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12/10/01: This a bit of a departure of the norm for InfoFax but the following op-ed by the New York Times' Tom Friedman encapsulates the very notion of "community" during these uncertain times. Enjoy.
Ask Not What . . .
by Thomas L. Friedman
News anchor Tom Brokaw tells the story of meeting a young New York City fireman a week after Sept. 11. The fireman had just participated in a memorial service for some of his fallen colleagues and the two of them talked about the tragedy. "As I said goodbye," Mr. Brokaw recalled, "he grabbed my arm and his expression took on a tone of utter determination as he said, `Mr. Brokaw, watch my generation now, just watch us.' " As the author of the acclaimed "The Greatest Generation," the story of the World War II cohort that saved America from Nazism, Mr. Brokaw told me he knew just what the man was saying: " `This is our turn to be a greatest generation.' "
There is a lot of truth to that. I have nothing but respect for the way President Bush has conducted this war. But this moment cannot just be about moving troops and tracking terrorists. There is a deep hunger in America post-Sept. 11 in many people who feel this is their war in their backyard and they would like to be summoned by the president to do something more than go shopping. If you just look at the amount of money spontaneously donated to victims' families, it's clear that there is a deep reservoir of energy out there that could be channeled to become a real force for American renewal and transformation - and it's not being done. One senses that President Bush is intent on stapling his narrow, hard-right Sept. 10 agenda onto the Sept. 12 world, and that is his and our loss.
Imagine if tomorrow President Bush asked all Americans to turn down their home thermostats to 65 degrees so America would not be so much of a hostage to Middle East oil? Trust me, every American would turn down the thermostat to 65 degrees. Liberating us from the grip of OPEC would be our Victory Garden.
Imagine if the president announced a Manhattan Project to make us energy independent in a decade, on the basis of domestic oil, improved mileage standards and renewable resources, so we Americans, who are 5 percent of the world's population, don't continue hogging 25 percent of the world's energy?
Imagine if the president called on every young person to consider enlisting in some form of service - the Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force, Coast Guard, Peace Corps, Teach For America, AmeriCorps, the F.B.I., the C.I.A.? People would enlist in droves. Imagine if the president called on every corporate chieftain to take a 10 percent pay cut, starting with himself, so fewer employees would have to be laid off? Plenty would do it.
I don't toss these ideas out for some patriotic high. There is a critical strategic point here: If we are going to be stomping around the world wiping out terrorist cells from Kabul to Manila, we'd better make sure that we are the best country, and the best global citizens, we can be. Otherwise, we are going to lose the rest of the world.
That means not just putting a fist in the face of the world's bad guys, but also offering a hand up for the good guys. That means doubling our foreign aid, intensifying our democracy promotion programs, increasing our contributions to world development banks (which do microlending to poor women) and lowering our trade barriers for textile and farm imports from the poorest countries. Imagine if the president called on every U.S. school to raise money to buy solar-powered light bulbs for every village in Africa that didn't have electricity so African kids could read at night? And let every one of those light bulbs carry an America flag decal on it, so when those kids grew up they would remember who lit up their nights?
The world's perception of us and our values matters even more now, and it is not going to be changed by an ad campaign, or by just winning in Afghanistan, as important as that is. It will be changed only by what we do - at home and abroad. This war can't end with only downtown Kabul on the mend, and not downtown Washington, Chicago and Los Angeles. Remember: the victims on Sept. 11 were a cross section of America - black, white, Hispanic, rich, poor and middle class - and that same cross section has to share in the healing. If we've learned anything from Sept. 11, it is that if you don't visit a bad neighborhood, it will visit you.
The first Greatest Generation won its stripes by defending America and its allies. This Greatest Generation has to win its stripes by making sure that the America that was passed onto us, and that now claims for itself the leadership of a global war against evil terrorists, is worthy of that task.
Mr. President, where do we enlist?