Ten years ago, our readership probably wasn’t waiting breathlessly to see how ACU Today would cover the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. TV news accounts such as those you see rerun this weekend did enough of that without our help.
But alumni magazines are bellwethers of their institutions, and there were few publications such as ours that didn’t offer their own look back at a morning that changed our lives forever.
To our knowledge, no ACU alumni died in the attacks, but magazines representing colleges and universities – especially those on the East Coast – eulogized hundreds of their own who perished that day in Shanksville, Pa., and New York City and Washington, D.C. Their grieving was profound and at times, hard to fathom.
We called the cover story of our Winter 2002 issue “Living in a Brave New World” and decided to pick the brains of a dozen ACU alumni with uniquely qualified perspectives on the sobering circumstances we faced. They wrote about their feelings and shared their expertise:
- Harry Shaffer (’78) was executive of a company using radiation from a linear accelerator to destroy pathogens such as E.coli and salmonella from food, until the United States Postal Service needed them to focus instead on scanning the daily mail of legislators and government executives from Washington, D.C., for deadly traces of anthrax.
- Brandon Baker (’98) was working on the 22nd floor of the New York Stock Exchange building in New York City when hijacked planes tore into the nearby World Trade Center. Several anxious hours later, he began a long walk home with tens of thousands of fellow workers, a damp towel around his face to protect his lungs and eyes from thick gray dust from the crumpled towers.
- Weary of a career covering armed conflicts for newspapers, David Leeson (’78), declined an invitation that fall by the Dallas Morning News to head to the Middle East and witness U.S. forces searching for Osama bin Laden. Late in 2003, he accepted a subsequent opportunity to chronicle the invasion of Iraq, and won a Pulitzer Prize for his coverage.
- Professor emeritus of Bible Dr. Bill J. Humble (’48) used his deep knowledge of the Middle East to help us better understand the lengthy relationship between Muslims and Palestinians. For years, he led tours to and produced videos about the Holy Land, uncertain in late 2001 if he would ever have the freedom to do so again.
- Jen (Floyd ’97) and Jeremy Haile (’97), Peace Corps volunteers in Armenia, gave a chilling perspective of how young men feel who grow up in a desperately poor foreign nation. “This is a place where the past overshadows the future, where the dead are more highly esteemed than the living,” they wrote. “In such a climate, it is easy to imagine why a young man would turn to a fanatical sect. If he cannot live in America – the dream of most young people here – perhaps he can help destroy it. He can bring his pain to a land that seemingly has none.”
- A longtime church planter, missionary and linguist in Guinea, West Africa, Brad Willits (’77) shed light upon the non-violent, Creator-fearing Muslim people to whom he ministers each day. “It is my heartfelt desire that in this time of heightened Islamic awareness, God’s people would take the time to try to understand our Muslim neighbors,” he wrote.
- Kasey Pipes (’95), then associate director of the Office of Strategic Initiatives who reported to President Bush’s chief of staff, Karl Rove, wrote about the morning he and his fellow workers watched on TV as two large planes were flown into the World Trade Center. Secret Service officers soon entered the halls of Pipes’ office building, which was adjacent to the West Wing of the White House, yelling for everyone to leave the premises immediately. They refused initially, but eventually joined a parade of White House staffers walking down Pennsylvania Avenue toward a nearby office building, away from anticipated harm.
- Dr. Don C. Jackson (’53), an economics professor in ACU’s College of Business Administration and former deputy director of the National Security Agency, reflected on the “before” and “after” nature of national emergencies, and the capacity of Americans to be patient and more interested in long-term rather than short-term solutions to national priorities.
- A fascinating view of Ground Zero was provided by Dr. Thomas Robinson (’66), senior minister of Manhattan Church of Christ in New York, who explained how his congregation’s ministry to its neighbors was altered in the chaotic moments of Sept. 11. A few miles northeast of the World Trade Center, the church building in which he works became a place for prayer vigils with neighbors who had never entered it before. “… the darkness of a terror attack has been transformed by God into the greatest opportunity for witness and a ministry of mercy that we in New York have ever known,” Robinson wrote.
Our coverage in the Winter 2002 issue was closed by ACU’s professor history emeritus and chancellor emeritus, the late Dr. John C. Stevens (’38). The university’s eighth president, he was a World War II veteran who likely never fired a shot at the enemy. A military chaplain, he had seen first-hand the heroism and horror of famous battles. We share again with you today his eloquent reflection, titled “In Times Such as These”:
In the fall and winter of 1776, the outlook was quite bleak for Americans struggling for independence. In December, Tom Paine came out with a pamphlet that revived the spirits of Americans. He called it “The American Crisis.” His best-known lines were, “These are the times that try men’s souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of this country, but he that stands it now deserves the love and thanks of men and women.”
