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Peacework has been published monthly since 1972, intended to serve as a source of dependable information to those who strive for peace and justice and are committed to furthering the nonviolent social change necessary to achieve them. Rooted in Quaker values and informed by AFSC experience and initiatives, Peacework offers a forum for organizers, fostering coalition-building and teaching the methods and strategies that work in the global and local community. Peacework seeks to serve as an incubator for social transformation, introducing a younger generation to a deeper analysis of problems and issues, reminding and re-inspiring long-term activists, encouraging the generations to listen to each other, and creating space for the voices of the disenfranchised.
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Worlds Apart: 9/11 First Responders Against War
Erin Miller is a writer and a member of Peacework's Program Committee.
Megan Bartlett's journey from Wall Street to Kabul was born out of her obsession after 9/11 to find out exactly what life was like for rescue workers (medics, firefighters, and police) in Afghanistan. "How different could they possibly be?" she wonders aloud. Much of the film centers on Megan's journey to Afghanistan, and her attempts to answer this question. Megan describes sitting with a woman who had lost eight family members in an American bombing raid: "I asked [her], 'How do you function?' She said to me, 'In your country, you have the privilege to be hopeless. I don't have that privilege here.'"
Worlds Apart is a brutal and honest look at Afghanistan post-US invasion. Tom Jackson blends Afghan rescue and battle footage with interviews with an Afghan presidential candidate and a member of the Revolutionary Association of Women of Afghanistan). It is obvious, both from the interviews with Afghan women and from the battle footage, that the United States has brought only further destabilization. Megan reflects: "President Bush says that he wants to bring to Iraq the freedom that he's brought to Afghanistan. That's one of the most disturbing things I've ever heard."
For me, having grown up with classmates and friends who went on to serve in the New York City Fire Department, footage of Yar Mohammad, the Assistant Fire Chief in Kabul, was especially moving. With his tie and white shirt carefully tucked beneath his uniform, he could easily be mistaken for a New York City emergency worker. As he told his story of disaster and apocalypse, I was struck by how similar his story was to those of so many first responders interviewed on September 11, 2001 -- there was fire, there were deaths: they could put out the smaller fires, but could do nothing to help with the big ones. But Mr. Mohammad was speaking of the night when America bombed Kabul. How different could they be?
In order to wage war, "they" must be different enough, demonized enough, that the American government can convince the people that war is the answer. Maggie Dubris, a medic, reflecting on the estimated 100,000 casualties in Iraq, objects to the word "civilian" in describing war casualties: "They don't say three thousand civilians died at the Trade Center. They're not talking about some non-uniformed soldier." Megan notes, "We were told within an hour of the attacks on the towers that these Afghans were coming to get us."
The demonization of the Afghan people, coupled with the trauma experienced by first responders on 9/11, provides many challenges for Ground Zero for Peace. Megan's journey to Afghanistan was anything but easy. In the aftermath of 9/11, most rescue workers responded with rage. Ground Zero for Peace was formed out of a different response, a nonviolent response. Early in the film, Megan reflects on a co-worker's question -- after experiencing 9/11, wouldn't she now go to a recruitment center and sign on as part of the armed forces? "What fundamental piece have we lost that we no longer understand first responders to be who they are -- the oath that we take to preserve and protect life. Where do things become so confusing and frightening that that oath no longer applies to lives in Afghanistan, lives in Iraq?" John Keenan, a New York City firefighter, reflects on the difficulties of standing up for peace when discussing the war with his co-workers. Megan describes another firefighter who told her, "There's something really wrong in the world when I'm not afraid to run up a 100-story building that's on fire, but I'm afraid to tell my firehouse that I don't think we should go to war in Afghanistan." Though there are thirty-two members of Ground Zero for Peace, only four agreed to be interviewed for the documentary.
The four emergency workers who appear in the film bravely break their silence, reflecting openly on the complex relationships formed in traumatic work. Just as Gold Star Families for Peace and Cindy Sheehan have demanded answers and an end to the killing, the Ground Zero for Peace emergency workers also stand up to say, "Not in our names." Worlds Apart brings the stories of 9/11, the stories of war, right back to where they should be: far outside the Washington spin zone, firmly grounded in the reality of the people who experienced these terrible events. In telling the stories of 9/11 rescue workers, the stories of Afghan rescue workers, and the stories of survivors of the American bombing, Tom Jackson tells the truth: We're not that different, after all.
Clips from Worlds Apart can be viewed at www.joepublicfilms.com. Copies of the film can be ordered from Joe Public Films, 163 Court Street, Portsmouth NH 03801. Check or money order made out to Joe Public Films for $20, plus $2 for postage & handling.