[VIEWPOINT]The World Stands at a Pivotal JunctureThe terrorist attacks against the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon in Washington qualify as the third mega-shock that Americans have experienced in the last 100 years. The first was the bombing of Pearl Harbor by Japanese aircraft in 1941, and the second was the assassination of President Kennedy in 1963. The two incidents provided the threshold whereby American society went through fundamental changes. In the wake of the Japanese attacks on Pearl Harbor, the United States gave up on isolationism, and the assassination of President Kennedy brought about a fundamental fissure in the social and ethical structure of the United States, which was based on Puritanism.
The tragedy Sept. 11 may be a signal of significant changes on par with those caused by the previous events. Perhaps the most characteristic thing about the latest incident is that its impact is not confined to the political sphere, but stretches to the economic field.
The heart of the world's financial industry, Wall Street, was hit hard, which is likely to bring about powerful repercussions.
In any kind of crisis, the first 72 hours are the most important. The belief that crisis can be overcome should be created within this time, or people will remain frustrated and the crisis will only grow.
How well has President Bush managed the disaster so far? He seems to have succeeded in building the basic trust necessary for overcoming the crisis. The following five measures contributed to his provisional success.
First, by shutting down all the airports across the United States, President Bush precluded additional disasters from happening. Second, by closing the stock markets for as long as four days, panic brought about by a possible crash in stock prices was averted. Third, through forging alliances with the European Union and Japan, President Bush guaranteed Americans de facto unlimited provision of liquidity. The United States and the European Union provided $120 billion Thursday and showed resolve that they would provide more if necessary, contributing to the elimination of a considerable amount of fear in the market.
Fourth, President Bush established international cooperation quickly and effectively. He formed concrete cooperation with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization; Russia and Japan joined in condemning the terrorists; even oil producing countries in the Middle East are saying they will increase oil production; and Washington cooperated with the European central bank. These agile steps give an impression that the world is united in countering the incident, contributing to building trust in the market.
Fifth, promptness prevailed in the search for the perpetrators and visible action for stern retaliation was promised, which helped the people stem their sense of defeat or despair.
Further, rebounding stock prices around the world and falling prices of oil and gold reflect positive evaluations of Bush's initial countermeasures.
But the actual test begins now. Overcoming the crisis will be determined by whether Bush can render "effective chastisement" on the terrorists.
The "effective chastisement" comprises three parts: individual and complete retaliation against the main perpetrators of the attack; effective termination of "terror networks" that are spread across the world; and the minimization of the effect of these retaliatory acts on the economy.
However, the most meaningful aspect of the terrorist attacks on the United States is that it is a real test for "pax Americana." Hit hard, unprecedently, in its heart, the authority of the United States was already challenged. If the United States fails to overcome the current crisis, its status as the leading superpower in the world will be undermined.
The United States will be challenged by other powerhouses, such as the European Union or Russia, and the world will suffer confusion while a new leadership is established. A source of frustration is expected in the world order that has been formed and led by the United States, namely globalization and missile defense. The world is indeed standing at a pivotal point.
The writer is a vice president of Sejong University.
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