“OUR RESPONSE TO TERRORISM”
W. Barnett Pearce
Fielding Graduate University, Public Dialogue Consortium,
An Alternative Version of President Bush's Speech to the Nation, September
11, 2001, Incorporating Insights from a Communication Analysis of Moral
More Americans were killed or injured by the terrorist attacks on September
11, 2001, than in any single day in any war since the Civil War. Like the
attack on Pearl Harbor, it caught us by surprise; unlike Pearl Harbor,
most of its intended victims were civilians; and, again unlike Pearl Harbor,
there is lingering uncertainty as to who did it, and why.
The primary purpose of terrorism is not limited to the effects of the
act itself, as monstrous as that might be. Rather, these acts are intended
to elicit responses from those attacked, responses that served the purposes
of the attackers. Governments have used terror to dissuade a population
from rebelling; rebels have used terror to cause a government to wage war
on its own citizens and thus destroy its own legitimacy; and terrorists
have made political statements or publicized their causes through kidnapping,
hijacking, and bombing.
Terrorists study their intended victims closely; the success of their
acts depends not only on what they (the terrorists) do, but also on how
the victims respond. Terrorists succeed when the victims respond as they
It would compound the tragedy of the attack we have just experienced if
my country responded in just the way the terrorists intended – whatever
that might be. With this in mind, I am heartened by the way official spokespersons
have cautioned for patience, have called for a deliberate campaign rather
than a reflexive response, and have warned that this “war” will
be unlike any other with which we are familiar. Clearly, we must think “out
of the box” if we are to thwart the intentions, as well as ultimately
defeat, those who have attacked us. We must act not only passionately but
also wisely, not only forcefully but also cleverly.
For some time now, I’ve been interested in how people in conflict
can move forward together even thought they don’t like each other,
act according to different moral codes and in the context of different
worldviews, and abhor that which the other values most. My colleagues and
I call such situations “moral conflict.”
As I write these lines (September 18, 2001), the leadership of the United
States are becoming more confident that Osama bin Laden is behind the attacks.
Even if he turns out not to be personally responsible, the enmity between
him and the United States is clearly a moral conflict.
Can the results of work on moral conflict contribute as we act into the
situation created by these attacks? This paper explores these possible
contributions, concluding with the text of an alternative speech, one that
President Bush might have delivered had he incorporated these contributions.
September 11, 2001
8:45 am (Eastern time): a plane crashed into the North Tower of the World
Trade Center in New York City. It was subsequently determined that
the plane was one of four commercial airliners that were hijacked; it was
flown into the building.
9:03 am: a second hijacked airliner crashed into the South Tower of the
World Trade Center.
9:33 am: President Bush called the crashes an “apparent terrorist
9:40 am: Federal Aviation Agency ordered all civilian flights grounded
9:41 am: a third hijacked airliner crashed into the Pentagon, outside
Washington, D. C.
9:50 am: The South Tower of the World Trade Center collapses
10:10 am: a fourth hijacked airplane crashed in western Pennsylvania.
