A 9/11 tribute from abroad

Upon waking this coming Tuesday, I will think aloud: "Today is 9/11. Today is a sad day. Today is the saddest day of the year." That fateful September 11th six years ago, at about four in the afternoon here in France, I remember getting into my car to go home after an uneventful day’s work. The radio was on and I was half-listening to a news program on the BBC World Service as I leisurely made my way home. I remember being suddenly yanked out of my comfortable daydreaming into a reality that my mind initially failed to grasp when the announcer reminded listeners that “at least 1,500 people were now feared dead in the New York attack”. I immediately reached for my cell phone to ask my wife to turn the TV on to find out what was going on. When she sketchily told me that a jumbo jet had ploughed into the World Trade Center, that the Pentagon had been hit and that a plane had crashed in Pennsylvania in mysterious circumstances I ended the conversation with words to the effect that this was nothing less than a declaration of war and rushed home to appalling pictures of a world in ruins.

Three years later, when the first opportunity came, my wife and I flew to the United States for a summer vacation on the East coast. I must admit that my very first encounter with an inhabitant of the New World turned out to be a little awkward. When I stepped up to the customs officer to show my passport, he asked me what the purpose of my visit to the U.S. was. I hate cheating so the answer I gave came from the heart: “Because I love America.”

The officer looked at me as if something was wrong with me, my sanity, or my mental age, and gave me a second chance when he repeated: “The purpose of your visit to the U.S. is because you love America??!!” I sheepishly said it again: “Yes, because I love America.” Still sizing me up incredulously, the officer eventually gave up and wished me a pleasant stay nonetheless, and I walked into a world that since then has never failed to amaze, fascinate, energize and inspire me.

What is so unique and awe-inspiring about America that still deserves praise and profound deference six years after that horrific attempt to throw us “into a thousand years of darkness”? Paradoxically “universality” encapsulates the essence of America’s uniqueness.

The genius of the Founding Fathers was to devise a system of government that not only worked well for thirteen colonies but also proved adequate and successful for thirty-seven more states. How could the rest of the world deny the potency of a simple formula based on individual freedom from government, constitutional checks and balances, and federalism?

The maverick vision, determination, and dauntlessness of men like Barry Goldwater and President Ronald Reagan to face down enemies morbidly bent on spreading collectivist Utopias, led to the triumph of the free enterprise system. How could the rest of the world deny the morality and efficiency of the most emancipatory economic system the world has ever produced?

None of this would have happened without America’s faith in the individual’s transcendent destiny and in the restraining mechanisms that Tradition has passed on from one generation to the next. How could the rest of the world deny that life is not an outlet for secular instincts? In all these areas and in others, the duty of America is to lead the world by example.

Although America’s image abroad has suffered even more since 2003, Americans should never be ashamed to be Americans. Americans should always be proud of their achievements as a nation since 1776. Americans should always be proud of their investment in freedom and democracy at home and around the world.

On this September 11, 2007 -- and eternally --the duty of America is to keep that French-given beacon in New York Harbor illuminatingly bright to give hope to the “huddled masses” who silently, awkwardly perhaps (as I did), but tenaciously always, proclaim “God bless America!”