Nine/Eleven: Rebirth of a Nation: Clarence Page Was Set to Be the Saturday Dinner Speaker at NCEW's Pittsburgh Conference. Here He Writes the Speech He Might Have Given. (Symposium Terrorism and Civil Liberties)

By Page, Clarence | The Masthead, Winter 2001 | Go to article overview

Nine/Eleven: Rebirth of a Nation: Clarence Page Was Set to Be the Saturday Dinner Speaker at NCEW's Pittsburgh Conference. Here He Writes the Speech He Might Have Given. (Symposium Terrorism and Civil Liberties)


Page, Clarence, The Masthead


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The editorial writer's role often has been described the way Murray Kempton did, as soldiers who come down from the hills after the battle is over - and shoot the wounded.

That was before the world changed.

On the morning of Tuesday, Nine/Eleven, terror attacks wounded America enough. America was shocked, angry, and confused. So were we opinion writers, in many ways. But, we didn't have time to dwell on it America was in a crisis.

We columnists, commentators, and editorial writers had to step in and try to make some sense out of it for our readers and listeners, even while we were trying to make sense for ourselves. We ask ourselves a question WH. Auden once asked: "How do I know what I think until I write it?"

Among the thoughts that found their way into my column on Nine/Eleven was this:

"This massive terror attack tests Americans in ways the United States has not been tested before. It tests our ability to rally behind an effective counter-terrorist war. It also tests our ability to avoid turning against each other while we wage it....Our anger must not lead us to demonize entire ethnic groups for the acts of a few of their distant cousins."

In other words, I was concerned about the Rodney King question: "Can we all get along?"

In foreign relations, we Americans had a lot of catching up to do. Peace and prosperity at home had dulled our interest in the world abroad. American media had cut back on their overseas news coverage. Presidents of both parties formulated post-Cold War foreign policy on the fly. We Americans had never been the world's only superpower before. We weren't sure how to behave and didn't think it was all that important anyway. We had bigger fish to fry back here at home. Prosperity had lowered crime rates and welfare rates, and that eased tensions. Americans felt good, in general, about immigration and our enriched national rainbow of diversity.

Were we suddenly about to lose all that in the wake of Nine! Eleven?

Were we about to lose our growing tolerance and appreciation for diversity? Would we slide back now and become violent, vengeful, and vigilant, particularly against Arabs and Muslims?

Were we about to lose our cherished civil liberties as quickly as Japanese Americans lost their civil rights during World War II or as quickly as Abraham Lincoln suspended the right of habeas corpus during the Civil War?

Fortunately, blessedly, the worst-case scenarios have not happened.

Around civil liberties a bipartisan coalition has formed -- as diverse as conservative Representative Bob Barr of Georgia and liberal Representative Barney Frank of Massachusetts -- to question sharply the civil liberties intrusions of the administration's proposed antiterrorist measures.

On the military front, the administration did not respond rashly, but with a call for patience. …

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Nine/Eleven: Rebirth of a Nation: Clarence Page Was Set to Be the Saturday Dinner Speaker at NCEW's Pittsburgh Conference. Here He Writes the Speech He Might Have Given. (Symposium Terrorism and Civil Liberties)
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