The Empire Strikes Back
23 September 2001
On September 11, 2001, four United States commercial airliners were hijacked. The planes were turned into bombs. The bombs targeted both America’s largest city and the city that is home to our federal government. Based on current estimates, over 6,000 people were killed. Our national psyche has been traumatized. Understandably, Americans want to punish the individuals who aided the suicide bombers. The Bush administration deserves praise for the restraint it has shown in not yet retaliating with air strikes. Alas, the administration was unable to restrain itself from a verbal campaign that immediately threatened war and heightened the rifts between America and the Arab world and between Christians and Muslims.
George W. Bush will not be the president he expected to be. He will not be the president those that voted against him expected him to be. The harsh realities of world politics are forcing an administration that campaigned on a promise to withdraw from an activist foreign policy to adopt just such a policy. The Bush administration has also been taught a civics lesson. It is bad public policy to promote the accumulation of private wealth in the hands of the few when it is working Americans in the time of crisis that carry America’s burdens. In the past, Bush has not been a very apt pupil. If the administration continues to push tax cuts, in light of these attacks, Americans will know that Bush is incapable of learning the most basic civics lesson.
Our country and the world face a dilemma. Do we allow extremist minority groups to terrorize the majority? For me, the answer is simple: No. We are not Shakespeare’s Hamlet or Camus’s Stranger. We need not torture ourselves over this decision, nor should we take on the role of passive observer. We must answer the challenge or resign ourselves to pass yet another problem onto our children and our children’s children. That is not to deny the role our country and we as individuals have played in creating the hatred we face. Bush is wrong when he incites the masses with the rhetoric of "good versus evil." He must state a clear mission before America commits its heart, soul and young. The mission must value the sanctity of life and not just American lives.
Individual Americans must refuse to abdicate responsibility to leaders. The American people must lead as they did so well on September 11. Our government must execute our will. Our government patronizes us when they put the face of one man on terror. We must respect the citizens of the nations we engage, especially their children, and increase their security. We must take responsibility for the actions of our government and listen to the claims of our critics.
Americans must ensure that the collateral damage of this mission does not include infringements on the liberties and values that we have cherished for generations. We must not trade freedom for security. We must not stop trusting people who are different from us. The lessons learned from ancient history, the 1960s, and two weeks ago should not be forgotten. The system of checks and balances on which our system is based should not be put aside in favor of falling in line blindly behind Bush. Should he surrender policy to right-wing groupthink or to the insanity that America should employ tactical nuclear weapons, Americans must stop him. Americans don't goosestep. We must not let our leaders forget what makes America great.
An all-out Bush War on Terrorism is no more likely to achieve success than Reagan's War on Drugs. Terrorism is a cancer that needs to be isolated and removed. Nor can we sit back and hope that it does not spread. Can Middle Eastern terrorism be eradicated like Japanese militarism? It is a worthy goal but it needs to be the goal of the people of the Middle East. It is insanity to believe America or the United Nations can occupy countries in the Arabian Peninsula and impose western-style democracies.
Americans must first take control of our own actions, as individuals and as a collective whole. Americans want a return to the sense of security we felt prior to this day of terror. We will not find it through a series of retaliatory strikes. Anger and revenge begets anger and revenge. We need to be a better neighbor. We can start by stopping the flow of arms that is used to murder innocents. That would be a wonderful tribute to give to those that lost their lives in New York and Washington.
Despite the absolute devastation of these acts of terrorism, America needs to understand what is a measured response to the loss of life. America is not immune from losing life to tragedies. It is estimated that cigarette-related deaths total 400,000 Americans per year. Alcohol-related deaths in America are estimated at well over 100,000 per year. Highway deaths in our country total over 40,000 per year. HIV kills approximately 25,000 Americans annually. In addition, conflicts throughout the Middle East kill numerous civilians and fuel hatred of the United States. All of these tragedies need our resolve as well.
The insecurity we feel in response to the events of September 11 has not been defused by the fact that our country has spent approximately $5.5 trillion in building and maintaining a nuclear arsenal. For many of us, America's nuclear arsenal heightens our insecurity. Many believe we need to show the "enemy" that we are crazier than the attackers. I do not. Much of the rhetoric and political spin from the White House has been disturbing. Now is the time to bring the world together and to isolate those that would kill civilians. We need to take care in what we say as much as in what we do. Our great nation holds individuals responsible for their actions. There must be no double standard despite the gravity of the crime. The whole world is watching our response.
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