Response to Crisis

Response to crisis
Len Duhl, MD

September 16, 2001

I am writing from California, a part of the new, integrated world, and connected to last week�s events. It is quite clear we are living in an interconnected and often virtual world in which the boundaries have disappeared. In the World Trade Center on Tuesday 11 September, people�s lives were lost from countries from all over the world, including the Middle East. Here in California, we are involved with friends of friends who died; with an office connected to an office on top of one of the towers where more than 700 died, and who were heard over an open line. Then there was the horror of people jumping from the top floors.

Our anxiety is expressed in many ways: grounding flights, our care for those involved, anger, apathy, pain, and perplexity. We sit glued to the television�numb, yet waiting for more 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, voices 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, one senses an awareness that, with a changed world, we need new kinds of responses. It is fear that would force us to respond as before.

A personal story is worth telling, in this regard. A war game was held in the 1960s 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 invited me to the debriefing, proud of his success. At the beginning, a high ranking 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?

Communities are better organised. They are volunteering, and using people of multiple skills to deal with the problems. I am struck by how fast they discovered the terrorists� identities. Colin Powell reports that government operations have changed overnight, new security procedures, new corporate involvement, and a changed view of the enemy.

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

Our concern for the health of people is also critical. Violence is everyone�s problem, as are disasters. The environmental pollution caused by the smoke from 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.