It was subsequently learned that the passengers found out that other airliners
had been used to crash into the World Trade Center and decided to attack
10:29 am: The North Tower of the World Trade Center collapsed
about 7:00 pm: President Bush addressed the nation
September 12, 2001
11:15 am: after conferring with the National Security Council, President
Bush made a statement about the attacks
THE PRESIDENT’S SPEECHES
The written text of the September 11 address (taken from the PBS Newshour
website) contains 16 paragraphs. In addition to the conventional
closing of a Presidential address in the final paragraph; the topics in the speech were:
- Describing the attacks (paragraphs 1, 2, and the first half of 3)
- Describing/Invoking our response
- “disbelief, terrible sadness, and a quiet, unyielding anger” (3)
- “stand together (13, 16)
- “prayers” (14)
“defend freedom and all that is good and just in our world” (17)
- Constructing a frame in which to understand these events:
- Motive: evil. “Today, our national saw evil and we responded with
the best…daring…caring” (7); “targeted because
we’re the brightest beacon for freedom and opportunity” (6)
- Intention: disrupt our government and economy: “intended to frighten
our nation into chaos and retreat (4)
- Denying the effectiveness of the attacks
- “Cannot touch the foundation of America…cannot dent the steel
of American resolve” (5)
- “no one will keep that light from shining” (6)
- we have “stood down enemies before and will do so this time” (16)
- Naming constructive steps taken: emergency response (8,9) and government
agencies “open for business tomorrow” (10), financial institutions
and economy (11)
- Promising justice/retaliation: “full resources for our intelligence
and law enforcement communities (12)
- Announcing a new doctrine: “no distinction between the terrorists
who committed these acts and those who harbor them” (12)
- Naming friends and allies: Congress (13), world leaders (13, 14), “a
power greater than any of us” (15), each other (16)
The transcript of President’s Bush’s remarks on September
12, 2001, was prepared by eMediaMillWorks, Inc., and copyrighted by the
Associated Press. It was posted on AOL News website. It contains 9 paragraphs,
the last of which is a conventional ending. The themes include:
- Constructing a frame in which to understand these events:
Demonizing the perpetrators
- “Acts of war” (2)
- “freedom and democracy are under attack” (2)
- “…a monumental struggle of good versus evil, but good will
- “a different kind of enemy – hides in shadows and has no
regard for human life” “preys on innocent and unsuspecting
people and then runs for cover” (3)
- Talking tough
- “won’t be able to run for cover forever.. to hide forever…be
safe forever” (3)
- “US will use our resources…rally the world…be patient..be
focused and steadfast” (4)
- We are more alert, heightened security, taking precautions (5, 6,
- Naming friends and allies: Congress, America is united; freedom-loving
nations of the world (8)
SOME OBSERVATIONS AND COMMENTS
In a period of crisis, the responsibilities of the President includes
helping the country understand what is happening, reassuring the people
that appropriate steps are being taken, and fostering hope. These were
clearly among President Bush’s intentions for these speeches.
About 17 hours intervened between the two speeches, during which the frame
that the President offered for understanding the tragic events shifted
from “terrorism” to “war.” Indeed, in comments
made the following day, September 13, 2001, President Bush announced that
the war on terrorism was the first war of the 21st century, and, by the
end of the week, Congress granted the President extraordinary powers, similar
to a state of war.
Consistent with the “war” metaphor, the world in Bush’s
speeches is divided into “us” and “them,” and the
conflict between them is legitimated. In a characteristically American
way, the war becomes one in which “we” are good, the embodiment
of civilization and freedom, and “they” are evil, cowards,
and inexplicably opposed to our virtues.
President Bush assured his listeners that appropriate steps were being
taken on three fronts: aid was being given to those who need it; government
institutions were continuing to function in a state of increased security;
and investigations were underway to identify to identify and respond appropriately
to the culprits.
The attempt to frame the events as a war is made more difficult by the
failure to identify the enemy. At the time of this writing (September 13,
2001), fingers are pointing at Osama bin Laden, but officials are carefully
avoiding closure. The “war” is against “terrorism” and
those who condone and support it.
In this context, a significant initiative was announced. President Bush
declared that the United States would target those who support or shelter
terrorists. “We will make no distinctions between the terrorists
who committed these acts and those who harbor them.” In subsequent
statements, government officials revealed that other nations were being
asked for cooperation in this “war” and that this would be
a time when our “friends” were clearly defined from our “enemies.”
Both speeches were filled with promises of victory, although the shape
of that victory was left fairly vague. Indications of success include preserving
our freedoms, securing against further attacks, continued operation of
our government and economy, and finding and bring to justice those responsible.
The clear subtext of all of this was that our response to the terrorists’ attacks
would not be in a legal context of trying individuals for their actions
but in the context of an international war, using all of the resources
of the United States’ government and its allies, including military
force. Later in the week, Bush’s rhetoric toughened still more, with
promises to “smoke out” the terrorists, with allusions to what
we in the United States call “the old west” posters saying “Wanted:
Dead or Alive.”
DOES IT MATTER WHAT PRESIDENT BUSH SAID?
