Praying for peace?

A student’s reflections on the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks.

I sat Indian-style on the grass in Oberlin’s Tappan Square, watching the flame of my candle flicker in the darkness. I unfolded my legs, lifted the small cylinder of wax off the ground, and cradled it in my cupped hands. The face of the girl leading the songs was obscured by shadows. Her pure soprano voice rang out. ‚Peace, I want peace,’ she sang. I repeated the words quietly, wavering off key. I stared at my candle again and brought my thumbs closer over the flame. Drops of wax stung my skin, hardening over the lines in my palms. Nearly two weeks later, back in Tappan Square, Oberlin held a peace rally covered by the UK’s Guardian newspaper. I was absent, headed to Detroit with friends to see Weezer in concert. As our packed Subaru coasted back to Oberlin after the show, the rural Ohio town adjacent to ours was eerie in the darkness. I peered out the back window at one modest house, illuminated by the early morning moon. It was plastered with at least 20 American flags.

Our nation’s flag is everywhere now, in front of homes and businesses, flying from the back windows of cars, and on the backgrounds of more web pages than I can count. It fills me with pride to see a country so driven by individualism uniting under common colors. But more than that, I’m confused and somewhat scared about what this new surge of patriotism means. The people waving the flags are showing their support for victims of the attacks. But they may also be declaring their desire for retribution. The feeling of desperate unity I felt at that candlelight vigil on the evening of September 11 is dissolving. Maybe I lied when I sang, softly and squeakily, for peace.

I don’t want anger and a thirst for revenge to result in the death of innocents who hate the Taliban and had nothing to do with the attacks. But I can’t join with the peace movements at Oberlin and other campuses around the nation. After such an unprecedented loss of civilian life, we can’t not respond. Peaceful negotiations with the Taliban don’t seem to be working. So where do we go from here? Between bin Laden, the scary possibility of biological terrorism and more attacks, and the fact that the U.S. seems to have a hand in the pocket of every nation’s affairs, I don’t want to think. I just want to hide under my desk here in Oberlin and create my own utopian society. I thought it was a great idea, until my friend Andrew told me last night that ‚utopia’ means ‚nowhere.’

In that nowhere world I’m stuck in, the U.S. could bomb an empty field in Afghanistan. Kill a couple of sheep (sorry to the animal rights people, but humans come before livestock in my book). The Taliban would buckle at this formidable showing of American military force and hand over bin Laden. His terrorist organization would crumble. The world would be safe again. We’d all get along. We’d all live happily ever after. Unfortunately, I can’t live under my desk, and life will never be the same after what happened in September. Out in the real world, I know that something has to be done in response to the terrorist attacks. Something will be done, and more than just Afghan sheep are going to die.

When I sang for peace that night at the vigil, it was wishful thinking. When I crossed my fingers so tightly it hurt, praying that no more innocent people would have to lose their lives, it was wishful thinking. Maybe I knew it, maybe I didn’t. Maybe I wanted to pretend. I’m still pretending. I’m still hoping for peace. I’m just not pushing too hard.

By Susie Armitage, Oberlin College


aftermath pokłosie
to unfold rozwijąc, odsłaniać
to cradle kołysać
obscured zamazany, niewyraźny
to harden twardnieć
adjacent sąsiadujący
eerie niesamowity, dziwny
to peer przypatrywać się uważnie
plastered obklejony
to unite jednoczyć
surge of poruszenie, wzrost
vigil czuwanie
squeakily piszcząco
thirst pragnienie
to have nothing to do with nie mieć nic wspólnego
livestock trzoda
to hand over przekazać
to crumble kruszyć się, rozpadać
to live happily ever after żyć długo i szczęśliwie
wishful thinking pobożne życzenie
to cross sb’s fingers trzymać kciuki