MAKING SENSE OF TRAGEDY
by Charles Steger '69
Yes, indeed, Sept. 11 changed the world. The United States is now at war. We are engaged in a conflict unlike anything the world has seen before. It is a war of terrorism against ideas and ideals. It is a war fought by ordinary heroes against extraordinary foes. It is a war where the front line soldiers are you and I.
Within the campus community we, like our fellow Americans, struggle to try to make sense of senselessness--to try to understand the minds of people who would wreak such horrendous carnage on the innocent. And unlike many of our fellow Americans, those of us in the campus community live and work with people from more than 130 countries. They, too, are shocked and numbed, but they also fear for themselves because they somehow do not look like an "average" American.
With the possible exception of some major U.S. cities, universities are different. Our universities are a cultural crossroads where people come together to seek answers, to seek common ground, and to seek fundamental truths. The power of ideas generated by universities, along with the still-powerful economies of the advanced industrial nations, is largely responsible for the process of globalization that appears now to be in jeopardy.
Many in our country now fear that among the casualties of the attack on America will be some of our precious civil liberties. I fear an additional casualty will be the push toward globalization--economic and otherwise. Even before bin Ladin, shadow groups around the world have profited by disrupting peace and prosperity. These latest terrorist activities are intended specifically to stop peoples from coming together--the antithesis of the university ideal. They seek to undermine the ability of peaceful people to put aside their differences and find new means of harmony through intellectual discourse and mutual discovery.
To some, economic globalization amounts to Western economic imperialism--that the West presumes a cultural superiority and attempts to impress a cultural overlay upon other societies through capitalism. However, in order to assist developing countries in improving the healthcare and education of their citizens, these countries must become integrated into the global economy. As this process evolves, we must be respectful of each country's culture and traditions and of its individual citizens. To label globalization as a negative force, as has been done by the terrorist organizations, also removes the major hope for a better life for a significant portion of the world's population.
I fear also for another fundamental liberty we Americans cherish--for democracy itself. Not that our democracy is in danger of crumbling. But democracies are inherently inefficient. A democracy is a cumbersome process and a cumbersome political system. But plodding methods and redundancies are its merits. Successful democracies, in my opinion, require successful economies to provide the protections we expect. When terrorists strike at our way of life and disrupt our economy, they strike at our democracy and the very fundamental underpinnings of our society.
At critical times in our history such as this, we must be guided by our fundamental values and draw upon a sense of purpose and determination to ensure a bright future for the next generations.