Commentary: On 9-11 anniversary, the focus should be on healing

The pain, anger and hatred still smoldering from the construction of a Muslim community center near ground zero in New York City shows how people still struggle with the Sept. 11, 2001, tragedy.

Events this week and next in Kansas City can help people heal from a culture of war created by the terrorist attack and nine years of fighting in Afghanistan and seven years in Iraq.

The wars remind me of the Vietnam era of the mid-1960s and ’70s. Grade-schoolers like me when that fighting started witnessed friends and family members taken by the draft. Some were killed. Many who returned were never the same.

Now a new generation faces the same awful future. Since 2001, young people, many leaving high school joined the military and the war effort. More disturbing is many children who were in grade school in 2001 are looking at military service after high school this or next year.

No doubt many of their parents are like my folks, who feared the draft for my brothers and me.

Today’s all-volunteer military ended the draft. But Ira Harritt, program coordinator with the American Friends Service Committee, counters that this recession has created “a poverty draft” in which many young people are entering the service for thousands of dollars in signing bonuses, pay and benefits because there are few jobs elsewhere.

The military industrial complex, which President Dwight D. Eisenhower warned the nation about decades ago, is thriving, consuming tax dollars and U.S. youths.

President Barack Obama kept his campaign pledge to get U.S. combat troops out of Iraq before Tuesday's deadline. However, non-combat forces will remain. Harritt, who's helped organize a candlelight vigil from 8 to 9 p.m. Tuesday at the J.C. Nichols Fountain, said he thought that any U.S. troops in Iraq created a destabilizing force, resulting in insurgents killing civilians. There also have been more than 4,400 U.S. troops killed in Iraq and more than 31,000 U.S. soldiers injured.

The U.S. public continues to shoulder the loss and the cost, which has been socialized, while the profits of war flow to private corporations.

"We've seen the suicide rate increase in active duty troops and veterans," Harritt said. "That's likely to continue along with more divorces and homelessness."

In the early days of anti-war rallies folks holding signs were cursed by people in passing cars and subjected to obscene gestures. Polls show that attitudes about the wars have shifted. But the anger over 9/11 still poisons many.

Healing events should help redirect the negative emotion toward positive change.

On Sept. 11, the anniversary of planes destroying the Twin Towers, the doors of the Community Christian Church will open at 8 p.m. for a program titled, "Interfaith Remembrance and Recovery from 9/11." The subtitle is "From Pain to Peace: Easing Suffering, Creating Sanctuary," said Ron Faust, a convener for the Disciples for Peace Fellowship, the sponsoring organization.

"We're just trying to help people let go of some of the pain and blame that surrounds 9/11 and embrace a sense of hope and uplift peace," Faust said.

The offering for the evening will go to Heart to Heart International, a worldwide humanitarian organization headquartered in Olathe.

The interfaith event will include music, speakers, dance and refreshments. The effort is to get people to envision a sustainable future for themselves, their children and this country without war.

The war in Afghanistan and the war in Iraq have had devastating effects on the U.S. economy, the country and people.

Faust said starting and continuing the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq conflicts with the best of America's ideals.

The interfaith remembrance will be "a counterpoint toward a more constructive approach."

Then, from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. Oct. 1, First Friday, "Visions of Peace at the Crossroads" will offer the public a chance to add their hands to a 40-foot long "Lend Us Your Hands for Peace and Justice" mural. Discussions will focus on how to create a lasting peace and justice in our time.

It isn't as popular or as gripping as war, but peace and justice help create a better, more sustainable world for everyone.