Reflections on the Ten Year Anniversary of September 11

In memory and honor of everyone who lost their lives from 9/11, their families, and those who have lost their lives, and their families, over the past ten years in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Many around the world reflect on where they were on September 11th. On this ten year anniversary, reflection on that day in 2001 and the decade since has prompted much introspection.  For me, it has re-doubled my focus on and passion for my peacebuilding work. Our only hope for a future, and that of our children, is where peace is front and center. Where we are not afraid to call ourselves peacebuilders. Where the word peace is not seen as a “dirty word in Washington foreign-policy circles, ” as a recent Washington Post article mentioned.  Where we work to bridge our divisions. Where we do not allow fear of “the other” or perceived differences to stoke violence.  Where the fundamental values upon which our country was founded, prevail.  I have faith that our country will come together in unity and model the type of governance that we promote around the world.  That we will walk our talk.

I was in Kosovo on September 11, 2001.  I had been working with the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) for the past year.

Ironically, on September 10, 2001, I had been offered and accepted a job with the United States Institute of Peace (USIP) in Washington, DC. After living and working in a country emerging from war, struggling with witnessing the trauma, experiencing the shaking of my house due to a bomb that had gone off downtown and worrying about the war starting again due to squirmishes at the Macedonian border, I was ready to return home. I had been in Bosnia before Kosovo and the experiences were taking a toll on me as I tended then to take on the energies and pain of an environment. I had not learned strategies on how to deal with the trauma. Further, I did not feel I had the right to be troubled as I had not been subjected to the atrocities of war that those in Bosnia and Kosovo had.

On September 10, I vividly remember feeling relief that I would be returning to a peaceful United States. With a sense of calm and relaxation that I had not felt since I arrived in Kosovo, I had visions of walking down the tree-lined Connecticut Avenue, NW down from Woodley Park, where I would be staying.  Less than 24 hours later, all this would change.

I was in my office in the OSCE building on the phone with a friend from the United States.  We were chatting when he stopped and said that a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center. At first I was confused and we discussed it perhaps being a small plane that had an accident. As I hung up, a staff member came running in to get me and we went to the media department and gathered with others around the TV. I was stunned. I was numb. I watched the news in horror. When I heard the report that a bomb had gone off at the State Department, (a report that we learned later was not true), I lost it. I walked back to my office, shut the door, put my head down and sobbed.

I knew, at that moment, that life as we knew it was over. Everything had changed. My next thought was that my new job, at a peace institute, was likely to be no more.  We were at war, I thought. Where would the peace institute be in this new order?  Then I worried that what we saw in Kosovo at the time, a fight to balance human rights and security in relation to unlawful detentions,  would come to my own country. I remember that fear so clearly. At that moment, I felt that the pain and struggle I witnessed in Kosovo, would now be part of my own experience in my own country.

So on this tenth anniversary, I dug through my records to find any words that I might have written back then. My heart warms when I recall the outpouring of support that I received from my Kosovar and other international colleagues from around the world.

I found the following three e-mails:

E-mail to a American colleague  who had just e-mailed me to tell me to watch CNN,  just after the twin towers fell.

September 11, 2001

-- Colette Rausch wrote:
> I am so very very sad.   I expect that we will be
> engaged in a war.  The
> response to this will be nothing short of that, I
> fear.  I don't know what to
> say, really.  What to do, even.  Stay here???

E-mail to a family member who was checking in to see how I was doing.

September 12, 2001

I am doing okay. It is strange. On Monday, I got a job offer. I wasn’t planning on working right way when I got back as I just really needed to take time and reflect having been here. But then I heard about a position at the United States Institute for Peace where people I know are working on projects related to what i am doing (rebuilding judicial systems in war torn countries, post conflict). So, it sounded perfect and like closure and continuation of what I am doing. I . . . . got the offer on Monday. I was so excited. You know what I thought? I thought how relieved and happy I was that I was going to the security of the US, walking around D.C. and having a break from all the war and destruction and what people do to each other that I have been around for the past three years. I was finally ready to come home having felt like I had completed what I set out to do here three years ago. Then Tuesday. Quite ironic. Then where I will be working, a peace institute.

Anyway, everyone here is very down, like in the US. But different in that they are from Europe and have witnessed war on their land and they are generally quite somber. The Kosovars held peace marches with candles and American flags and posters that said “America, we are with you.” They look at us as the country that saved them and they were quite upset by what happened. In the US, I see there is a resolve and desire to fight back. Among Americans here, we are feeling even more American and patriotic. I completely understand and agree but having seen what happens, I hope that our country doesn’t let hate take over or go too far where we act out against Arab Americans in our country (as I have seen where mosques are attacked) or others just because they are Arab Americans. I also hope that our response is measured. We cannot allow ourselves to lose our humanity in this.

Anyway, I plan to arrive back in D.C. on Friday, 5 October. I am waiting to get flight information. I hope I can get back. Right now, many of my colleagues are stranded over here trying to get back to the US. Again, an irony. We have been so used to travel difficulties due to the war in Macedonia where the borders close, etc. and it takes some doing to get out of here. When the war started, I got stuck in Macedonia when the border closed and had to talk my way onto a military helicopter to get me back to Kosovo. Never thought I would have the problem at the other end, trying to get back IN the US. Just never thought. Well, on the bright side, I have learned many lessons here and may end up needing them now in the US. Glad to hear you are fine. Thanks again for the note. I will see you all soon. Love you all. Love, Colette


e-mail to a Slovenian friend and colleague

September 17, 2001

re: Shock and Sorrow Thanks so much for your note. What a terrible week it has been. My family and friends are safe. I was just so shocked and then found myself feeling so incredibly American. It was really something to realise that being an American is at my core. Having something like this happen strikes a cord and makes one start singing the Star Spangled Banner, God Bless America and wave our flag. I share your concerns about the aftermath and our country’s response. We must take care as history has shown on so many levels that knee jerk responses just create larger problems. We must take care that we hold fast to the notions that [we] hold dear. Thanks again for your support. Colette


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