[OUTLOOK]The Lessons of Sept. 11 to Long EndureWhen I heard the news that the twin towers of the World Trade Center had been attacked, my first thought was of my daughter, who worked on Wall Street. I took a deep breath upon hearing that she was safe, but in a few minutes the southern tower collapsed and subsequently the northern tower crumbled into debris. Then, suddenly, the telephone line went dead. I could not keep contact with my daughter on the phone any more. The splendid sun looked gray in the fall morning. Later I learned that my sweetheart had managed to return home, walking for three hours, pushing her way through rubble fragments and dust clouds from ground zero. The repercussions of terrorist attacks on Sept. 11 were several times bigger than the Pearl Harbor attack on Dec. 7, 1941, for more than 10,000 people reportedly failed to reach home that September day.
Sept. 11 was the day when the symbolic structures of U.S. prosperity and military power tumbled down. In a country where 20 million people travel daily by air, 5,000 airports were suddenly shut down. New Yorkers deserted their cars and walked across bridges on foot, like war refugees.
Who put forth "the end of history" theory that liberal democracy had won the last victory and conquered the world? In the center stage of liberal democracy, a pillar of fire thrown by a new enemy had been shot up. "Fearing war, I emigrated from Korea to the United States. Then this bolt from the blue!" Like that grumble a Korean expatriate uttered, history did not end. Though the superpower had overcome Nazism, fascism, communism and socialism, it encountered yet a new enemy: terrorism.
Around 50,000 people worked at the World Trade Center. With just one blow, terrorists wanted to claim as many lives as the United States had lost during the 10 years of the Vietnam War.
But the terrorist attacks were quite different from the Pearl Harbor attack and the Vietnam War. There is no outstanding enemy. We don't know clearly who the real enemy is. Though aircraft carriers have been ordered to sail the seas, which target will they launch an attack against?
As the leading country alphabetically, Afghanistan enters the Olympic stadiums first. But in reality, it is the poorest country in the world. It is useless to carpet bomb the country, for it is already reduced to ashes by a prolonged war and only desperate fury has been left behind. Eliminating Osama bin Laden will instead make him a martyr and will not weed out the terrorists. Few people think peace will be maintained if the United States turns its back on the Arab Islamic world.
Diplomacy is powerless and economic sanctions are helpless because allies cannot cooperate effectively. Military action also has a limit. U.S. President George W. Bush declared that "our enemy started this war, but it's our choice to finish this war." But the United States is being sucked into a war that is going to be harder to finish than to start.
The United States is a nation that leaps when it is hit hard. A superpower without a war gets nerveless. Even the power to defeat the Great Depression sprang from war that gives a chance of a new beginning as we saw in World War II. Righteous war makes people unite under a common leadership. But when war is protracted and demands more victims, public opinion will flip-flop.
Some people think that a unified voice from the ruling and opposition parties is a green light for the missile shield plan advocated by the Bush administration. But I think people will raise their voices asserting the uselessness of the missile defense system. Terrorists took over U.S. territorial skies simply with boarding tickets and pocketknives. How can missiles ward off the terrorists? It is rather like slapping a mosquito with an ax. U.S. intelligence agencies, spending more than $40 billion a year, failed to detect the terrorists' plot in advance. Electronic intelligence and satellite photos could not stave off the attacks. The more we approach an ideal open society, the more we meet up with terrorism. It is impossible to wipe out all fanatic extremists from the world.
Grandiose military security is considered very important, but the safety and security of individuals is treated as something trivial. I was shocked to learn that U.S. airport security checks were entrusted to workers who receive the minimum wage in the country. We can learn lessons from the U.S. case.
There are also other lessons we can learn from this tragedy. U.S. citizens showed composure and a unified and cooperative spirit when they devoted themselves to rescue operations, blood donations and volunteer work.
But we clearly witnessed that there are no state-of-the-art weapons to stave off terrorists who conceive abominations. We have to wear down the hatred of terrorism because terrorism is a crime that stems from hatred.
The writer is a columnist living in the United States.
by Choi Kyu-jang