AN END TO THE AGE OF IMPUNITY

The most striking image for me in all the hours of television I watched on September 11th was the picture of a man and a woman, both African Americans, both dressed in business suits, both completely covered in gray ash, both fleeing hand in hand, their mouths open in gasping Os. Their ashen faces and bodies, their postures of woundedness, grief and confusion made me think of images I’ve seen of people in Hiroshima and Nagasaki in the moments and days after we dropped atomic bombs on those cities.
A lot of people have been saying the American age of innocence is over. To cite just one example, shortly after 1:30 in the afternoon on Sunday, September 16th, Mara Liasson on National Public Radio said, “A certain amount of our innocence is gone.” She gave voice to a common misunderstanding. We as a nation have never been innocent. What is over is not our innocence. What is over is the American age of impunity. Now the jealousy, hatred, envy and resentment that we have generated for ourselves around the world comes home to visit us, now we get to suffer as the rest of the world has suffered.
Seeing those two people staggering through the rubble of the World Trade Center and thinking about Hiroshima and Nagasaki, made me think about the saturation bombing and the napalm we loosed on Vietnam and that made me think about the TV pictures of our relentless bombing of Baghdad, you remember those squeaky clean images of our “smart” bombs falling all over Baghdad, you remember how we sat at home and watched on our TVs as Generals Powell and Schwartzkoff explained to us the technical details of our devastation of Iraq.
What unites all of these images of human suffering, these acts of carnage and devastation, from Nagasaki to Baghdad, until September 11th, is how all of them were so far away, just pictures to us, just TV images to be analyzed and watched with a cool and pristine fascination.
Not anymore.
My daughter stood on the Brooklyn shore of the East River and watched tens of thousands of ash covered New Yorkers stream across the Brooklyn Bridge as if they were refugees, this timeless image from Germany, Japan, Vietnam, China, Iraq, Bosnia, Ethiopia, Rwanda, this image of dazed and confused refugees fleeing–this image come home now to New York.
No amount of macho, saber-rattling, bravado out of the mouths of politicians and generals can save us from the images of September 11th. Now we know what it’s like to have done to us what we do to others.
Let us pause a moment.
Let us ponder what unleashing yet another wave of violence will do to create yet another generation of people who hate us and vow revenge upon us.
Let us ponder what unleashing yet another wave of violence will do to continue this international curse of war on civilians.
Let us act now to stop the carnage rather than perpetuate it.

David Budbill © 2001