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Briefings & Documents Menu / Anti-war Briefings Menu / Briefing 9

20 October 2001

Justice Not Vengeance
Anti-war statements by relatives of victims

http://www.lasarletter.com 15 September, 2001

Dear Senator Dianne Feinstein:

I write to share with you some very bad personal news. In fact, since you attended and listened yesterday to President Bush's sermon about the World Trade Center disaster, you already know about it.

You may recall the President praising an unnamed man who "who could have saved himself," but instead "stayed until the end and at the side of his quadriplegic friend." That man was my uncle Abe, the brother of my mother. As USA Today reported yesterday, Abe Zelmanowitz, a computer programmer, worked at the WTC.

When the first airplane struck, Abe could not bear to abandon his wheelchair using colleague, and called his family via cell phone to say so. Despite their pleading, he insisted that he would stay behind. My uncle and his colleague have been missing ever since. No hospital has news of their whereabouts. My mother, who lives twenty minutes from the collapsed buildings, is in a state of shock.

I suppose that at this point you may expect this letter to demand bloody vengeance, total retaliation, and a general retrenchment of all the good things about our open society. But in truth I was alarmed at your speech in response to the terrible events of September 11th.

Here is part of what you said: "I think the United States must spare no effort to uncover, ferret out and destroy those: who commit acts of terrorism; who provide training camps; who shelter; who finance; and who support terrorists. Whether that entity is a state or an organization, those who harbor them, arm them, train them and permit them must, in my view, be destroyed."

I would appreciate some clarification on the last sentence. How do you propose to destroy states? Do you support the covert subversion of their societies? The carpet bombing of their populations? The eradication of their cities? The evisceration of their economies and the destruction of their water supplies, so that like Iraq, they are teeming with hopeless, desperate people ready to lash out in any way possible?

Do you support the training and arming of their enemies, even if their enemies are just as ruthless as the terrorists who attacked New York City? Isn't that the way the Afghani Taliban came to power? And how do you propose to airtight our society against the tens of thousands of bitter, angry people who will be created by our impending ready-fire-aim war against terrorism? If we reinforce our airports, what about our sports stadiums? our bridges? our giant theaters? our dams? our overseas embassies?

What I see coming are actions and polices that will breed more terrorism, not less. My uncle's compassionate, heroic sacrifice will not be honored by what the United States government appears poised to do. Please do not imagine that you do it in his name; or in mine.

Very truly yours,
Matthew Lasar


Interview on US radio:
In the ordinary sense of the word, Abe Zelmanowitz was no hero. A saint maybe, but not a hero: Heroes die saving other people's lives. Those two guys who, in the midst of their own hurried flight, paused at the 68th floor of the World Trade Center to carry a disabled woman 68 floors to safety - those guys are heroes.

Abe accomplished nothing, really, except to decide on Sept. 11, 2001, as the twin towers of death and fear filled his 27th-floor office, just what kind of man he would be.

We can't control death; it comes to us all in the end. But that choice, Abe's choice, we keep to the end: What kind of person will I be?

Abe, a 55-year-old computer programmer, was a devout Jew who read the Torah daily. "Why are you still in there?" his brother Jack demanded when Abe called soon after the first plane hit. Why? Because his friend Ed, a paraplegic, was also there. He couldn't save Ed's life. But he wouldn't become the kind of guy who leaves a paralyzed friend to die alone.

Death comes to us all, but not all of us get to be Abe Zelmanowitz before we die. Now we are at war, and war is always us vs. them. But who is the us that is at war? Abe's question: Who are we going to choose to be? In the raw emotions unleashed by this act of war, the danger is we will lapse from our high sense of common moral purpose and lash out at each other.

Father of Gregory Rodriguez (31), father of a 10 year-old child:

'Our son died a victim of an inhuman ideology. Our actions should not serve the same purpose. When I hear talk of, thoughtless talk, of showing them how strong we are, I feel that - I see people like my son, who just happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time, I see people like my son dying in other lands, and that hurts me.'

Wife of Craig Amundson, who died in the Pentagon.

'A Widow's Plea for Non-Violence' Article in the Chicago Tribune 25 Sept. My husband, Craig Scott Amundson, of the U.S. Army lost his life in the line of duty at the Pentagon on Sept. 11 as the world looked on in horror and disbelief.

Losing my 28-year-old husband and father of our two young children is a terrible and painful experience. His death is also part of an immense national loss and I am comforted by knowing so many share my grief.

But because I have lost Craig as part of this historic tragedy, my anguish is compounded exponentially by fear that his death will be used to justify new violence against other innocent victims. I have heard angry rhetoric by some Americans, including many of our nation's leaders, who advise a heavy dose of revenge and punishment.

To those leaders, I would like to make clear that my family and I take no comfort in your words of rage. If you choose to respond to this incomprehensible brutality by perpetuating violence against other innocent human beings, you may not do so in the name of justice for my husband.

Your words and imminent acts of revenge only amplify our family's suffering, deny us the dignity of remembering our loved one in a way that would have made him proud, and mock his vision of America as a peacemaker in the world community.

Craig enlisted in the Army and was proud to serve his county. He was a patriotic American and a citizen of the world. Craig believed that by working from within the military system he could help to maintain the military focus on peacekeeping and strategic planning - to prevent violence and war.

For the last two years Craig drove to his job at the Pentagon with a "visualize world peace" bumper sticker on his car. This was not empty rhetoric or contradictory to him, but part of his dream. He believed his role in the Army could further the cause of peace throughout the world.

Craig would not have wanted a violent response to avenge his death. And I cannot see how good can come out of it. I ask our nation's leaders not to take the path that leads to more widespread hatreds - that make my husband's death just one more in an unending spiral of killing. I call on our national leaders to find the courage to respond to this incomprehensible tragedy by breaking the cycle of violence. I do not know how to begin making a better world: I do believe it must be done, and I believe it is our leaders' responsibility to find a way. I urge them to take up this challenge and respond to our nation's and my personal tragedy with a new beginning that gives us hope for a peaceful global community.

Professor Robin Therkauf lost her husband Tom in the attacks on the World Trade Centre on 11 Sept.

'What we need less of is war rhetoric and war against Afghanistan in particular, and to explore the possibility of a judicial solution. The last thing I wanted was for more widows and fatherless children to be created in my name. It would only produce a backlash. As the victim of violence, I'd never want this to happen to another woman again.' (Today, Radio 4, 2 Oct.) ember 2001]

'As we assemble a military platform in the Persian Gulf it is worth considering the fact that while political scientists know very few things with any confidence, there is substantial consensus on at least one relevant point.

'While this attack was intended to provoke, responding in kind will only escalate the violence. Further, if we succumb to the understandable impulse to injure as we have been injured and in the process create even newer widows and fatherless children, perhaps we will deserve what we get.

'Some have made the analogy to the attack on Pearl Harbour and in at least one way it is appropriate. In the aftermath of Pearl Harbour, thousands of young men volunteered to join the military. I can only imagine the success of radical Islam's recruiters after our bombs fall on their heads.

'In the short term, the first priority should be to hunt down and arrest the criminals with the goal of achieving justice, not revenge. This is a task left not to the military but to investigative police forces, who can prepare for a trial. Bombing Afghanistan today will not prevent tomorrow's tragedy. We must look beyond military options for long term solutions.' (The Friend, 28 Sept.)

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