OVERWHELMED with grief and outrage, having taken just 48 hours to think
about it, the U.S. Senate unanimously conferred on President George W. Bush
the authority and budget to annihilate whomever he holds responsible for the
assaults on New York and Washington and to "end" any nations he determines to
be in league with them.
One day later, the House joined in, except for one lone dissenting vote,
from Rep. Barbara Lee of Oakland.
In the process of cashing this virtual blank check Congress has given him,
the president will likely define who the United States is, both to ourselves
and in the eyes of the rest of the planet, for years to come.
So, whatever the Congress has decided in its haste to endorse the nation's
outrage, we still need a national discussion about the values which ought to
characterize our response to this suicidal assault on public safety and
Far more than the lives we have already lost is at stake here. Our very
way of life is threatened, so we must be careful to bring that way of life to
bear on the manner in which we now proceed. Otherwise, we risk once again
destroying the village in order to save it.
This moment in history requires far more serious thought by all Americans
than we have yet been able to give it. Our hands are still occupied searching
for survivors, our pain is still exceedingly raw, yet we gain nothing by
acting blindly. Or in a rage. Rather, we must act in accordance with our
highest sense of ourselves, despite the circumstances.
The United States is in this fight to defend public order and the free
movement of commerce, ideas and peoples -- so, rather than military operations,
the nation's first priority has to be re-establishing the public order we
just lost. A national transportation police ought to be created immediately
to take jurisdiction of all security surrounding air travel, from patrolling
airport perimeters to processing passengers to riding as sky marshals.
Security should involve the complete search of all passengers and luggage. If
we don't immediately re-establish our confidence in our ability to travel
safely, we won't win any war against anybody.
We must also demonstrate our resolve by going back to business with
resilience and determination.
The Pentagon should be rebuilt and an enormous share of the nation's
resources should be funneled into New York to repair the devastation in the
nation's financial capital south of 14th Street.
To exorcise our grief -- and for our safety -- we need to reconstruct and
reaffirm what those lost died trying to save.
The United States is also a country founded on the rule of law, the limits
of government and the inalienable rights of all. We must bring the
perpetrators of this assault to justice, but we must not act like a self-
appointed lynch mob in so doing.
We need the rest of the planet's help if we are ever going to eliminate
terrorism, so we need desperately to give them a reason to follow our
initiative. That reason ought to be their faith in the fairness of the
justice that the United States pursues. That justice and the international
help in enforcing it will evaporate if President Bush and his administration
become obsessed with showing the hair on their chests and turn this into a
hunting license to go after whoever out there doesn't like us. These
criminals and their entire network need to be identified, arrested and tried
by an international tribunal -- as we already do with genocide and crimes
against humanity. Vengeance is not ours, even as wronged as we have been.
To realize this justice we must also seriously address a region of the
world where much of the population already sees us as bullies, full of
arrogance and disrespect. Most of them are peoples we have long dismissed as
somehow lesser and of little interest -- except when it comes to our oil
supply. Our two chief allies there during the last half century have been a
corrupt kingdom and a nation of immigrants perceived as alien intruders by the
rest of the region. However we now proceed, we need to avoid playing into our
The disruption, fear and loss we experienced over the past week have been
constants in many of these places for months, years, sometimes decades, and
many of the people there see us as in league with the perpetrators of their
condition. We need desperately to act out of our type. And we need to heal
our relationship with the Islamic world. The events of Sept. 11 are only the
latest in a 50-year history that have drawn us deep into a cycle of hatred.
We gain nothing by further perpetuating that endless blood feud with an attack
-- however successful -- that ravages more innocents. All that will generate
is more suicide bombers.
Instead, we need to bring the same open hearts and understanding we have
brought to each other over the last desperate week to our attempts to end this
reign of terror, once and for all.
In that process, much will be demanded of us, including our willingness to
admit that terrorism takes many forms and that we too have on occasion
terrorized or bolstered those who terrorized. We will have to listen to these
people's grievances, perhaps even more than we express our own. It may grate
on us that we have to do so, but if ever there was a moment in our history
when it is essential that we rise above such responses, it is now. Our
outrage is justified, our grief enormous, our loss unquenchable, our violation
traumatic, but all are insufficient reasons to dispatch America's president,
or anyone else, to bring back some scalps in the pretense that terror will
thereby disappear and "evil" will be expunged. We will get nowhere by
indulging our outrage.
David Harris, author and journalist, spent 20 months in prison for refusing induction into the military service during the Vietnam War.
©2001 San Francisco Chronicle