Of course it does. Here are some reasons why.
Culture: “speaking American”
If you will permit me a play on words: English is a language spoken by
people who don’t speak the same language. Beyond matters of pronunciation
and vocabulary, there are cultural ways of communicating; these manners
of speaking (and to a lesser extent, writing) are crucial in determining
whether we recognize others as “one of us.” (See Donal Carbaugh’s
Talking American and Situating
Selves: The Communication of Social Identities in American Scenes, and Gerry Philipsen, Speaking
When President Bush spoke, he used a style of speech that relied on certain
cultural conventions about what to say and how to say it, made certain
assumptions about shared values and knowledge, and worked within a complex
set of rules – that neither he nor his audience could articulate – about
what is good, true, beautiful, and appropriate. That is to say, he spoke “American” in
a way that clearly distinguished his from the comments made by Tony Blair
(the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom) and Yasser Arafat (leader of
the Palestinian government), even though they, too, spoke in English.
So what? Well, three things. First, the fact that he spoke “American” permitted
most Americans to identify with him. This is a necessary goal if he were
to function, as the occasion required, as the national spokesperson. Second,
his speech was shaped, limited, and facilitated by the discursive properties
of American culture. For example, without the context of this culture,
the easy use of the dichotomy between “good” and “evil” would
not have been possible, nor would the quotation of the Psalm, positioned
in the speech in a way that assumes that God is on our side. Third, by
speaking “American,” he reproduced this culture, extending
its hegemony just a bit further. That is, its strengths and weaknesses
were reinforced rather than challenged.
Note, for example, the President’ statement that “America
was targeted for attack because we’re the brightest beacon for freedom
and opportunity in the world.” While some might see the phrase “the
brightest beacon…” as an arrogant nationalistic claim, references
to the U. S. as a “city shining on a hill” and as an example
for others have become a commonplace assertion in Presidential rhetoric.
The statement that “we go forward to defend freedom and all that
is good and just in our world” might sound to some as if the United
States identifies itself as the world’s policeman or the custodian
of civilization, but this claim falls naturally on the ear when speaking
American. The assertion, in the September 12 speech, that “this will
be a monumental struggle of good versus evil” in which “good
will prevail” not only imposes an evaluative dichotomy on subsequent
events, but identifies the United States with “good” – a
judgment that many Americans comfortably assume but which falls harshly
on other ears.
As a speaker, the President was both enabled and limited by the necessity
to speak “American.” My guess is that he did not find the limitations
vexing, because his message was fairly conventional. Had he attempted to
do something more ambitious, he would have needed to find ways of transcending
these limitations or of changing the rules in a way that would bring his
audience along with him. (For a discussion of this form of rhetorical transcendence,
see Robert J. Branham and W. Barnett Pearce, "Between Text and Context:
Toward a Rhetoric of Contextual Reconstruction," Quarterly
Journal of Speech, 71, 1985, 19-36; and W. Barnett Pearce and Stephen W. Littlejohn,
Moral Conflict: When Social Worlds Collide. Sage, 1997.)
For good or ill, by speaking so resolutely “American,” the
President invoked our currently existing cultural resources as a way of
comprehending this unprecedented attack. The strain was felt almost immediately,
as Secretary of State Colin Powell explained that what the President called “the
first war of the 21st century” would not be like any other war in
Coherence: a good enough “fit” between the stories we live
and those we tell
Many people resonate with Nietzsche’s observation that he can stand
almost any “what” as long as he knows “why.” Human
beings consistently work to construct coherent stories about their experience.
But because these are stories, they cannot be identical to the experiences
themselves, and often the gap between “stories told” and “stories
lived” becomes distressingly painful.
The timing of the President’s speeches was forced by events, and
they set the discursive context in which subsequent events – which
neither he nor anyone else could predict on September 11 and 12 – will
play out. Is the story he told to make this attack coherent for us sufficiently
powerful? Will subsequent events shatter this story, producing a second
round of confusion? Will we, as Gregory Bateson warned in his essay “From
Versailles to Cybernetics” (Steps to an Ecology
of Mind, Ballantine,
1972), be made crazy by living in a reality that we cannot comprehend because
our official stories are inadequate? Will the frame that President Bush
constructed for us be sufficiently rich, broad, honest, and factual to
comprehend the events that lie before us?
