On the morning of Sept. 11, 2001 Pam Zappardino's plane landed in Providence, RI. It wasn't until she was in her car that she became aware of the planes crashing into the World Trade Center in New York.
"I had this very weird feeling of realizing that I’d been over New York during the crashes and that somewhere in the air we passed the plane heading from Boston that eventually went down in Pennsylvania," Zappardino said.
Zappardino is a psychology professor at McDaniel College and is co-founder and co-director of the Ira and Mary Zepp Center for Nonviolence and Peace Education.
For Zappardino, the tragedy of 9/11 is just as much about the aftermath and how the U.S. reacted as it is about the attacks themselves.
"That whole time period thereafter was kind of weird. I remember being in a restaurant in Frederick when we [the U.S.] went into Afghanistan and finding myself wondering 'great, what good is this gonna do?'," she said.
Zappardino said that her classes following 9/11 tended to focus on discussions about what the U.S. should do. She said her students asked her how the U.S. could respond nonviolently.
"I don’t know what I would do, but I know what questions I would ask before I made a decision," Zappardino told her students. "Questions I would have asked are: What would I need to do to turn the people who did this into our allies? All of our rhetoric was revenge and killing, and the action that we took was to go to war, and 10 years later we’re still there."
Zappardino said her hope is that eventually we break this cycle of responding to violence with violence. She said what is important is building relationships with younger generations.
"We talk about the casualties we have sustained, which are getting larger by the day. We don’t talk about the number of civilians that are killed in both of those wars. What I find very disheartening is that we have created another generation of people who grew up with us bombing them, and I don’t think that’s the way we end war or terror," Zappardino said.
"I think if I drop a bomb on your house, you’re not going to be well disposed. Even if I say I’m doing it to liberate your country, I don’t think you’re gonna believe me if members of your family have been killed and your livelihood has been destroyed."
She said that because she questioned going to war following 9/11, her patriotism was questioned.
"I spent a lot of time in the days after 9/11 being called unpatriotic because I run a nonviolence center. People questioned our patriotism because we talked about peace. It was a very interesting time.
"I’m not saying I wanted to be friends with Osama bin Laden—I think what he did was horrible—but I think the way we respond to tragedy helps determine the path we’re going to take," Zappardino said.
But she hasn't given up hope. Zappardino said that in 10 or 20 years, she hopes that Americans learn to ask more questions of our leaders.
"I hope we learn to ask more questions of our leaders in these situations and recognize that dissent is also patriotic," Zappardino said. "It isn't unpatriotic to question what your country is doing. In fact, the constitution guarantees that right and makes us different than many other countries. I love my country, but I think I have the right to say when we're going in the wrong direction."