Paine proceeded to develop a convincing case that Americans could win the independence they had declared. Gen. George Washington ordered that it be read to all troops.
The situation challenging the United States of America and her allies today is a far cry from that of the struggling colonials trying to establish their independence in 1776. However, the grief of thousands of families brought about by the dastardly actions of a gang of international outlaws makes this a soul-trying time, too.
How do Americans deal with such overwhelming tragedy?
First of all, there have been prayers and great patriotic songs sung in meetings across the country. In recent years, believers in God have, in our public schools and prominent venues, been figuratively forced to sit in the back of the bus. But not since Sept. 11, 2001.
Since that sad day, we have unabashedly prayed and sung and testified to the whole world concerning our faith in God. I wonder how many millions of people have participated in singing “God Bless America,” the magnificent patriotic hymn composed in 1918 by Russian immigrant Irving Berlin and made immortal in 1938 by the voice of Kate Smith?
Right along with it go “Battle Hymn of the Republic,” “The Star-Spangled Banner” and “America the Beautiful.” Our nation’s great patriotic music may have never received more attention than in the days since Sept. 11.
And talk about prayer! On Sunday afternoon, Sept. 23, 2001, Yankee Stadium in New York City drew a crowd of more than 25,000 who stood in line for hours, enduring security checks for their own safety. The program consisted primarily of appropriate music and of prayers offered by Jews, Roman Catholics, Protestants, Greek Orthodox, Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs. They were not there to discuss differences in their faiths but to unite their voices in prayer to the God of the universe. The crowd would no doubt have been much larger if their long wait had not been necessary, but organizers of the event could not afford to further risk lives.
Our response has not been prayer and singing alone. Has the world ever seen such an outpouring of money, goods and services to help families during crisis? America has been a nation of action.
World Christian Encyclopedia estimates that in 2001 there are 1,149,486 atheists in the United States. Where are they during times such as these? What sort of rallies do they sponsor? Actions of the American people since Sept. 11 seem to me to present a powerful witness to the world. In addition to soul-stirring assemblies throughout the nation, stories and photos of a multitude of volunteers working around the clock at the scene of the disasters showed the essential goodness and greatness of the American character.
Americans do not always show their faith, but times such as these help reveal it.
During World War II, it was my privilege to serve as chaplain in a frontline infantry division in the campaigns of western Europe (Normandy, northern France, the Rhineland, the Ardennes and Central Europe). During battle, I was generally stationed at the battalion aid station where casualties were brought in by the medics.
I cannot remember a single instance of a wounded soldier who rejected my suggestion that we pray together. I do recall a number of soldiers who I thought did not have a chance to survive, but they did.
I remember a young man from Michigan named Charles Potter who stepped on a land mine when we were involved with the Colmar Pocket in France, and lost both legs. We prayed together, and then he joked with me a bit.
He said, “Chappie, if you know of somebody who needs a right shoe, there is a practically brand new one out there. Of course, he will have to take my right foot out of it.” Apparently he did not know he had lost a left foot, too. I did not enlighten him on that subject. I figured that was the job of the doctors.
Two years later, in the summer of 1947, I was out of the Army and attending graduate school. I saw in the morning newspaper that a legless veteran in Michigan had won election to fill an unexpired term in the U.S. House of Representatives.
That veteran was Charles Potter.
After allowing him a few days to be sworn in, I addressed a short letter to “Hon. Charles Potter, U.S. House of Representatives, Washington, D.C.” I congratulated him on his achievement. He wrote me immediately and closed with this sentence: “If you ever come to Washington and fail to look me up, I will use all the influence at my command to get you drafted back into the Army.”
I had the opportunity several times during the next few years to be in Washington and enjoyed pleasant visits with Potter. However, no meeting was quite so memorable as our short session of prayer in France.
I believe that Americans prefer to be a people of faith. It is unfortunate that it often takes circumstances of great peril or harm for us to turn to God for answers and help. I also can tell you from personal experience that there are few atheists on wartime battlefields.
In times such as these, we draw comfort from song-poems based on Psalms 46 and others like it: “A mighty fortress is our God, a bulwark never failing; our helper He amid the flood of mortal ills prevailing.”
In times such as these, faith matters more than ever. Christians have a remarkable opportunity to show others the love of God, the peace of Christ and the hope that empowers our lives.
In dark days and anxious nights, the Light of the World shines brightest.
We should make every effort to help others see it.