Working toward Peaceful Tomorrows: Reflection by Paul Arpaia
In the years since he lost his cousin in the World Trade Center attacks, Paul Arpaia’s grief turned to motivation and, finally, to action. The History Department professor joined with other family members of attack victims in an organization that works toward establishing peaceful solutions worldwide. He also became an active supporter of veterans, including serving as advisor to the student-veterans’ group on campus, after his department lost a student in the Iraq war in 2005.
In recognition of the tenth anniversary of the September 11 attacks, Arpaia recently wrote the following remarks while at the Istanbul Atatürk Airport en route to a peace mission in Kabul, Afghanistan. His work in Kabul will be featured on two Japanese television stations, including a program airing September 11 on NHK, and was the subject of a live interview on Swiss television.
So, what is an IUP History prof on sabbatical doing on his way to Kabul?
Well, to tell you the truth, it all came about quite suddenly. Last year, I joined an organization called September Eleventh Families for Peaceful Tomorrows. I was won over by the goals of this peace organization made up of family members who, like myself, lost loved ones in the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001.
The organization got its name from a famous quote from Martin Luther King, Jr. He declared, “The past is prophetic in that it asserts loudly that wars are poor chisels for carving out peaceful tomorrows.” After ten years of war, I am more convinced than ever that the Rev. Dr. King was right. War is a poor instrument for creating peace. Or, as a young Afghan boy told me in a recent phone conversation, “You cannot wash away blood with blood.” Wise statements by wise individuals.
Over the past ten years, the more than two hundred families represented by September Eleventh Families for Peaceful Tomorrows have sought to turn their grief and sense of loss into something positive. The group works in several important areas: helping Iraqis and Afghans build a lasting peace from the ravages of war and terrorism, defending the rule of law in the USA, speaking out to protect the civil rights of Americans and foreigners, defending Muslims and Arabs from xenophobia and prejudice in America, and working to find peace at home after ten years of war.
When I came to IUP, my life had been marked indelibly by great sadness. I watched from my office at Baruch College in New York City as the World Trade Center towers crushed my cousin Kathy Mazza, a Port Authority captain, to death. Shortly afterward, I learned that Robert Schlegel, a college buddy with whom I used to play jazz at Washington and Lee University, had died in the Pentagon attack. That grief increased to the point of overwhelming me when one of our students, Eric Slebodnik, was killed in action in Iraq. Since then, I have become active supporting our veteran-students. It is one way I am trying to commemorate Kathy, Bob, and Eric’s sacrifices and to help bring peace into a troubled world.
Now, I am joining an Italian peace delegation to bring a message of solidarity to the Afghan civilian victims of war and terrorism. We will meet with doctors, teachers, women’s groups, and representatives of NGOs [nongovernmental organizations], the United Nations, and the Afghan and Italian governments. Our goal is to find ways to improve Italian and American cooperation to aid the Afghans in building a lasting peace. My presence has attracted the attention of the international press, giving me an opportunity to show how so many Americans, like myself, want to contribute something for peace in Afghanistan.
On September 25, I will join in a peace march in Italy marking the fortieth anniversary of the first nonviolent peace march after the fall of fascism. My presence in this twenty-two kilometer march from the Italian town of Perugia to Assisi, the birthplace of St. Francis of Assisi, one of Italy’s two patron saints, will be to draw attention for the need of ordinary Italians and Americans to become active.
Many IUP students and faculty already work for peace in a myriad of ways. My hope is that those in the IUP community who are looking to do something or to do something more to be peacemakers in this war-torn world will do so.
If you do not know how to start, please see a list of organizations on our web page, or talk to someone at IUP who is working for peaceful tomorrows.