This is an essay I published on September 15, 2001.
What Would Gandhi Do?Were were you, 12 years ago tonight, before the world changed?
I'm fine here on Ninth Street, but like everybody in New York, every day I'm finding out about more friends-of-friends who were lost in the World Trade Center.
Tuesday morning I was having my first cup of coffee when the first plane went over our building 400 feet up, at 500 mph. I had time to think, "it's going to crash into our building." Unaccountably I ran to the window. For some reason I started counting. At "seven" I heard the BOOM. It shook the floor here. And I live 26 blocks north of the WTC.
It was a terrifying couple of hours as my family and I tracked down my brother, who's a pilot for American Airlines. We were lucky. He was in Houston that morning.
Life in the city since then has been strange beyond strange. First for me was the unforgettable parade of people fleeing the financial district, many covered in that awful gray ash, some of them dropping from exhaustion or heart attacks after running all the way here from there.
Paper from the WTC is still blowing all over Manhattan. I found a paper with a burned edge, a memo about building security.
Frequent bomb scares and unconfirmed rumors have everybody pretty unsettled all the time. The cloud of noxious smoke comes and goes. The jet fighters scream over the city.
Rudy Giuliani has helped us all get through. He shows us what a leader does.
But my pacifism has had a hard time surviving this week. After watching the second jet slam into the building, my first thought was, whoever did this has to die.
The more I think about it, the more I realize that "who has to die" is not a decision for me to make. More war, more violence and death are no answer. I checked out the Bible and the writings of Gandhi. The Bible says: "Vengeance is mine, saith the Lord." Meaning, leave it up to God, he will sort it all out for us.
Mohandas Gandhi had a hard time defending his pacifism in the time of Hitler and his own brand of evil. A biography states: AGandhi was aware of the apotheosis of violence which Nazi and Fascist regimes represented, but he did not accept that Hitler and Mussolini were beyond redemption. A fundamental assumption in the non-violent technique was that human nature in essence was one and must ultimately respond to love. 'If the enemy realized,' wrote Gandhi, >that you have not the remotest thought in your mind of raising your hand against him even for the sake of your life, he will lack the zest to kill you. Every hunter has had this experience. No one has heard of anyone hunting cows.'
It's a radical idea, no? Maybe still too radical for us, in our time. The idea that we could defeat this evil with love -- impossible, dovish, tree-hugging nonsense, right?
But imagine if we took all the money we're about to spend on weapons and war, and sent it to the poor of Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Iran, Libya. Imagine if we absorbed the blows of those who want to destroy us, and returned their expressions of hatred with unconditional love.
What these terrorists want is to bring on the end of the world.
The question we have to ask ourselves is: Do we want to help them do it?