December 18, 2003

Building a War Machine on the Backs of Victims

Consider this appalling disparity: $3 million for the
9/11 investigation, $100 million for the Whitewater
investigation. Please share this outrage with others.

David Potorti: “It’s not a Republican or Democrat thing—this is an open government thing! It’s about what we’re willing to accept as citizens in a democracy. We spent $100 million on Whitewater [Clinton’s pre-presidential financial scandal]. Only $3 million has been spent on investigating September 11! It’s not about ‘getting Bush’—I’m no fan of Bill Clinton either! In a democracy it’s always about us—and what we’re willing to let people get away with.”
Reveal the Truth about 9/11, Show Up for Democracy in
2004: Defeat Bush (again!)

Building a War Machine on the Backs of Victims
Wednesday 10 December @ 13:20:41
by Lydia Howell

“We all realize that there are bad people out there
and that we have to do something about the real
problem of terrorism. But, we don’t want to do that on
the backs of other innocent people’s mothers and
fathers, sisters and brothers and children around the
world,” strongly states David Potorti, a co-founder of
the anti-war group 9/11 Families For Peaceful

“Not because we’re naive dreamers, but because we
realized from a practical, pragmatic point of view
that [Bush’s ‘war on terrorism’] was NOT the way to
solve the problem. That only creates more hatred, more
terrorism, more anger turned back on us.”

David Potorti, author of “September 11th Families for
Peaceful Tomorrows”

Members of this national group all lost loved ones on
September 11. More than two years later, Potorti, his
voice catching, describes watching TV coverage of the
WTC attacks “knowing my brother worked on the 95th
floor, knowing the building was 110 stories. Counting
with my eyes to see where that big gaping hole was—at
the 95th floor ... that’s where my brother would have
been sitting.”

On September 14, 2001, George W. Bush’s speech at the
National Cathedral vowed retaliation on behalf of the
attacks’ victims, referring by name to Manhattan widow
Rita Lasar’s younger brother Abe Zelmanowitz. Her
brother could have easily saved himself (he worked on
the 27th floor), but chose to wait for rescue workers
with a wheelchair-bound co-worker. In his new book,
Potorti quotes Lasar’s horror at the “use [of] my
brother’s heroism as justification to kill innocent
people in a place far away.” She wrote to the New York
Times expressing this strong reaction, shared by
Potorti and others, initiating Peaceful Tomorrows’
formation. There’s no “recruitment” for the group, but
after any media attention more family members join.

Potorti’s book “9/11 Families For Peaceful Tomorrows:
Turning Our Grief Into Action For Peace” is an
eloquent elegy for lost loved ones channeled into a
transformative testimony opposing war. In my view, the
Bush Administration immediately exploited the attacks
for a pre-9/11 neo-conservative agenda, and I felt I
had to shove my sadness aside to organize resistance.

This book made mourning possible—linking 9/11 victims
and people of Afghanistan and Iraq. But the real power
of the book is its vindication of our capacity to draw
on compassion rather than retaliation. Over and over
these stories brought me to tears of both sorrow and
shimmering hope.

During visits to Afghanistan and Iraq, Peaceful
Tomorrows members made leaps across language and
culture, discovering humanity’s common ground in the
basic experiences of love and loss. The empathetic
connections that resulted are inspiring triumphs
standing in stark contrast to the militarized
nationalism propagated daily by the Bush
Administration. An antidote to despair, this book also
energizes hope as it chronicles real alternatives to
retaliation being put into practice by these everyday
people. Although Bush refers to September 11 in almost
every speech he makes, he’s refused to meet with this
anti-war group.

“In September 2002, we had a press conference with
[Ohio] Rep. Dennis Kucinich (The only Democratic
presidential candidate that voted against invading
Iraq). He introduced us and stepped aside—this was
just before the vote on the Iraq war resolution in
Congress,” Potorti says. They received a letter from
Bush’s National Security Advisor, Condoleezza Rice.
“It was a pro forma letter, saying ‘The President is
working closely with the U.N., doing whatever he can
to avoid war with Saddam Hussein.’ Pretty cynical and
really not truthful—but it was acknowledgment [of
Peaceful Tomorrows]. She still didn’t address our
concern— which was, STOP using our family members for
war!” They continued to ask to meet with Bush, hoping
recently to go to the Crawford Ranch during a
presidential vacation. Potorti says, “The
denial-letter came, saying ‘The president is too
busy—but, thank you for the support your letter
represents!’— that’s the line I remember!”

