by Joe Shea
American Reporter Correspondent
November 5, 2001
Can anyone imagine Muhammad Ali saying just after the Sept. 11 attacks on New York, "I don't have any quarrel" with Osama bin Laden and his Al Qaeda network, as the champ famously said of the Viet Cong 30 years ago?
I can't imagine it, but a growing number of people in the United States are starting to say just that. If this is the legacy of the Vietnam War, we have learned very little since then.
There is an enormous difference between a war that was instigated by false reports of a patrol boat encounter in the South China Sea and one that began with the other side flying hijacked airplanes into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
The fact that some people still treat these two wars, rather than just the first, with deep suspicion is a sad commentary on the ability of such people to think outside the box they have constructed around their lives and minds.
I was shocked as anyone by the events of Sept. 11, but my awareness may have begun a little earlier. On the day President George W. Bush was inaug= urated, a powerful word kept pulsing from my center of being as I listened to the Inauguratal ceremonies on radio.
The word was "War," and it just came welling up from within me again and again as the day progressed. I felt enormous certainty at the end of that day that we would soon be at war.
In all honesty, I presumed that it would arise from sort of effort to increase the sale of oil -- nothing does that like armies in motion.
But my presentiments didn't stop there. Either on the day before or on the day I wrote an Aug. 12 editorial called "There's No Moral Side In the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict," I woke up from a terrible dream.
It was not a dream in the usual sense because it was extremely brief and although the scene I saw appeared as a living image and not a still one, there was just that one image and no movement. I saw a huge gray office building that had been crudely chopped down, sheared from high on one side all the way to the ground on all three others.
It was instantly clear to me that America was going to suffer a terrible act of terrorism that I said aloud on waking would take tens of thousands of lives.
I felt gutted like a fish.
For days, then weeks and then months I had watched the new violence in Israel grow steadily worse. I had avoided taking a side, or even taking a position. My conscience urged me to write to help stop the violence, but I could not get myself to do it. That image broke the impasse within me, and that day, or the next -- I don't recall which -- I wrote.
It occurred to me that the image that had seared me so deeply would make a good way to start the editorial. My naysaying brain put a damper on that, though; I argued against myself that it would seem like a self-fulfilling prophecy, and for some people, it would be very hard to take the least bit seriously. In the end, I simply tried to write about the sense of "dread, anticipation and sorrow" with which we could now await the future. "Dread," I wrote, "because we know that the ultimate resolution of this spiraling conflict could involve a regional war, an energy embargo or even the use of nuclear weapons; anticipation because we constantly await intervention on the side of peace -- divine, American, or multinational, or, God forbid, Iraqi, Iranian, Syrian, Libyan on the side of war, even as we also await the next bombing, bulldozing, rocket attack or assassination in the region; and sorrow because we know it is so unnecessary."
I wrote with all the passion I could summon, trying to make the words burn in the minds of those who control that conflict. "The Israelis and the Palestinians also endanger, all by themselves, virtually all of human civilization," I said. The same morning, I faxed the piece to the LA Weekly and the Los Angeles Times.
How easy it must have been to laugh about, and how hysterical it must have seemed, on Aug. 12.
Calling on the conscience of all good people, trying to summon the words that stir brave souls to sacrifice for peace, I wrote: "Except for the silence of the rest of the Middle East -- or at least its silence in the American press -- we would certainly be worried to distraction that another war is imminent. We know that Israel would probably win, yet we know, too, that the whole world will pay the price of victory in new terrorist attacks, energy disruptions, military deployments and the loss of diplomatic contacts -- communication, that is -- with nations that become party to such a war.
"Whether merely hundreds or tens of thousands died in such a conflict, its tragedy would be all the greater because of the efforts of good men like Menachem Begin and Anwar Sadat, of the sacrifices of Yitzhak Rabin and men like Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak... . Brave men have struggled and died with courage in the battle for peace in the Middle East, but the upward journey of their souls to the Heaven they'll have to share is profoundly betrayed by the violence, blood-lust and obstinacy of their successors. Any posture of moral right and wrong is lost on this supposed religious conflict."
Words do not move this world very far. I got no letters about the piece, which came out just a day before the terrorists met, according to the New York Times, in Las Vegas to plan the Sept. 11 attacks. In fact, two weeks later I finally decided to go to Las Vegas myself to help shake off the terrible feeling in my gut that had started with that dream.
In Henderson, Nev., just 12 miles outside of Las Vegas, we stayed in a small Best Western on S. Lake Mead Drive and spent the night walking around the Strip. On Labor Day, when I finally got going about one in the afternoon, I met three dark-skinned men from Asia, who were looking at maps and brochures in the office as they planned their itinerary. I thought they were Indians, so I tried to strike up a conversation with them in Hindi. They weren't having any, so I left with my coffee and carried it back to my room. Ours was the only car in the parking lot.
During the last four or five days beforte the attack, I kept thinking of the name "Atta." I said it aloud as I walked through my house, and kept coming back to the dream. I felt they were connected. The irony of the old phrase, "Atta boy!" kept recurring to me.
The phone rang on the morning of Sept. 11 about 7:30 Pacific time. It was my wife's friend Elva calling, and I was irked until my wife convinced me that we had to turn on the radio. I think I turned it on just as one building was collapsing. Planes were still in the air; the Associated Press, unaccountably, reported that a car had blown up outside the State Department, too. You know the rest.
This is how I come to the war. Each of us approaches it in a different way, but we all arrive at the same recurring horror that the great John Knowles once said was caused "by something ignorant in the human heart." I have no ignorance in my heart, although I once did.
I want those who perpetrated a grievous crime against my country and myself punished as severely as they have punished us for what they understand to be our crimes. I am not going to take their side against the wives an dchildren of hundreds of brave and innocent New York City firemen and police officers, or against the tears of thousands of families and friends of people killed on that day.
Muhammad Ali was one brave man in and out of the ring, and his declaration of conscience in stark and simple words has stuck with me through decades of war and change. It is a fundamental call to the unity of the entire human race, an acknowledgement of the same life force that animates every human being. It is the starting place of conscience for me, the catalyst of the "good fight" of people who would wage peace. So I must ask myself if I have "something against" Osama bin Laden and Mohammed Atta and al-Qaida's terrorists around the globe.
I do. They not only took a man of my name, the managing director of Cantor Fitzgerald, Joseph Patrick Shea, but also thousands of other innocent lives. They have nearly destroyed several key American industries. They have cost hundreds of thousands of Americans their jobs and livelihood. They have left millions of Americans living in fear. They have engendered new attacks against us. They have threatened our fundamental rights in the effort to respond to the attacks. And they have done so without just cause.
Yes, I have a quarrel with al-Qaida. Almost all Americans do. Those who do not have little of their own heart invested in loving our country, and I have a quarrel with them, too.