Breathing Hope Instead of Fear: Sept. 11's Other Anniversary

Article excerpt

Must Sept. 11 forever be remembered exclusively for the terrorist attacks of five years ago?

For contrast, reel the clock back to another Sept. 11 morning, in 1956, precisely 50 years ago this week:

President Dwight D. Eisenhower opens the first White House Conference on Citizen Diplomacy. Recognizing the budding sister city programs of U.S. communities reaching out to former enemies in Japan and Germany, Eisenhower starts the ball rolling for founding Sister Cities International and People to People International.

Eisenhower's legacy has flowered in thousands of Americans' interactions and relationships with their sister citizens of the globe.

Today, in fact, 800 American communities are engaged in 2,200 sister city relationships, focused on cultural contacts and exchange visits, from high schoolers to Chambers of Commerce, with partners in 134 nations around the globe.

Why is "citizen diplomacy" important? Eisenhower had no doubt: "the most worthwhile purpose there is in the world: to help build the road to peace."

All people basically yearn for peace, said Eisenhower--an observation that's still true of ordinary folks across the globe, notwithstanding the dark shadow of Islamic Jihadism.

The challenge, said Eisenhower, is "for people to get together and to leap governments--if necessary to evade governments--to work out not one method but thousands of methods" by which people can gradually "dispel ignorance," "strengthen friendships," "learn of others."

What a refreshing call, in a super-security age, back to the glowing, most hopeful side of the American experience!

And to hear, in the midst of our Iraqi misadventure, this admonition from our past Republican president and five-star general in World War II: "Every bomb we can manufacture, every plane, every ship, every gun, in the long run has no purpose other than negative: to give us time to prevent the other fellow from starting a war, since we know we won't."

So why Sister Cities now? Succinctly, in the words of Rep. Jim Leach, R-Iowa, because "the world needs to breathe hope instead of fear." But they are practical, immediate reasons too. One is to offset the dangerous levels of anti-American sentiment now rising across the world.

Plus, say supporters, people-to-people exchanges work to correct the disturbing ignorance of Americans about the world outside our borders. Most countries put high value on learning other languages, appreciating other world cultures--"but we Americans too often treat them as fluff," notes William Stafford, head of the Trade Alliance of Greater Seattle and a prime supporter of Seattle's 21 global sister city relationships (from Chongqing, China, to Haiphong, Vietnam, to Izmir, Turkey). …