In his book, Peaceful Tomorrows, Potorti describes the
investigation of the attacks. A group of September 11
widows calling themselves the Jersey Girls and other
organizations, pressed for the independent commission
currently investigating the attacks far more broadly
(co-chaired by Tom Cain and Lee Hamilton). The
previous Congressional committee only considered
intelligence before the attacks, reported in December
2002. The White House withheld those findings, until
this July and by then 28 pages about Saudi Arabia had
been deleted.

David Potorti, author of “September 11th Families for
Peaceful Tomorrows”

“There would not be [current, broad] investigation
without this small group going to Washington and
demanding it. The president has so much power he can
hide anything, anything politically embarrassing to
him through executive privilege,” Potorti says.

Peaceful Tomorrows is insisting Bush have limited
“executive privilege” and forcing him to release the
next report after 30 days. He refers to leaks to the
media that ‘outed’ a CIA officer married to diplomat
Joe Wilson, who publicly challenged assertions that
Iraq bought nuclear material from Niger. Potorti
scoffed at Bush denials that Administration officials
were not responsible: “It’s not a Republican or
Democrat thing—this is an open government thing! It’s
about what we’re willing to accept as citizens in a
democracy. We spent $100 million on Whitewater
[Clinton’s pre-presidential financial scandal]. Only
$3 million has been spent on investigating September
11! It’s not about ‘getting Bush’—I’m no fan of Bill
Clinton either! In a democracy it’s always about
us—and what we’re willing to let people get away

“Why no response to the attacks for two hours?
Terrorists ruled the skies for two hours and no jets
were scrambled from nearby bases. Not a slow response.

Why no response?

Not a poor response. No response. No jets were
scrambled until all the attacks were over,” Potorti’s
measured voice crackled with sudden anger. He explains
that this is a total failure of standard operating
procedures when any plane goes off-course, because of
hijacking or other reasons. NORAD—the federal agency
controlling the skies—is required to send jets up
within five minutes. Potorti cites the plane crash
with golfer Payne Stewart, where military jets
responded as required. “How is it possible multiple
planes are hijacked, and within 30 minutes, there’s no
military escort? Forty-five minutes after leaving
Boston, the WTC was hit. Why didn’t George Bush get up
from reading to children when told of the attacks? Why
did Richard Meyers, chair of the Joint Chiefs, spend
40 minutes drinking coffee after the WTC—until the
Pentagon was hit? Bush and Cheney called Tom Daschle
(House Majority Leader) and said ‘we don’t want this
investigated.’ So, Congress only looked at
intelligence before the attacks.”

The new, independent commission will release its
findings next May.

Potorti’s book is a kind of literary quilt, stitching
together the history of Peaceful Tomorrows, rooted in
personal stories, poems, short essays and other
writings by members. Chapters begin with beautiful
quotes aspiring to peace by Martin Luther King Jr.,
Gandhi, Thich Nhat Hanh (Vietnamese Buddhist monk,
instrumental in bringing American veterans and
Vietnamese people together to heal from that war),
Rep. Dennis Kucinich’s “Prayer for America,” Sen. Paul
Wellstone and others. Moving black and white
photographs also document Peaceful Tomorrows’ members
in Iraq and Afghanistan meeting with people Portorti
calls “our counterparts”—civilians who’ve lost loved
ones to military violence unleashed by the U.S.
Peaceful Tomorrows members joined the post-9/11
anti-war movement from October 2001 to opposing the
invasion of Iraq. Voices in the Wilderness and its
Nobel Prize nominee Kathy Kelly, who has opposed U.S.
sanctions and bombing of Iraq since 1995, linked up
with Peaceful Tomorrows early; Global Exchange, the
A.N.S.W.E.R. Coalition, Fellowship of Reconciliation
and other peace groups followed. Michael Moore donated
proceeds from the New York City premier of “Bowling
For Columbine” to Peaceful Tomorrows.

Like Bush’s refusal to meet with Peaceful Tomorrows,
corporate-owned media usually fail to report their
activities. Potorti observes that the international
press shows regular interest, citing the irony of
Japanese TV covering a New York City press conference
that the Times ignored. That coverage inspired a
delegation of Hiroshima/Nagasaki atomic bomb survivors
to contact Peaceful Tomorrows. When the Japanese
delegation toured the United States, calling for
nuclear disarmament, they wanted to go to the WTC site
with Peaceful Tomorrows. Potorti describes that
pilgrimage and how the now-elderly survivors noted the
strange similarities between the destruction in New
York and their memories of 1945 Japan. He relates one
atomic bomb survivor’s story.

