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Letter From a Terrorism Survivor

Letter from Kathleen Pequeno, Portland, OR

Early Tuesday morning, a dear friend called me to tell me about what had just happened in New York and Washington DC. She wanted to make sure that I heard it from someone close to me before I heard it on the radio, and with good reason. My brother was killed by foreign terrorists in 1985, and so these events affect me differently than they do most people. You cannot fathom how differently. And you don t want to know.

I never imagined a day would come when tens of thousands of Americans would join my family in the awful experience of losing a family member to terrorism. For those of you who didn t lose someone close to you in this week s events, your feelings of outrage, sorrow and anger pale in comparison to that of family members. Ten or fifteen years from now, you will have some recollection of this incident, but your distance will protect you. Family members will still be dreaming of their lost loved ones, counting their lost birthdays, weeping when new acts of terrorism are committed, and trying to put it behind them because so many others have. You think that America will never forget, but sadly, some greater act of violence will soon eclipse this, and this event will, for many, fade into memory. It is the nature of violence that each act builds upon the preceding unthinkable act, making it impossible to keep track.

For the last sixteen years, I have lived with the effects of terrorism and its effects. My heart goes out to the families, and the support they will need for many years to come. Murder in any form is excruciating, but terrorism is different than other forms of murder because it is based in political reality. It does not happen, as some would have us believe out of the blue . It is part of a series of horrific events that many of us are oblivious to until terrorists hurt us badly enough that we have to pay attention. Because I was struggling to understand what had happened, I found myself in the uncomfortable position of finding out more about the beliefs of the people who killed my brother. And my response to his murder has been shaped by what I have learned.

Now, if I have been able to stop and listen to the beliefs of terrorists, so can you. And when you pay attention, this is what you will hear: The US has committed acts of barbarous violence against innocent civilians and must be punished. The US is made up of people willing to kill and die to destroy our way of life. We have no choice but to kill them before they kill us. Sound familiar? When Americans say this, we are in fact repeating the words of the terrorists, and that is why you will not hear them come out of my mouth. You may not understand why someone would say this about the US, and neither did I at first. How can this be? America, violent and destructive, so disrespectful of human life that the only way to stop us is to kill us? Why does anyone think that? Well, the more I found out about US foreign policy, the more I understood. Our history includes an unreasonably long list of attacks on civilians, and other countries elected governments. Can you name how many countries we have bombed in the last ten years? Here is a partial list: Sudan, Yugoslavia, Iraq, Afghanistan. It turns out that our experience as a grieving family was uncommon for Americans, yet all too common for families in other countries. And that most of the time, the US is the perpetrator, not the victim.

I stay true to my brothers memory not by justifying further violence, but by focusing on healing the damage that has been done, and directing us away from further harm. The deepest and simplest truth I have learned from all this is-people need to stop killing each other. Please, if you are truly horrified by what has happened, then prevent more grieving families. Oppose a US military response and support investigation into US foreign and military policy that is behind this. Find out who these grieving families are in other countries and offer your condolences to them, as well as the families devastated this week. And ensure that all of our available money and resources go to all these families rather than to the machines of war that created this tragedy.

My brother was Edward Pimental, one of three Americans killed in a terrorist attack on the US Rhein-Main Airbase in Germany in 1985.

Kathleen Pequeño,
Portland, OR

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