As I write these lines (on September 14, 2001), it is still far too early
Making the world in which we live
The stories we tell are crucial parts of the technology by which we make
the worlds in which we live. Our own actions are chosen from within those
stories. For example, our national policy will likely differ if we think
that we have an exclusive and proprietary hold on what is “good” than
if we take a more cosmopolitan perspective that there are many “goods” and
that even our bitterest foe might be virtuous. For example, in the September
12 speech, President Bush spent a considerable part of the speech describing
the “enemy” as villains. “Demonizing” the enemy
and depicting them as less than fully human is a venerable tactic for mobilizing
one’s own forces. However, it also prefigures some all-too-familiar
aspects of war: underestimating the enemy’s virtues, including courage
and resilience; treating the enemy in ways that contradict one’s
own higher values; and misunderstanding the enemy’s motives and hence
In addition, the stories we tell have implications for others. Not only
residents of the United States heard President Bush’s speeches. These
others had to ask what were the implications for them. By “speaking
American,” President Bush elicited responses that will, in the ensuing
days, either help or hinder his cause and will shape the future for all
SOME THINGS THAT BUSH MIGHT HAVE DONE
Sadly, the violence of war, crime, and even terrorism is not novel in
human society; we are quite experienced with it. And even more sadly, our “natural” response
to violence is to act violently…and this usually leads to continuing
patterns of violence. By promising to “win” against the terrorists,
and by framing the response as a “war,” Bush acted in ways
that seem “normal” and hence very likely to continue the pattern
But is there an alternative?
In our analysis of “moral conflict” (W. Barnett Pearce and
Stephen W. Littlejohn, Moral Conflict: When Social
Worlds Collide. Sage,
1997), we found that people who are involved in intractable conflict often
have much richer stories about their own motives, history, beliefs, etc.,
than appear in their interactions with others. However, the attempt to
tell their “richer” stories to the other often just makes the
conflict worse, because that which one side holds most dear may well be
just what the other disrespects or abhors. To move forward together more
productively, it is often necessary to break out of the normal discursive
patterns – that is, to communicate in ways that transcend the cultural
patterns that both take as “normal.” If this can be achieved – and
it is a very big “if” – then openings can be found for
ways to move forward together that do not simply repeat the past. Using
another vocabulary, transcending the rhetorical limits of the stories being
told in the conflict creates the possibilities for second-order changes
that are impossible to imagine from within what Kenneth Burke called the “terministic
screens” of the conflict.
There is no magic bullet for transcending the limits of the discourse
(and with it, the patterns of interaction) that constitute moral conflict.
That having been said, it can happen. These moves carry promise of success:
- Constructing a richer story about what happened, including:
- An understanding of the other
- An understanding of ourselves
- An understanding of the historical context
- Constructing a more systemic description what happened:
- Beyond “us” and “them” to the patterns that “we” are
- Beyond “win” and “lose” to win-win outcomes
- Facilitating an increased awareness of the roles the participants play
in making the world in which they live:
- Noting their responsibility for making the patterns in which they
find themselves, not just blaming the other
- Noting their opportunities for acting in novel ways, not just responding
in the most obvious ways
- Changing the context
- A new interpretation of what’s important or relevant (including “common
- A different place
- A different set of participants
- Care for the kind of energy that is
involved. Following the maxim that what we pay attention to grows,
it makes a difference whether the participants
in a moral conflict attend to that which is wrong/missing/bad or to
that which is right/present/good. These differences in attention summon
very different kinds of energy and thus resources to act into difficult
situations. Experience with “appreciative inquiry” show that
“appreciative” energy is far more productive than “deficit” energy.
In a list, these strategies for intervening in moral conflict look very
sterile. Here are some real-life examples.
