World Trade Center

Thoughts from the Philippines, September 2001

Several of my kind friends back home have written to ask how I'm doing in the wake of last week's horrible attacks in NYC and Washington, DC. The short answer is I'm fine, living in a quiet place and apparently safer than being back in the USA. Thanks for asking.

Like everybody else, I stared in horror at the CNN footage, unable to comprehend what had happened. The scenes were wilder than a Hollywood blockbuster, but the reality was terror for those involved. The impact for me was maybe a little less since I'm living in the Philippines; the events just images on a small screen, of a place far away.

As America grieves and begins the long recovery process, I keep thinking back to a scene I witnessed many times while I was working in hospitals and nursing homes in Seattle during the past 15 years: I'd walk into the room of a patient who had had a stroke or heart attack, and they'd be chomping away on a pork chop, mashed potatoes with gravy and ice cream. Although they had suffered a catastrophic, life-threatening trauma, there they'd be, eating the same high-fat foods that had undoubtedly contributed to their illness. I'll call it the Pork Chop Syndrome.

We've all heard many times about the Chinese character for crisis also representing opportunity. It occurs to me that the America's present crisis is also a great opportunity.

The past few days when I turn on CNN the banner headline reads "America's New War." The USA is right back to one of the two things we do best, making war and making money (the two usually go together.) I read that the world is now being divided by our national security apparatus into two camps, those countries which will cooperate in our new "Anti-terrorism jihad" and those that won't (and woe to the latter, they'll surely pay for their lack of obedience.) It's the Pork Chop Syndrome on a national scale, reflexively doing what comes naturally.

I made a mental list of places bombed by the US Air Force during the past thirty years: Hanoi, Cambodia, Laos, Grenada, Tripoli, Baghdad, Belgrade, Tanzania, Sudan (any more?) Was the horror for residents of those places any less than that experienced by people trapped in the World Trade Center last week? Yet those bombings weren't viewed by us as acts of terror, they were just local police actions by the self-appointed guardian of world civilization. Really, what's the difference? All these events were acts of war by people who thought they were right.

Instead of devoting all our energy to deciding which mud huts to bomb in Afghanistan, why not ask ourselves why so many people in the world are so angry at the USA and want to hurt us? Obvious case in point: Palestine. The Palestinians are an internationally- recognized national group, but without a nation to call their own. Instead of spending 40 billion dollars on new war-making machinery as the US Senate has proposed, why not spend some money to help create a Palestinian state? For just 10 billion dollars we could probably buy a house and computer for every Palestinian family, and in the process demonstrate support for self-determination and development by disenfranchised peoples. That would buy us some world respect and a hell of a lot more security than 40 billion dollars worth of electronics gadgets, missiles and interrogation centers. The overwhelming reality of the world is poverty. How about using some of our colossal wealth and power to foster true development, making food, shelter, health care and education available to the poor people of the world?

Sorry I can't be there to join you all in the good fight for justice and a sane response, so I'll just say good luck. It's a longshot, but I hope America can heal and seize the opportunity to eat more vegetables.

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