Naked City

9/11 Victims for Peace

The Sept. 11 terrorist attacks inspired rage and calls for vengeance in America. Ryan Amundson had a different reaction. After losing his brother Craig in the attack on the Pentagon, Amundson formed September 11th Families for Peaceful Tomorrows, a pacifist group that seeks "[to] identify a commonality with all people similarly affected by violence throughout the world" and "break the endless cycle of violence and retaliation engendered by war." On Saturday, April 6, Amundson will be in Austin as part of the International Socialist Review's War and Resistance tour, a national anti-war speaking tour. The Austin tour stop will be on the UT campus, in Room A2.320 at the Communications Bldg. (corner of 25th and Whitis), and will also feature UT professor Robert Jensen, local author/activists Rahul Mahajan (Green Party gubernatorial candidate) and Muna Hamzeh, and ISR editorial board member Sherry Wolf.

The Chronicle interviewed Amundson via e-mail:

Austin Chronicle: What prompted you to start the group? Were you already active in pacifist causes?

Ryan Amundson: Before Sept. 11, I was not an activist, and I didn't consider myself a pacifist. After Sept. 11, that all changed.

I was preparing to join the Peace Corps after graduating from the University of Missouri with a degree in sociology. While I waited for the Peace Corps nomination process to go through, I planned on substitute teaching at my hometown school. My first day substitute teaching was Sept. 11. No longer was violent conflict just a distant problem affecting other people in other countries and in other times. Suddenly, my brother was a victim. As the rescue workers searched in vain for signs of life in the rubble of the WTC and the Pentagon, I wondered how many more victims there would be. Not only was I afraid the United States would suffer further attacks, I feared that others elsewhere would fall victims to expected American retaliation.

A feeling that is common among those of us who lost loved ones to violence is that we don't want anyone, anywhere, to ever suffer the pain we've suffered. It's disturbing to think that my own government is willing to inflict such suffering and write it off as "collateral damage." What is even more disturbing is the use of my brother's name and memory to justify killing more innocent people. ...

Many in my family were open to the idea of a nonviolent response, and we knew we had a responsibility to speak for ourselves while so many claimed to be speaking for us. ... To unite our voices with others, we decided to form an organization led by victims' families who question the violent methods of the post-September 11 response. Now September Eleventh Families for Peaceful Tomorrows has around 25 members who lost loved ones and we're finding more as our existence becomes known.

AC: Did your brother work for the Pentagon?

RA: Craig was an enlisted specialist in the Army working as a multimedia illustrator in the Pentagon. He drove to work every day with a bumper sticker that said, "Visualize World Peace."

AC: What kind of reaction have you gotten from other Sept. 11 families?

RA: I've heard a lot of criticism from a lot of different people, but I haven't heard one negative comment from another Sept. 11 family member, even though I'm sure there are many who completely disagree with us.

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