Abraham Lincoln’s “Gettysburg Address:” On November
19, 1863, President Lincoln spoke at the dedication ceremonies of a Union
cemetery at the location of what was already recognized as the decisive
battle of the Civil War. Speaking to a partisan audience at the site of
a great Union victory, Lincoln never referred to “us” or “them;” to “Confederates” or “Union;” or
to “winners” and “losers.” He framed the situation
as a test of whether this nation or any other, dedicated “to the
proposition that all men are created equal” could “long endure.” Naming
the specific task as that of establishing the cemetery, he claimed that
the oratory of the day was less important that what “those brave
men” have done here. The significance, he concluded, was to ensure
that “government of the people, by the people, and for the people,
shall not perish from the earth.”
Four aspects of this speech are noteworthy.
First, Lincoln changed the context. Instead of a partisan rally celebrating
a Union victory, he located the day’s events as part of a historic
exploration of the possibilities of democratic government.
Second, he constructed a more systemic description of what happened. By
conspicuously refusing to “speak American” – in this
instance by differentiating “us” good, successful Union supporters
from “them,” bad, losing Confederates – he called into
being that which he was striving to achieve – a Union consisting
of one nation, undivided. I don’t know if Lincoln was aware of the
ironic consequence of differentiating “us” from “them” in
the pursuit of “union,” but his speech flouted the rhetorical
conventions of his day and appealed, as he put it himself in another major
speech, to “the higher angels of our nature.”
Third, he focused on a positive or “appreciative” energy.
Committed to honoring those who fought at Gettysburg, he called on his
audience to join him in insuring that “government of the people,
for the people, and by the people, shall not perish from the earth.
Fourth, the entire speech was self-reflexive; a meditation on its own
circumstance and means of meeting the requirements of the situation. As
such, it invited the audience to be more mindful of their own role in making
the world in which they would subsequently live. Without naming the alternative,
Lincoln spoke as if that future – a day in which the warring sides
were reconstituted into a Union – were already present.
Immediate reaction to the speech was critical, to the point of being contemptuous.
Only with some distance has this speech been identified as one of the great
orations in history, in part because it transcended the divisiveness of
the moment and appealed to noble sentiments in a situation that was at
the time dominated by smaller emotions.
The Treaty of Versailles. Treaty of Versailles is a “negative example.” It
illustrates how a “resolution” of a conflict that is based
on a desire for vengeance and short term benefits can create a future whose “costs” dramatically
outweigh anything to be gained. In this case, the “cost” included
World War II.
When the fighting in World War I stopped, the “Fourteen Points” proposed
by American President Woodrow Wilson shaped the stories being told about
what the future would bring. A considerable period elapsed between the
de facto end of the fighting and the formal meetings at which the Treaties
were signed that ended the war. During this interval, Germany created a
new government (the Weimar Constitution, February 6, 1919) that differed
significantly from the government that had been in place before and during
the fighting. Most Germans saw the new government as a move toward a democratic
republic, breaking with their past. They “imagined the program of
self-determination and equality of rights originally set out in Pres. Woodrow
Wilson’s Fourteen Points to be binding on both sides” (Encyclopedia
Britannica vol. 8, p. 116). However, when the Treaties were presented to
the Germans, the Allies imposed extremely harsh terms. When the Treaty
was signed on May 7, 1919, it was clear that these were punitive terms.
Among other things, the terms of the Treaty weakened the Weimar government
and led to “the legend that the German Army had never been defeated
but was stabbed in the back by the Republicans, the Socialists, and the
Jews…” (vol. 8, p. 117).
Notice that this Treaty ignored changes in the German state from the end
of hostilities to the time of the treaty. This disempowered the Germans,
and, by rendering them incapable of participating in the construction of
their own future, legitimated their refusal of responsibility for the conditions
in which they found themselves. The ground was prepared for Hitler to rise
to power on the basis of a story that they were victims of a plot and had
the right to strike back at those who had tricked them. The “official
story” among the Allies – at least for public consumption – was
that the Treaty was fair and honorable. As a result, many people among
the Allied nations were subsequently surprised by the aggressiveness of
the Germans, who themselves knew quite well what had happened to them.