“This man lost his whole family. He had to go live
with another family, in a small house, with the other
children resenting him. He felt totally unwanted. This
man hated the U.S. for years,” Potorti’s voice
trembles painfully. “You hear that kind of story 60
years after the fact and you have to ask, what kind of
stories are we creating in Iraq and Afghanistan? Lost
parents. People watching their children die horrible
deaths, sliced in half by cluster bombs [made by
Edina, Minnesota company Alliant Technologies—writer’s
note.] What kind of nightmares are we creating 10
years from now? 20 years from now? 30 years from now?
This stuff doesn’t just end!”

His voice sharpens incredulously. “I always remember
this headline, three days after the fall of
Baghdad—April 2003: ‘Iraq Returning To Normal.’ The
notion that we could drop 14,000 bombs and that
country would return to normal three days later—this
is the level of denial our country is in. That’s a
removal from reality that STILL exists. I would have
thought September 11th would have been enough of a
wake-up call to get us thinking about what life is
like in the rest of the world.”

Potorti’s book is full of powerful stories of 9/11
family-members reaching out to the rest of the world.

Rita Lasar and an Afghani woman embrace and weep
together over the brothers they both lost. Derrill
Bodley, a music teacher, shared songs for his
daughter, Deora, a victim of 9/11, with students at an
Afghanistan girls’ school. Colleen Kelly’s brother
Bill died “randomly” (He was only at the WTC for an
appointment). She describes a family gathering in
Basra, Iraq, where “we sang, we cried, we attempted to
tell stories about our lost loved ones. There was a
palpable human connection that transcended all
boundaries of national identity, culture or religion.”

Potorti’s book has inspired endorsements from famous
dissidents: Vietnam veteran/peace activist Ron Kovic
(immortalized by Tom Cruise in Oliver Stone’s film
“Born On The 4th Of July”) called it “Voices of great
courage, healing and wisdom”; Rep. Barbara Lee
(D-Calif.), the lone vote against war on Afghanistan,
said it “truly honored the memories of their loved
ones by exploring ways to promote peace, rather than
advance war”; Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) concluded
that “no one can speak with a more powerful voice or
with more authority on the need for peace and justice
than Peaceful Tomorrows.” Much has been written about
September 11 from many perspectives, but coming to
terms with it feels impossible without this book’s
redemptive vision.

North Carolina-based writer Portorti acknowledges that
not everyone who lost someone on September 11 feels as
his group does. Describing one widow “with her
husband’s name painted on a bomb dropped on
Afghanistan, thrilled that we were going to drop it on
the people who did this. It probably landed on
somebody’s house and killed somebody elses’ husband!”
Each chapter closes with e-mail responses to Peaceful
Tomorrows—some supportive, some not.

Peaceful Tomorrows has even taken on the most tangled
conflict in the Middle East, meeting with a group
called Israeli/Palestinian Bereaved Families For
Peace. That group created one of the most amazing
actions for peace: A United Nations vigil with over
1,000 coffins, draped in Israeli and Palestinian
flags, each representing those killed on both sides.
It was ignored by American media.

“Itzak Frankenthal’s oldest son was killed by Hamas
nine years ago. He cautioned us about using the word
‘justice’ because for a lot of people war is
justice—like that woman with her husband’s name on the
bomb. But, he’s committed to break the cycle of
violence.” Potorti could be describing Peaceful
Tomorrows’ mission. “Itzak said ‘I’m not going to
cause the deaths of any more people’s children.’ He
said his ‘revenge’ is peace. That’s his way of bombing
people—with love.”

“9/11 Families For Peaceful Tomorrows:Turning Our
Grief Into Action For Peace.” $15 (May Day and Arise!
Bookstores). More information: Hear a conversation
with David Potorti, Tues., Dec. 23, 9 a.m.-11:30 a.m.
as part of the holiday special “Making Peace on
Earth,” produced/hosted by Lydia Howell, broadcast on
KFAI, 90.3FM Minneapolis 106.7FM St. Paul. Archived

Posted by richard at December 18, 2003 10:06 AM