On December 21, 1988, 259 souls were torn from the cold night and thrown six miles to the terra firma of Lockerbie, Scotland, as the 747 they were in was blasted to pieces. Part of the fuselage with 60 passengers inside landed between houses, a jet engine crashed to earth on the other side of town, while a wing vaporized three houses and its 11 occupants after bursting into a fireball, leaving nothing but a crater.
In Lockerbie, they’ll describe that night as hell on earth, a nuclear-seeming holocaust. One woman nearly vomits at the smell of leather – she was a child, and her mother carried her, screaming, through the flames and raining fuel while wearing a leather jacket.
Bodies, body parts, contents and pieces of the plane, luggage, presents, teddy bears and jet fuel rained down, covering an area of more than 800 square miles. Rescuers describe dead found clutching handfuls of grass, others with arms wrapped tight around each other.
According to Libyan ex-justice minister Mustafa Abdel-Jalil, Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi gave the direct orders to bomb Pan Am 103 from the sky, according to the Associated Press.
Thirty-five of those ill-fated souls were Syracuse University students coming home for Christmas from a semester in London. They never made it.
In March and June of 2002, I traveled to Lockerbie as a writer for a collaborative book on the town. Since that horrible night, Lockerbie and Syracuse have formed a bond over shared tragedy. We were trying to look beyond the terrorist attack that stole lives in the air, on the ground and around the world.
But once again, beautiful, sad Lockerbie is in the news, and this time it appears the – oft suspected – culprit behind the 1988 terrorist attack that killed everyone aboard the plane, and 11 on the ground, is Gadhafi himself.
I should add that Abdel-Jalil has yet to provide proof following his recent defection from Libya in support of his countrymen. However, countless reports that Gadhafi ordered fighter jets to fire on protestors – resulting in more than 700 dead, at best count, with at least four fighter pilots defecting rather than firing on their own countrymen – and war ships to fire from the shores. It’s not so far-fetched to imagine him ordering the downing of the flight.
“There’s a lot of evidence, as well as intelligence … which indicates that the regime was involved,” says David Shayler, who headed the Libya Desk for Britain’s intelligence service, MI5, in the mid-1990s. Qadhafi’s motive, according to Shayler: revenge. In April, 1986, two-and-a-half years before the downing of Pan Am 103, US warplanes bombed Libya’s two largest cities, Tripoli and Benghazi, to punish Qadhafi for alleged terrorist attacks in Europe. An estimated 100 Libyans died in the attack, including Qadhafi’s 2-year-old adopted daughter.
The U.S. has the power to place direct pressure on Gadhafi, as does the United Nations. This must happen, and this dictator – one of the most heinous mass murderers of citizens in the Middle East and the U.S. – must be removed.
He won’t go quietly, and he won’t go without taking as many people with him. He’s proven that. Which means this is no Egypt, and hearts and flowers won’t do the trick. It’s time for the international community to stop beating around the bush and do what needs to be done.
I can’t do it. You can’t. But we can force those who can to take action.
I think it should be obvious to anyone paying attention that a great change is at hand. Individuals have come together around the world to proclaim that we, as human beings, will no longer tolerate the mass terrorization of the many by the few.
I cannot physically help those in Libya and the rest of the Middle East. But there appears to be a global craving to stop seeing those around us as enemies, and end to an “us or them” mentality, and realize we are all part of the collective one. When some of us are maimed, tortured, raped, killed or oppressed by the few, none of us are truly free.
I know it’s been said before, but can’t you feel it? Wouldn’t you help if you could?
Well you can.
We have the ability to put pressure on our few at the top, to remind them that we the people hold the ultimate power, and it’s time for Washington to stop working with mass murderers and remove them – politically. War and bloodshed have never been the answer.
But millions of Americans standing together, sending emails, making calls or visiting our representatives and the president is the only, and best, answer we’ve got to make lasting change.
While visiting Tundergarth church, just across the road from the sheep-dotted field where the cockpit fell to earth – its crew still strapped in their seats, likely alive to the bitter end – we flipped through a visitors book.
Grief, sadness and hope filled the pages. But one page still sticks out in my mind – to one of the students who died that night. Taped to the page were a few pieces of small change – dimes and a nickel. Horror shot through me like lightning.
I was born in 1970, well before cell phones. Whenever I’d run out to visit friends, hit the movies or any other outing, I’d tuck two dimes and a nickel in my sock. It was my “just in case” cash – the exact amount needed to use a pay phone to call home in case of emergency.
No questions asked. You needed help, you needed a ride, you called.
So all I could think of was that no one aboard that flight ever stood a chance of calling for help. And never would again.
No more parents should have to answer another call telling them not that their beautiful college-age student needs a ride, but that he or she has been blown out of the sky by a vicious dictator intent on destroying everything in his wake.
No more small, bucolic towns should have to live under the shadow of terrorism. And no more citizens standing firm on their beliefs in freedom should be bombed in their own cities.
Meaning it’s time for us to make that final call or, in the digital age, send that all-important email to help our brothers and sisters who cannot call for help themselves.
Want to find out who to contact? Click here. [Opens in a new window. Enough of my words – time for yours to work their democracy in action magic.]