the rest of the world in facing the very real problems of violence and terrorism and war. And that we had the capacity as human beings to decide on our own response.
So we reached out to the rest of the world, and aligned ourselves with survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki; with Israelis and Palestinians who started a peace group to end their cycle of violence; with survivors of the bombings of Dresden, Germany and Guernica, Spain; with family members of terrorism victims in Northern Ireland, and Oklahoma City, and South Korea.
We learned that all over the world, there were victims of terrorism and war who have devoted their lives to telling the rest of us that war is not the answer, violence is not the answer, terrorism is not the answer.
They, like us, have devoted their lives to the unexciting and unglamorous task of building civil societies, creating dialogue, and changing hearts and minds, one person at a time. They, like us, are creating a culture of peace in which terrorism will no longer be seen as a strategy for success. And they have taught us that as long as we are living, we have a choice about the direction our lives will take.
Today, as I think about the journey we have taken from September 11, 2001 to March 20th, 2004, I think about the choices that have brought us to where we are. And I ask you to recognize the choices that remain to be made in our own lives.
We cannot stand here in Fayetteville, North Carolina, and say “end the occupation of Iraq” and “bring them home now,” without recognizing that the lives that you and I lead are what makes it necessary and profitable for us to be in Iraq. We have to change our lives.
We cannot stand here in Fayetteville, North Carolina and condemn the administration in Washington, without recognizing that the administration in Washington is a reflection of what this country really is, and what this country really does. We have to change our country.
And if we want these things to change, we have to begin by changing who we are, and what our priorities are, and how we talk to each other and communicate with each other.
We have to stop the war we are fighting with each other—democrats against republicans, liberals against conservatives, rich people against poor people, and start finding common ground at home and with the rest of the world.
And when we change ourselves, and our priorities, and our ways of communicating with each other—
When we create a culture of peace in which terrorism will no longer be seen as a strategy for success—
Then we will truly honor the innocent people who died on September 11th, and in Afghanistan, and in Iraq.
Today I ask you to join us in recognizing the power you have: the power to change yourselves, and the power to change the world.