Archive for Thursday, September 5, 2002

9-11 answers will define us

September 5, 2002

The terrorist attacks of a year ago were so unprecedented and disorienting that they suggested a historic parallel to the sack of Rome by Alaric I and his Visigoths in 410 A.D.

Twelve months later, the disorientation remains in part because of the many unanswered questions from the horrific events we now know as 9-11. Chief among them is whether the event marked the beginning of a new barbarian onslaught on civilization or its successful defense.

The events of the last year are ambiguous. The Taliban were routed and ousted from power in Afghanistan. The al Qaeda terrorists they harbored have taken heavy causalities and are forced to hide in the world's most remote corners. Still, key leaders of both the Taliban and al Qaeda, including leaders Mullah Mohammed Omar and Osama bin Laden, remain at large despite President Bush's vows they would be captured or killed. It is difficult to judge the ability to carry off terrorist activities of the type the media routinely report or concoct.

With unfinished business in Afghanistan, the country is entering into a debate about how to best respond to another, but perhaps unrelated, threat. During that debate we must keep in mind the lesson of Afghanistan: Chaos breeds terrorism. Any action that doesn't enhance long-term stability threatens our security.

As we debate our new place in the world, the reality of terrorism has us wrestling with the fundamental question of security needs versus personal freedom.

As we have stated before, Americans have always rejected the need for a paternalistic state that would spare us from danger through intrusive interference in our daily lives and unrestrained removal of perceived threats. We have accepted the knowledge that freedom comes with risks. Although it might be foolish not to accept some constraints on our freedoms, it would be equally foolish to erode the basic rights our forefathers insisted could govern a progressive society.

The solutions we find to these foreign and domestic challenges will define America for the next generation. It is our hope the country they define would be recognizable to those who died on a late summer day one year ago.

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