The Daily Tar Heel

Serving the students and the University community since 1893

Sunday September 26th

Reflection on Mistake in History

I can't even check my e-mail without seeing a picture on the Netscape home page of a woman covered in debris, crying.

The news programs periodically show images of dusty Manhattan after the twin towers of the World Trade Center fell -- rescue workers, sirens, news crews. I think about the people trapped in the rubble and feel sick. I don't even know them. How do their friends and family members function?

Like many tragedies, this one crashed into us like a tsunami and left us kicking around, trying to reorient ourselves. I want to make sense of it all, come up with a reason -- why this happened or even an explanation as to why we shouldn't let it fundamentally change the way we view the world.

I even catch myself searching for ways in which the U.S. has harmed other nations, as if our injustices scattered across the world will make up for the Americans suffering because of someone else's evils. Of course, it doesn't work. I can't find the reasons and so I keep the fears.

I feel fragile. I'm like a little kid who just discovered that his parents can't always protect him, even if they're good parents and do their best. I've always known that people die and kill each other.

I've also heard stories and seen pictures of large groups of people encountering disaster without warning -- earthquakes, fires, landslides and even man-made catastrophes such as wars or bombings. In fact, I even knew that some people think the U.S. government creates some of these disasters.

Still though, I've felt pretty distant from widespread violence. I haven't had to see dozens of pictures of people suffering, read stories about the ways in which people died or watch students console each other because they don't know whether or not their relatives are living.

Ironically, now, when we feel vulnerable and want government protection more than ever, many of us have first begun to doubt our country's ability to protect us. Terrorists attacked America four times, killed thousands of people, and no one saw it coming. At least four hijackers boarded planes with knives or other weapons without alerting security. Therefore, everyday situations without metal detectors or government security seem frightening.

Even more disturbing than flawed security or our own fragility, these events force us to recognize the existence of evil in a very dramatic way. I've tried to see the terrorists' point of view, imagine how they would justify their actions, and I can't do it. Even if they believed they were acting against great wrongs inflicted upon their loved ones by our government, they still hijacked civilian planes and killed thousands of people whose identities they couldn't possibly have known.

In his theory of ethics, Kant suggests that we can judge acts as evil or good by a set of universal principles, one of which is the idea that we shouldn't treat people as objects. These terrorists used lives, including their own, to make a statement to the American government. Regardless of the message, it wasn't worth it.

Usually death and evil approach us fairly quietly. We curse the world and demand answers, but we do it alone and few people hear us. These tragedies have simply taken the same sadness, anger and fear to a more intense level and handed them to all of us simultaneously. As we seek explanations, lots of things we'll never know- -- not just why any of it happened, but how it all felt and how it might have worked out differently.

I wonder about all of the people who died -- the passengers in the planes, the people in the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, the rescue workers and passers-by crushed by debris. What were their stories and how should they have ended?

I don't believe that things like this happen for a reason. I can't imagine a reason that would account for such suffering. The closest I can come to any sort of reassurance is to look at this mistake in history and watch people cleaning each other's wounds and giving each other blood and know that most people see its horror.

Marian Crotty can be reached at

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