25 years after the lockerbie bombing, some of the wounds are still too deep for those affected by it
Twenty five years ago, I was a Temple University student spending a semester in London studying British media and politics. It was the time of my life, but being so young, I didn’t quite fully comprehend the fact that I was actually living, breathing, studying and experiencing a different country.
Looking back, there is so much I would like to tell my younger self to appreciate more, learn more about the history of certain places, and just pay attention. These were almost halcyon times, before cell phones, the internet and Twitter. You could actually sit quietly and admire and contemplate your surroundings without hearing the blips and beeps of countless cell phones around you.
This was the time I was turned on to Monty Python and began to worship the altar that is John Cleese. I learned the best places to get fish and chips. My roommate and I lived with a British family in the suburb of Ealing, so I had to navigate the Underground on a daily basis. After a few days, hearing the warning to “Mind the gap” no longer freaked me out. I learned that every British family has to pay a TV license to the BBC, but that the TV in mine and my roommate’s room was illegal. I got used to the fact that the toilet was not in the same room as the bathtub.
We commuted almost every day into Kensington Square to attend classes at the Maria Assumpta Centre. We shared class space with students from Syracuse University. It was an honor and a privilege to be able to spend six months in a different country. The thought of terrorists, violence or suicide bombers never crossed our minds. How naive we were.
I was scheduled to fly home on December 22, 1988. The night before, my roommate was helping me pack and we had the TV on in the background. What I remember most is that the BBC interrupted the programming. Back in those days, the BBC didn’t interrupt programs for just any reason, so we knew that it was serious. We saw that a plane had crashed in Scotland but other details were sketchy.
Then the phone began to ring. Classmates were calling and wondering if a fellow classmate was on the plane. After some tense discussions, we discovered that our friend and classmate Diane Rencevicz was indeed a passenger on Pan Am Flight 103. So was the entire Syracuse class that we had shared class space with. As a school, Syracuse bought their tickets as a group, but us Temple students were responsible for arranging our own transportation, so we were not all on the same flights home.
The rest of that night is pretty much a blur. I remember heading to Heathrow the next day being in shock. At that point, no one knew that it was a terrorist bomb that brought the plane down. I tried to avoid the news, but it was everywhere, on TV screens and newspapers, all over the airport. I was never so glad to be on solid ground when that plane landed.
I was only a sophomore when that happened, but I never went back to Temple. The shock of losing a friend in such a tragic way shook me to my core. I often wonder how life would be different if I had gone back to Temple, but that’s something I will never know. I had to take some time off from school to get my head on straight. Losing someone to such senseless violence is a pain I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy.
Trying to explain this kind of pain is like trying to explain the color purple to a blind person. You really have no idea what it’s like unless you experience it for yourself. Even though Diane and I were not particularly close, I still considered her a friend and her death rattled me. I could have been on that plane. She could have been me. But I was spared and I look back and wonder if what I did with my life was worth being spared.
The hows and whys and blame for the bombing aren’t complicated. We bombed someone, they bomb us back in retaliation, then we bomb them again and they bomb us again. When will we learn that violence is not the solution? Yes you have to negotiate with your enemy, talk to your enemy, make peace with your enemy. I’m not naive enough to think that is always possible. But where it isn’t possible, maybe we just shouldn’t go poking venomous snakes with a stick, hmm? You can’t bomb some country into democracy. That’s not how it works. Bombing for peace is like fucking for virginity. Peace takes courage. Peace takes bravery. Peace takes compassion.
How many times have we been hit with terrorist attacks in the past 25 years since Pan Am Flight 103? Too damn many. When will we ever learn? Our days of quiet naivete and peaceful contemplation may be over. We will always have to be on our guard for terrorist activities. We can no longer assume that there is no one out there who wishes our country ill will. But we can take steps to regain some good will.
We must stop using violence as the only solution. We need to rely more on things like economic sanctions because they do work. We must start listening to what our enemies want. Most of the time, they just want to be left alone. We can no longer be the world’s police force. Unless we are faced with a crisis like genocide in Darfur, we need to limit our country’s involvement in international affairs. Instead of building up our military empire, we must concentrate on building up our peace quotient.