So we’re at war. Nobody appears to know who or what will be targeted, or how this war will be fought, or how it will end, only that our Congress has declared almost unanimously "that the president is authorized to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons, in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States by such nations, organizations or persons." From our president’s remarks on September 20, it appears that this war may extend the whole world through; it may be fought largely in a covert manner; and it may last for a very long time. On October 7, aerial bombings of Afghanistan began.
Unity is essential in times like these. I think of the words of Carl Schurz: "My country right or wrong; when right, to keep her right; when wrong, to put her right." Our president was right to say that Americans must come together to live out the values we defend.
What are these values? Americans disagree on this: I can only say what values I associate with our flag.
I feel that the first value is that of brotherhood and sisterhood. Our first priority must be to comfort those who mourn, and to support the medical workers and emergency-response teams who are still working to restore our wounded cities. I hope that Americans can now learn to walk outside the neighborhoods we know, to "the other side of the tracks." Now is not the time to divide our lives up into the suburbs and ghettoes of our minds; we cannot stand by our fellow Americans if we are afraid to say hello to them.
A second value is that of sanctuary and respect for difference. The United States of America were formed as a nation of immigrants, a nation rich in diversity of languages and cultures, religions and histories. I think of Emma Lazarus’s beautiful poem, given on July 4, 1886, at the dedication of the Statue of Liberty:
The New Colossus
Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
"Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she
With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"
Currently there are an estimated 6.3 million undocumented immigrants living in the United States. If the U.S. offered asylum to the steady stream of refugees who come to us from around the world, what wealth we could glean from the vastness of human experience we embrace. If we avoided the trap of dividing the world into "us" versus "them," "wanted" people versus "unwanted" people, how rich in citizenry we could grow. We would also increase national security and improve law enforcement, because legal residence would provide a means of tracking those who constitute a vast population currently forced into illegality and "black market" employment.
A third value is that of freedom, enshrined in our Constitution: the freedoms of thought, of expression, to peaceably assemble and to petition the government for redress of grievances; the freedom to bear arms for self-defense in case of attack; the freedom from unreasonable search and seizure, with the implied right to privacy; the freedom from vigilante violence and judicial abuse, ensuring equal protection and due process of law; the freedom from cruel and unusual punishment; the freedom to democratically elect representatives who respond to citizens’ concerns; the freedom from involuntary servitude; the freedom of all those born or naturalized within the United States to assume every right and responsibility of citizenship; and many other liberties and powers as well.
I applaud the patriotism of the American Civil Liberties Union in its efforts to balance the rights of the U.S.’s inhabitants with its need for security. I hope that, as Attorney General Ashcroft’s new anti-terrorism legislation is implemented, both of these needs may be honored—for our resident aliens and immigrant populations as well as for native-born citizens.
A fourth value is that of global thinking: the ideal that the world is more than just a series of profit margins and strategic victories. There is more to global thinking than simply the globalization of capital and military power. There is also the globalization of solidarity, of interdependence, of cultural exchange and freedom of movement. There is the globalization of friendship and trust—not the uneasy trust based on balances of coercion, but the wholehearted trust of communication and good faith.
If we trusted communities around the world with the choice to build and support stable, regionally-based economies; if we ensured that our economic policies worldwide respect the rights of labor unions, environmental sustainability, local cultures, traditional businesses, and basic human rights—what a strong world we could help to build. In my mind, Americanism can never be the nationalism of a single language or culture or creed or color; it represents an internationalism that transcends nationalities. I hope that we can help to build an internationalism without imperialism.
It is for this reason that I support bilingual education for all American schoolchildren. In a world of international cooperation, we can no longer afford to isolate ourselves in an English-speaking island. Communication is and has always been our best defense against hatred and fear.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, is the value of equality, stated in our Declaration of Independence:
"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.—That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed."
If we secured these rights by guaranteeing every American child a quality education, a safe place to sleep, enough to eat and good medical care; if we guaranteed every American worker a living wage, safe working conditions, and the opportunity to further herself—we could work toward truly becoming one nation. A nation not of fractured communities but of free and strong citizens. We could also work toward realizing the ideals on which our economy was founded: fair competition on an even playing field.
If we realized that certain human rights extend even to criminals, and that no one—not even the state—has the right to take away the life of another human being, we could finally join the global community of First World nations who have abolished the vengeful and obsolete death penalty. If we ended the divisive practices of racial profiling and police brutality, we could at last look at every American and say, "You are important to your country."
President Bush is right to say that the world must work seriously to combat the hatred and violence that plague our world. For this reason, I applaud the resolution of the United Nations General Assembly on November 10, 1998, which "proclaims the period 2001-2010 as the International Decade for a Culture of Peace and Non-Violence for the Children of the World."
For this reason, I hope that our government will soon sign on to the 1997 treaty for the international ban on land mines, weapons that slaughter innocent people by lying in wait for decades after they have outlived their intended purpose. For this reason, I hope our government will support enforcement of the 1972 convention to ban biological weapons. For this reason, I hope our government will uphold and work to help enforce the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty and the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. For this reason, I hope our government will support the Program of Action from the United Nations Conference on the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons, held July 9-20, 2001. For this reason, I hope that our weapons industries will cease exporting arms to countries that have been classed as supporters of terrorism. We must not be suppliers to the terrorists of the world.
For this reason, as well, I hope that our country will work toward achieving stability in the Middle East and in South Asia, by helping to resolve the conflicts between the Israeli and Palestinian people, and between the people of India and Pakistan. I hope that this "War on Terrorism" can be won without resuming the military buildup that spirals away in that region’s deadly arms races.
And finally, for this reason, I hope that our government will soon ratify the Rome Statute for an International Criminal Court to try individuals accused of genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity. I cannot think of a way to describe the horrible disasters of September 11 as anything but crimes against humanity. The perpetrators must be brought to justice, not in secret via covert military action, but through United Nations cooperation and the rule of international law, sending a clear message for the whole world to see. An international legal and judicial solution, rather than a vengeful and destructive military campaign, would best befit a world free of terrorism.
On October 14, the Taliban offered to surrender Osama bin Laden to a third country, if given a cease-fire and proof of culpability. As of mid-November, the Taliban appears to be in retreat, and now we must deal with the Northern Alliance. Still, bringing bin Laden to court may be our best chance to gather information about al-Qaida and to avoid martyring him in the eyes of his terribly misguided followers. The United Nations Security Council resolutions on terrorism are places to start looking for cooperative solutions.
Terrorism is a difficult thing to deal with; it is difficult even to define. It cannot be ended through simple economic equity, simple demilitarization, or even simple "Land for Peace" agreements. It certainly cannot be simply squashed by bombs. It goes much deeper than that. I feel that the roots of terrorism—the intentional taking of human life or infliction of pain upon human beings in order to further a political or ideological agenda—lie in several dangerous assumptions: that the ends justify the means, that your enemies’ humanity is unworthy of your respect, and that God wants you to hurt or kill. In order to fight terrorism, each human being must look inside his or her own heart to see to what extent these assumptions have a home there.
My mind cannot comprehend the terror and sorrow of those who lost family and loved ones in New York, Pennsylvania, and Washington. Nothing can compare to that. I pray that we as one world can end hatred and violence—by offering our world a future of respect, trust, equity, and cooperation.
In the meantime, what can we do? Inform ourselves. Participate in the democratic process. Show ourselves as patriots by voicing our opinions and helping to shape our future. We can honor the victims, comfort the survivors, aid the rescuers, and work for justice, freedom, and peace.