What I Wish You’d Said

President Bush, your speech was forceful and charismatic. But I wish you had embraced the world instead of insulating the United States.

Here’s what I wish you had said:

“My fellow citizens of the world, over the past ten days, I have spoken to the people of my country several times. It has been a time of pain and sorrow and rage in the United States of America. My first responsibility has been to do what little any one man can to do to comfort the grieving, lend support to those who have aided the fallen, and to rally our nation’s strength so that we can move forward.

Now I wish to speak directly to you, the men and women of the nations and peoples that share this fragile planet. I speak to you as the leader of a proud and wounded nation, but also as one of you, a human being with a shared concern for our common fate.

On September 11, we Americans experienced sudden death and destruction on our own shores. This is a new experience for the United States, but I recognize that it is all too familiar to many of you. We have a tradition in our country of thinking of ourselves as distinct, a nation apart. We are protected by vast oceans on our flanks and the means to build a strong defense. But on the day after September 11, we awoke to the reality that we are now a part of the world as you know it, the world that does not sleep at night, where distant rumbles send a shudder up the spine, where men and women pray each day that no more loved ones will be lost.

You bore witness to our tragedy last week, but these events have allowed us to bear witness to your suffering as well. We have watched violence in many of your countries unfold on our television screens over the past thirty years, but I must confess that we Americans have often experienced that violence with some detachment. Now it cuts to the bone.

I recognize as well that the United States bears responsibility for some of that suffering. We have tried to use our military and economic might on behalf of freedom and democracy over the last half-century, but we have not always used our power wisely. We, too, have caused innocent lives to be lost.

That said, I reject with all my heart the suggestion that the callous actions of last week’s aggressors are justified by the American past. Indiscriminate slaughter is not justice. Whatever our differences, I count on all peace-loving peoples to join me in continued rejection of the flawed logic of massacre.

I have spoken with many of your leaders and asked them for their support in waging a global struggle against terrorism. Now I appeal directly to you, the people of the world, to join my country on the front lines. The struggle to come is not about avenging American lives or asserting American might. All of us share a common interest in combating those who place no value on human life.

I recognize, as well, that combating terrorism is not exclusively a military operation. Terrorism thrives in places where poverty and violence have sapped the strength of the people. Ending support for terrorism is not simply a matter of eradicating unjust regimes. It is also about providing ordinary people in every country with an boulevard of hope: well-marked, amply supported, and designed according to the particular needs and concerns of each community.

I am proud of the strength and resilience that the American people have shown in the wake of last week’s attacks. Today, I tell you that we are strong enough to be humble. The future depends on a new form of international cooperation, based not on the rhetoric of leadership but on the power of partnership. Let us work together to build that boulevard of hope, and put an end to the suffering that has enshrouded us all.”

by Daniel Terris, director of the International Center for Ethics, Justice, and Public Life (9/21/01)

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