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Response to crisis
  1. 16 September 2001

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    I am writing from California, which is now part of a new integrated world, all connected to the events and response.

    It is quite clear we are living in an interconnected and often virtual world. The boundaries have disappeared. In the World Trade Center people from countries all over the world died, including the Middle East. We are involved here in California with friends of friends who died, with an office connected to the office on top of the building where more than 700 died, and they listened on an open line. There was the horror of people jumping from top floors.

    Our anxiety is expressed in many ways: grounding aircraft, our care for those involved, anger, apathy, pain and perplexity. We sit glued to the television, numb, yet waiting for news. We expressed it in meetings at the university, where I led a two hour session with the School of Public Health. Fear of reprisals from scarf-clad women, voice of peace from Quakers and others, stories of friends and families, worries about the dust and health, and more. Grief is the primary fear. The closest diagnosis is post-traumatic stress disorder. Some of us are busy helping in this area. Others, in New York are mobilised.

    As an information junkie, I have been observing responses. The official responses seem to move from immediate military action, to using all our tools—economic, diplomatic, intelligence, coalitions and more. In the Administration the secretary of state, Colin Powell seems to hold the broadest stance. Listening to him, suggests an awareness that with a changed world, we need new kinds of responses. Fear forces us to respond as before.

    A personal story is worth telling, in this regard. A war game was held in the 60s where they acted out an invasion of India by the Chinese. A friend played the president of the United States. He decided to do what we call a “paradoxical intervention.” He ordered dropping food, and radios, and withdrew troops. He encouraged discussion. Peace resulted, and new patterns of relations occurred, and he achieved peace.

    My friend asked me to the debriefing, proud of his success. At the beginning, a high military man turned to my friend, and said, “Mr X, you will never participate in war games again! You have not played by the rules!”

    Sadly, it is all too easy to use old responses, and this is what we hear from many. We wonder if a new paradigm will emerge?

    Most important, there are some important changes. Communities are organising. They are volunteering, and using people of multiple skills to deal with the problems. I am struck how fast they found the terrorists. Colin Powell reports that government operations have changes overnight, new security procedure, new corporate involvement, and changed view of the enemy.

    The enemy is no longer a place or those people. It is a virtual army, operating from cells, and keeping in touch somehow. They are using all our technological skills and even tools. People recognise that the US have supported Bin Laden, Iraq, Iran, and others who turned against us. We have educated them in our schools, taught them military tactics, to fly. How to re-examine our policy, is critical.

    Our concern for the health of people is critical. Violence is our problem. So, are disasters. The environmental pollution of smoke made up of asbestos, wallboard, steel, and glass is an immediate one. Grief is central to all—the survivors and their loved ones. Indeed grief work is what we all will be doing.

    We are in the process of remaking ourselves. I do hope that we can do so.