For some time now I’ve been trying to compose the speech President Bush should’ve given on 9/11/01. Someone much wiser beat me to it:
My fellow Americans: We have been hit. The attacks on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon have damaged every one of us. We are filled with anger and rage, for in 200 years our country has never experienced such an attack from the outside.So everything in us cries out for revenge. Should we give in to this cry? It would be the easier way. And I am sure you would support me if I mobilized our troops to hunt down the terrorists and those who helped them wherever they are hiding.
But I propose to take another route. It may baffle you, even infuriate you, at first hearing. But I ask that you consider it with care.
The assaults have shown us something we needed to know: we are vulnerable. Yes, we are an open country. We are a nation linked to other nations around the globe. Therefore, strangers can come into our country. They can hijack airplanes and steer them into high-rise buildings. Of course, we can improve our security measures. But the fact of our grave vulnerability remains.
The experience of this immense cruelty is, at the moment of such great suffering, also our moment of truth about the vulnerability that we share with others. For we can now empathize with other people who live through civil wars for years and even decades. We can now grasp how people feel when their cities have been bombed into heaps of smoking ashes. (And sometimes those bombs are ones that we have built and delivered.) All this we can now feel with a special intensity.
What follows from this kind of knowledge that we have bought with so much grief? Should we try to close this window of vulnerability? To do that would turn our country into a prison. It would betray a heritage that we need to honor at all costs, namely, that we live as a free people in a free land. And we intend to keep it that way.
So we say to the world: We will try to learn from this bitter lesson. There is no special status for the United States. We are, together with all other peoples, guests on this planet, finite and mortal beings who are connected to each other, dependent on one another.
Therefore, we must not regard our “American way of life” as a privilege to be defended at any cost against the rest of the world, but rather, we must maintain it in such a way that it can become a way of life for other peoples as well, if they so wish. A way that respects the variety of cultures and religions. A way to protect the rights of all peoples.
We are stunned by the hatred that reveals itself in these attacks. But we need to see the causes that enabled it to grow. We need to find possibilities to decontaminate the conditions that have contributed to the planning and execution of these heinous crimes.
This implies the acknowledgment — and this may well be the hardest task I ask of you today — that our vulnerability is also an expression of our failure to meet peoples in other parts of the world as honest brokers for their needs. We need to accept our share in the injustices that are causing so much suffering. The evil is not simply out there; it is also with us and within us.
For a long time we have held onto our sense of national innocence. But it now lies buried under the rubble of the Twin Towers in New York.
Why do I suggest this turn?
Not because we have suddenly become cowards, but because we have gained the insight that our security is linked to the security of all peoples, and that our peace is connected to their peace. The freedom we cherish so much cannot be had without their freedom.
Many of you will say in anger that we have lost our nerve, that we are capitulating to the terrorists.
That is not the case.
America remains the most powerful nation in the world. But we are powerful enough to admit our vulnerability. We are sovereign enough to take this unprecedented turn. And thus we are not allowing the terrorists to dictate our response.
Does this mean that we let them get away with their crimes? By no means! They are murderers, and so they must be brought to an international court. We are calling on all the peoples around the globe, who so overwhelmingly share in our suffering, to assist us in identifying and prosecuting the assassins and their supporters.
Since we have good reason to suspect that they are members of the Islamic religion, we are calling on Muslim lawyers to assist us. A fatwa by Muslim spiritual leaders would clarify that such crimes are incompatible with the spirit of Islam. Muslim experts could help us in setting up an international court to which we will surely bring our claims and proofs.
Terrorism is one of the great plagues of our time. We do not pretend to be able to eradicate it, least of all by waging a war against it. Because evil — and terrorism is evil — will not disappear from the face of the earth because we wish it away. It will stay with us as a threat and a temptation because it is in all of us.
This is a bitter day. Let us turn it into a day of truth and honesty.
What I ask of you today is a burdensome task, certainly heaviest for the families whose loved ones have lost their lives. But I am convinced that this is the only way to liberate ourselves and others from the vicious cycle of violence and counterviolence.
God bless America!
This was written by Geiko Muller-Fahrenholz in the book America’s Battle for God: A European Christians Looks at Civil Religion, which I stumbled upon via Christianity, Democracy, and the Radical Ordinary by Romand Coles & Stanley Hauerwas. I found the speech online at Muller-Fahrenholz’s article in The Christian Century. Soon after this speech in the book he also writes:
…People who want to be invulnerable must make themselves impenetrable. Their search for invincibility must be paid for with the lifeless shield of numbed emotions and intellectual inertia. While suppressing their own insecurities and needs, they are forced to concentrate all their powers on fending off real and imagined enemies. This leads to false conceptions of the stranger, the other, and to a distorted sense of one’s own identity.