The Marshall Plan (European Recovery Program). In sharp contrast to the
Treaty of Versailles, the authors of the European Recovery Program following
World War II were aware of the role they were playing in the creation of
the future, and elevated this concern above the harsh emotions that dominated
the fighting. In order to create stable conditions in which the institutions
of free nations could survive, the United States initiated a massive plan
of rebuilding 16 European nations. The success of the plan led President
Truman to extend it to many other nations as his Point Four Program, starting
Like Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, the Marshall Plan transcended
the previous divisions between “us” and “them” and
between “winners” and “losers” in the war. Through
its attention to the kind of future that it was creating, it called into
being previously unthinkable patterns of cooperation and productive interdependency.
By focusing on the conditions that would make a better world, it unleashed
productive energies that did much more than solve the problems envisioned
by its founders.
WHAT PRESIDENT BUSH MIGHT HAVE SAID
Please accept what follows in the spirit in which it is offered: an exploration
of possibilities. I’m assuming that no one wants a simple perpetuation
of violence, and that many people are aware that the specific character
of the United States’ response has the potential for making a tragic
situation much worse.
Is it possible to deliver a speech on such an occasion that would embody
some of the strategies for intervening in moral conflict? What follows
is an exercise in envisioning what that might look like. Let me begin with
the same first three paragraphs that President Bush used…
Today, my fellow citizens, our way of life, our very freedom came under
attack in a series of deliberate and deadly terrorist acts. The victims
were in airplanes or in their offices. Secretaries, business men and women,
military and federal workers. Moms and dads. Friends and neighbors.
Thousands of lives were suddenly ended by evil, despicable acts of terror.
The pictures of airplanes flying into buildings, fires burning, huge structures
collapsing, have filled us with disbelief, terrible sadness, and a quiet,
Making all of this worse, at this moment, we don’t know who
is responsible or why such savagery was directed at us. But we will find
out, and we will
Our first response is to prevent additional attacks. Your government,
law enforcement, and military forces continue to operate, and we are taking
every step possible to protect our citizens and our country from further
In addition, we are meeting the needs of those injured in these attacks.
I immediately implemented our government’s emergency response plans.
Our emergency teams are working as I speak in New York and in Washington,
D.C. to help local agencies in their rescue efforts.
We join in grief those families who have lost loved ones. Nothing we can
do is enough to console those whose parents, friends, children, brothers
or sisters are missing or have died, but we can and will join them in their
sorrow. We are all bereaved; we are all shocked; we are all saddened. Let
us comfort and support each other in this time of tragedy.
While we protect ourselves, care for the injured, and grieve for our dead,
we are also searching for those who did this horrible thing. We will find
them and bring them to justice.
And, we will do more.
We Americans like to think of ourselves as a good and generous people,
and so we are. Nowhere has this been shown more clearly in the courageousness
of those who have rushed into burning buildings to save others; the concern
of those who have given blood and donated skills and supplies; and the
compassion of those who treated wounds and embraced those who are hurt
But we live in a complex and dangerous world. And in this world there
are people who are not like us; who do not like us, and who seek to harm
us. Some of these people think that whatever they can do to hurt us is
The fires and chaos in New York and in Washington are unprecedented – and
yet they remind us of images that we have seen from other places: among
the Palestinians and Israelis, from Beirut and London, and, I say with
deep regret, from many other places around the world.
For many years, our intelligence and law enforcement officials have successfully
protected us from attacks such as we have seen today. For many of us, terrorism
has been something that afflicts other people or affects us only when we
travel to other countries. And we have been generous in our support for
the victims of terrorism as we have of natural disasters. We have given
food, clothing, equipment; many of us have gone to the sites of terrorist
attacks and offered medical help. But until today, most of us had not experienced
But now we, too, are the victims. This is not the first terrorist
attack on U. S. soil, but it is the most heinous. And it ends our ability
comfortably behind our own protective walls in such a dangerous world.
Its sets before us a daunting task – a task different from those
that confronted other generations, and one to which we must rise.
