by Joyce Marcel
American Reporter Correspondent
September 19, 2001
THE DAGGER IN OUR EYE
DUMMERSTON, Vt., Sept. 19, 2001 -- Many people don't know this, but during the Persian Gulf War, only a handful of newspapers in the United States had the courage to editorialize against it. One was my hometown newspaper, the Brattleboro (Vt.) Reformer. At the time, it was also my employer.
Although we at the paper took a lot of heat from the people who were wrapping yellow ribbons around the trees, our stance for peace represented the feelings of a large part of our community.
Now we're facing what could be -- according many of my incoming mails - the start of World War III, and this small Vermont community has come together again to speak about peace.
Monday night, the Reformerand our 30-plus year old communal restaurant, the Common Ground, attracted well over 100 people -- newcomers to the area as well as long-time residents -- to a forum on the recent terrorist attacks. The discussion was on how to remove what one National Public Radio commentator, referring to the World Trade Center images on television, called "the dagger in our eye."
It was immediately noticeable that there was a large difference in mood between the Gulf War times and this newer, larger tragedy. Now, peace is accompanied by paranoia.
For example, one participant took a photo, and several people became visibly upset. One woman demanded that the film be destroyed.
This kind of paranoia is part of a growing wave that began right after the attack, when both left-wing and right-wing groups accused the Bush administration of causing the destruction itself, in order to usurp democracy and consolidate dictatorship powers.
As one woman at the forum said, "The Bush people don't want bin-Laden. They want martial law in America." Given that large numbers of people, including myself, know that Bush and Cheney came to power in a coup d'etat, these feelings could charitably be called understandable.
Even so, it's hard to imagine Bush or Cheney capable of the level of charisma necessary to convince 19 people to commit suicide for them.
We haven't seen this level of paranoia since the Red Scare of the 1950s, or since the Sixties, when the FBI spied on the civil rights, women's and antiwar movements.
It became clear to me that for many people, this war is going to be fought on at least two fronts. One will be against the Islamic fundamentalist fanatics who want to destroy our way of life, and the other will be against our own government.
At the forum, one Sixties activist invoked the holy names of Martin Luther King Jr. and Mohandas Gandhi and said, "We have to get back to the streets, non-violently. We have to show through our actions that we want justice."
And I thought yes, but when we do, this government will shoot us down faster than you can say "Kent State."
Many people used poetry to speak about peace. One quoted Joni Mitchell's song, "Woodstock" - "We've got to get back to the garden." Another pointed out that "even terrorists are human beings." A third quoted Gandhi's famous aphorism: "An eye for an eye and we'll soon all be blind." A fourth said, "We have to learn to listen to each other, and that's hard." A fifth said, "We have to stop judging people, and we need to have peace in our hearts."
How can they speak of peace, I wondered, knowing that President Bush and Vice President Cheney and their people, awash in ego and testosterone, are gleefully preparing for war?
Some were more realistic. "We're an oppressive society," said one woman. "We keep other people down, and we'll do anything to protect our oil supply. We've been bombing Iraq for 10 years; we've killed thousands of people there. Until we deal justly with the world, we will always be in danger."
Almost in tears, a woman who recently moved to Vermont from Oklahoma reminded us that there are also terrorist movements inside our own country.
"Our government hasn't told us the truth about the Oklahoma bombings," she said. "We killed Timothy McVeigh, and the truth died with him. We have to take responsibility for finding the truth."
Finding the truth became an important theme for the evening. Several talked about needing to educate themselves. Some blamed the media, but then people always blame the media. One woman said she was shocked to learn that the CIA trained bin Laden.
I was shocked that she didn't already know that. Did she also know that Bush and Cheney recently gave over $40 million to the Taliban because they promised to curtail poppy production?
In the end, the idea of turning the other cheek found a lot of support.One woman said that in the real religion of Islam, when a person is slapped on the cheek, the correct response is a concerned, "Did you hurt your hand?"
Another woman longed for the emergence of a popular leader of the magnitude of Nelson Mandela. "When he came out of prison he didn't say, 'Payback time,'" she said. "He established the Truth and Reconciliation Council."
But someone else pointed out that gun sales in Vermont have quadrupled in the past week.
I was most moved when a man referred to an incident which happened in our rural area last week. Late at night, Air Force fighter jets scrambled overhead after an unidentified plane was spotted flying near our local nuclear power plant. It turned out to be a United Parcel Service plane, but many of us were terrorized by the noise of the low-flying jets.
"I thought about what a luxury it is not to have to worry about being blown up," he said. "We don't have to worry about such things in America. Not the way people in many other countries do."
That was a blessed luxury, I thought, and it was one we all took for granted. But now it's gone forever, and we're living in dangerous times.
Joyce Marcel is a freelance journalist who writes about culture,politics, economics and travel.