How to Remember 9/11 -- One Suggestion

By Doug McGill
The McGill Report

ROCHESTER, MN -- As a memorial to the fallen heroes of 9/11, I propose that America increase its commitment to exploring, understanding, and connecting in positive ways with the world, of which we are only a part.

This would be the ultimate national security measure and would strengthen the democracy that our 9/11 heroes died to protect.

Two potent symbols of America -- the World Trade Center and the Pentagon -- were attacked on 9/11. But that's not all that was demolished. So too was the pleasantly dreamy haze of affluence and security that, before that day, we lived in.  

The danger is that now, a year after, we are drifting back into the illusion that America can forever live rich and safe and happy over here, while the rest of world lives poor and sick and desperate over there.

The best way to honor the 9/11 dead is to take whatever actions are needed to ensure that such a horror never happens again. Military action is a part of the answer.  More important in the long run is learning and connecting to the world beyond our borders by conversation, by study, by commerce, by hospitality, by travel, and by leaps of imagination.

By hospitality, I mean making the effort to make the effort to make friends with people not born in the United States who are now living here. That is something that is very much achievable right here, right now, wherever we happen to live. We are always blessed with strangers around us.

The whirlwind

It's time to think about starting new international student exchanges, scholarship programs, and new trade and humanitarian initiatives whose founding spark is the explicit desire to connect -- and thus to make safer -- the U.S. and the rest of the world. The Peace Corps and the Fulbright Fellowship Program were two such Cold War initiatives. They can be repurposed and expanded and new initiatives can and should be started, soon. 

If America remains insular in the world, it will reap the whirlwind. Thatís the most important lesson of 9/11.

Unless we learn how to meaningfully connect with the world beyond our national borders, the misfortunes and tragedies of that world will become ours.

Aside from starting new cross-cultural exchanges,  demanding more from our national news media is essential. The devastation in New York and Washington instantly made clear how lacking in substance, how irrelevant, and how dangerously distracting is our standard news media diet of scandal and infotainment. And yet, after only a few months of improvement, weíre back to wallowing again.

Good decisions

To make good decisions as citizens, we need to be well informed. Not a few but dozens of life-and-death issues await American society in the months and years ahead. We need our media to inform us about these issues, every one of which is a matter of profoundest national security. For example:

Should we make war on Iraq? Are we ready to occupy and rebuild Iraqi society, as we did Germany and Japan after World War II?

Will Colombia, whose drug-fueled civil war has created more refugees than any country in our hemisphere, become Americaís next Vietnam?

Will California face a secession organized by Hispanic voting blocs, in the same way that Quebec nearly voted to secede from Canada in 1995?

Will the U.S. one day face invasion by an AIDS virus more potent than a nuclear bomb, that was bred to indestructibility in the continent of Africa

Where is the U.S. media on all these stories? Why arenít they educating the citizens of this democracy? Why have they returned so quickly to celebrity interviews and cooking shows? And why is the public apparently so willing to accept such grossly inadequate and distorted coverage of international issues and news? 

Clear and honest

As a superpower,
America is de facto deeply engaged in the world. As consumers, we influence the world with every dollar we spend and every product we sell. And as a democracy, our government, our military, our corporations, and our media exercise enormous influence on the world in our name as U.S. citizens. Is it the influence that we want?

Is our media giving us the full, clear, and honest report on the world beyond our shores?

Asking these questions and demanding answers is the best way for America to arm itself against future attacks.

By keeping up on the outside world, problems will be spotted and solved long before they explode into tragedy. More importantly, learning about others and linking our lives with theirs in such simple ways as doing business and sharing each other's universities, cultural institutions, and homes, helps to establish a fundamental inoculation against attack.

People who trade with each other don't bomb each other. People who study and learn and travel together don't terrorize each other.  People who know each other as good neighbors don't kill each other.

It's time to get to know our neighbors in the world. That would be the most fitting tribute to the family members we just lost.

Copyright @ 2002 The McGill Report