By Coffin, William Sloane
The Nation , Vol. 278, No. 2
Many people believed at the time that the trauma of 9/11 would change the world. My feeling was that our American response would be far more crucial. The President, after all, did not have to declare war. He could have called the terrorists mass murderers, their deeds crimes against humanity. He could have said to the American people and the world, "We will respond, but not in kind. We will not seek to avenge the death of innocent Americans by the death of innocent victims elsewhere, lest we become what we abhor. We refuse to ratchet up the cycle of violence that brings only ever more death, destruction and deprivation. What we will do is build coalitions with other nations. We will share intelligence, freeze assets and engage in forceful extraditions of terrorists if internationally sanctioned. I promise to do all in my power to see justice done, but by the force of law only, never by the law of force."
It was a ripe moment--to educate the soul of the nation, to improve the quality of our suffering. We had lost our sense of invulnerability and superpower invincibility, but as these were only illusions, we should not have grieved their passing. Other nations too had been unfairly hurt, many of them, and far worse than we. But instead of deepening our kinship with the world's suffering, the President chose to invoke an almost unlimited sense of entitlement to pursue in our own way what he termed a struggle "to rid the world of evil."
As a result we squandered the widely felt sympathy that was ours on 9/11, symbolized by the headline in Le Monde the following day: Nous sommes tous Americains. We also squandered the near-record budget surplus that could have helped victims abroad as well as the homeless and hungry in the United States, where poverty is a tragedy that great wealth makes a sin. Finally, ironically and predictably, the Bush doctrine of unilateralism and preventive war has recruited more terrorists than it has cowed. Clearly the past two years have been morally and politically disastrous.
But tempus fugit--an election year is upon us, another ripe moment for educating and for changing regimes in Washington. …