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QUINTESSENCE

Hope & Remembrance

World Peace Flame, The Hague, The Netherlands

Theirs not to make reply,
Theirs not to reason why,
Theirs but to do & die

- from "The Charge of the Light Brigade," Alfred, Lord Tennyson

September 11, 2001. No one of our generation will forget this day. The massive losses of human life in the synchronized terrorist attacks shook our ideals as an American nation and as peace-seeking individuals. A shaken national confidence. The lingering sense of confusion, of fear and insecurity. Psychic scars and literal changes to the way we live our daily lives that will last indefinitely.

When I talk to those of the Vietnam generation or listen to the stories of those who lived through World War II, I understand how this profound shattering of souls has happened before. War, famine, and disease spike human history: In just the last approximate 100 years we have witnessed the unspeakable suffering and horrors of World War I. The massive loss of life to the flu pandemic of 1918. Before that, the bloody histories of the Civil War. (Not to mention the horrific impact of natural disasters such as earthquakes and the recent tsunamis.) For as long as people have struggled for peace and prosperity, there have been pivotal outbreaks of violent cataclysmic conflict or sweeping famine and disease to change the years to follow. But I wonder, could we be building a species immunity to these ever-extremes of violence and pandemic? A better sense of what not to do, or how to proceed, or how to avoid what the generations before have experienced or destroyed? Is there an epidemiology of mass tragedy that carries within it even a kernel of resistance to repetition?

On the subject of war alone it would appear not. Part of the heartbreak and melancholy surrounding our remembrance of 9/11 is more than mourning this loss of innocents; we are haunted by an uneasy, subtle knowledge terrorism can occur at any time. Violence breaks through our most enlightened eras, endemic to human nature it appears. I am more hopeful about the progress of science in eradicating disease and famine than its impact on violence. I am more hopeful about positive outcomes from rebellions for civil independence than in the elimination of terrorist attacks of hatred. Yet. The continuing Syrian civil violence marks the worst shredding of human life and morality in contemporary history; following in the footsteps of the unrelenting genocide in Darfur to combine the worst of human cruelty and abuse of power.

Natural disasters and famine unite humanity in efforts of survival and recovery. Threats from disease bring the world scientific community together to research global solutions. But violence lies in the soul. How we handle conflict is a measure of human restraint. Are we evolving as a human race or not? Every generation fervently hopes so. But it is our children who will be the ones to find out.
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