Open letter to foreign friends

Tuesday’s walls of fire forever divided American perceptions in two – who we were before Sept. 11, 2001, and who we will be now. Nineteen misguided men, carrying box cutters and knives, shattered thousands of families, tens of thousands of friendships and millions of hearts. But out of this rubble rose a unity few Americans could ever have imagined, and it deserves our attention and deepest gratitude. Today, we choose to dwell on this unity, to give a moment back to the world that spared so many moments for us.

For a long time to come, many Americans will still – when they close their eyes – see the horror of Sept. 11. We will remember the smoke and dust, the clouds of fire, the last glimpse of a friend, brother, sister, mother, father or child now lost.

But other indelible images will stay with us: People gathering at U.S. embassies around the world, tearfully laying flowers for citizens of another nation. French President Jacques Chirac standing at attention as the Republican Guard played the U.S. national anthem. South Korean children on their knees, praying in front of the U.S. Embassy in Seoul. Sixty thousand people observing a moment of silence at a soccer game in Tehran, Iran. The changing of the guard outside Buckingham Palace while, for the first time in history, “The Star-Spangled Banner” sounded in the background. Tens of thousands of Canadians singing that same song in Ottawa. Yasser Arafat reclining on a teal-colored table, offering his blood. Two hundred thousand Germans in the heart of Berlin standing under U.S. flags and singing “Amazing Grace” in English.

People the world over will never forget what happened Sept. 11. Nor can anyone afford to forget what happened during the following days. Those who planned, supported and executed the attacks personify humanity’s faults. Yet in the face of their actions, humanity’s most redeemable qualities shone more purely than they have for generations. “It hurt me to see so much death and destruction, even from this far away,” said Suh Ok-soon, 39, from South Korea. “We say to all Americans from Berlin: America does not stand alone,” offered German President Johannes Raus. Sentiments like these echoed around the globe and seem more fitting for interpersonal relationships than for international relations. These are not messages nations send to each other but the comforting words of friends.

Sadly, it is unrealistic to expect this connection to remain so strong forever, especially considering the threat of war and the loss of thousands more lives sure to follow. A world without borders continues to be a long way off, despite the compassion shared this past week.

Yet, with hope, the images from around the world will stay with people long after the images from New York City and Washington, D.C., fade. There is a World War II photograph of a sailor, recently returned from battle, kissing a woman during a parade on the streets of New York. The war had just been won and, more importantly, so had the peace. That picture remains perhaps the most-recognized photo of the war era, more recognizable than any picture shot on a battlefield. With any luck, the same will hold true in our time.

The depth of your recent emotional outpouring these past few days gives hope to that effect. Despite the United States’ past failures and historical wrongs, people around the world were there when the United States needed them most. Despite the mistakes made in the name of freedom, the ideals on which we base our government were remembered. One of The Minnesota Daily’s readers recently wrote, “America is an idea. We do not live in America. America lives in us.”

Your response to this terrible tragedy reminds us why this government was founded and why its’ defining principles withstand the attacks of terrorists and time. Liberty and freedom are not good ideas because of their economic or societal effects, but because they lie at the heart of human endeavor. Thomas Jefferson, Thomas Paine, John Locke and others did not put their ideals down on paper for the sake of a better government. They did so to improve the human condition, to give people a better chance at happiness. And their ideas still run so deep they cannot be damaged by past mistakes, historical wrongs, arrogance or war. And certainly not by 19 misguided men. The ideals will remain long after the dust settles and the rubble is cleared away.

Your response during our time of need helped reaffirm why, in the words of Jefferson, “we hold these truths to be self-evident.” And that reaffirmation was perhaps never more needed. As our hearts fell here in the United States, so did yours. As we wept, you wept. And as we knelt, you gave us your hand.

A long time from now, this will all be over. And when it is, there will be much we will want to forget. But because of your kindness, solidarity and support, we will emerge with images and memories worth keeping.

From a grieving, grateful nation,

Thank you.