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September 12, 2001


A Different World

Readers' Opinions
Join a Discussion on Anthony Lewis's Columns

BOSTON -- A man who worked on one of the top floors of the World Trade Center saw that he was trapped. He telephoned his wife. He said he wanted to say goodbye, he wanted her to remember that he loved her and loved their children. They are 1 and 3 years old.

A friend of his told me the story. More even than the television images, it brought home the pain, and the terror.

Thousands upon thousands of Americans will have a personal connection to a victim. Or we will imagine the feelings of the passengers on those planes, knowing they were flying to death. Schoolchildren across the country will remember the day their classes were interrupted to give them the news. We will all be marked forever by this day.

Terror is what the attackers wanted to arouse, and they succeeded. They not only visited death and destruction on symbols of American economic and political power. They showed how vulnerable the world's only superpower is: how imperfect our airport security systems, how unprotected even our military headquarters.

"Since these were acts of war," a television broadcaster said during the day, "it is important to know where our national command center is." To the contrary, it seemed irrelevant. What does a military command do about a faceless enemy that does devastating damage with no more than perhaps a dozen attackers?

If this was war, it was far from the best-remembered attack on America. Pearl Harbor was so clear. In school the next day we gathered in the auditorium and listened to President Roosevelt. "Yesterday, December 7, 1941, a date which will live in infamy . . ." No one could doubt who the enemy was or how America had to respond. Those are now the very doubts.

None of us can pretend to know exactly how to deal with this newly disclosed threat of large-scale, sophisticated terrorism. But some basics suggest themselves.

Most important, America should reach out to the rest of the world for a united stand against terrorism. Nearly all countries, whatever their politics, have a common interest in elementary security. China does. Russia does.

The world's cooperation is essential if the authors of this attack are to be found and destroyed. The United Nations must demand that all countries deny shelter to terrorists, and help to crush them. Governments that reject that demand will be targets for military action.

It is essential, too, that our foreign policy from here on forward eschew any impression of unilateralism. Even our allies have seen an administration uninterested in what others think, ready to impose its views. President Bush would do well to adopt a tone recognizing that America cannot assure security by itself.

The terrorist attack should inspire reflection about all of our national security policies, including the proposed missile defense system. Its critics have always said that this country will be in greater danger in future from suitcase bombs or other terrorist devices than from missiles, and their case has now been devastatingly made. Whatever direction policy takes, we need joint action to protect the world from terrorism, nuclear or otherwise.

"This is a crime against the foundations of our common humanity," the president of Ireland, Mary McAleese, said yesterday. "Our response must be to stand shoulder to shoulder."

That is the theme that President Bush should sound. His comments yesterday, understandably, could not really capture the horror, or its implications. We, and the world, are looking for words that can bring us together against evil.

One danger must above all be avoided: taking steps that in the name of security would compromise America's greatest quality, its open society. The point was made compellingly yesterday by former Secretary of State George P. Shultz.

"We're not going to allow these terrible people to change our way of life," Mr. Shultz said. "I reject that entirely."

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