This terrorist attack, like all the other ones that have occurred during
the past decades, does not come out of nothing. Our stories about the world,
and about our place in the world, will have to become more complex. If
we are to understand why people hate us so much, we will have to understand
how the world looks from their perspective. And if we are to respond effectively
to protect ourselves, we must understand those whose sense of history and
purpose are not like our own.
It is tempting to see this vicious attack as the result of madmen
trying to destroy civilization, and our response as a war of “good” against “evil.” But
if we are to understand what happened here today, and if we are to
act effectively in the days to come, we must develop more sophisticated
than these about the world, about our place in it, and about the consequences
of our actions.
This is a terrorist attack. If we are in a state of war, it is a different
kind of war than we have ever fought before. Terrorists are not capable
of occupying our country or meeting our armies on the field of battle.
They hope to destroy our confidence; to disrupt our way of life. They hope
that we will destroy ourselves by the way we respond to the atrocities
that they commit. Our first reaction, that of wanting revenge, to lash
out at those who have injured us so, is almost surely the wrong response
because it makes us accomplices of what they are trying to achieve.
Instead of the doing the obvious thing that they are trying to provoke,
the more difficult task before us is to work on two levels simultaneously.
First, we will identify, seek out, and punish those who did this horrible
thing. As President Kennedy said in a different situation: let the message
go out from this place that we will pay any price and bear any burden to
prevent and punish those who make war on our citizens and our country.
Let there be no uncertainty, no room for ambiguity, no doubt about that.
We have enormous resources on which we may draw, and we will use them.
But no matter what we do in retaliation and prevention, it will not bring
our dead back to life; it will not heal our wounds; it will not wipe the
tears from our eyes. And if only our grief and our pain motivate us, we
run the risk of becoming that which we hate.
Let us today renew our commitment to our highest values – what President
Abraham Lincoln called “the higher angels of our nature” – and
resolve that we will not defeat ourselves by becoming indiscernible
from terrorists as we battle against terrorism.
So the second level of our task is to identify and seek to change the
conditions in the world that call forth such hatred and permit it to flourish.
Even as we struggle with our grief at the wounds inflicted on us as a nation,
I call us to a renewed effort to achieve peace and justice throughout the
world. The world is now too small, too interrelated, and too complex for
us to hope that we can insulate ourselves from those who hate us, or to
ignore the consequences of our actions that cause grief and pain to others.
In the next few days, I will set into motion two initiatives.
First, I will support the initiative already in Congress to create a cabinet-level
Department of Peace. We now know a lot about peace, and we know that it
is not simply the absence of war. My charge to this Department, and to
the Secretary that I will name to my cabinet is a formidable one: To help
create a world in which hatred and terror have no place. And I pledge my
full support to this good work.
Second, to help create a world in which hatred and terror has no support
or places to hide, I will ask for all nations of the world to join us in
a campaign to identify and prosecute terrorists, to deny them support and
materials, and to coordinate efforts to maintain the freedom of citizens
throughout the world to live and move about in safety.
Almost forty years ago, a great American stood not far from where
I now sit, and said that he had a dream of “the day when all of God's children
will be able to sing with a new meaning, "My country, 'tis of thee,
sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing. Land where my fathers died,
land of the pilgrim's pride, from every mountainside, let freedom ring."
Today, as our nation rebounds from this vicious attack, I have a dream
of the day when all of God’s children will be able to sing, with
full meaning, that their country is a “sweet land of liberty” and
that from every mountainside in every country, freedom will ring. And
as Martin Luther King, Jr., told us:
When we let freedom ring, when we let it ring from every village and
every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed
up that day when all of God's children, black men and white men, Jews and
Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, -- and, yes, Muslims and Buddhists
and Hindus and agnostics and all the rest -- will be able to join hands
and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, "Free at last! Free
at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!"”
My fellow Americans, let us accept the task that has been so tragically
thrust upon us, to bind up our nations’ wounds and to work together
to create a world in which such wounds are not inflicted on anyone.
Thank you, and good night.”