America the na

While Europeans laugh at the U.S. for its “dreams,” optimism has long been its most important export. But has that all changed since 9/11?


Thomas L. Friedman | September 2005 issue

Two years ago, my older daughter, Orly, played in her high school’s symphonic orchestra in a suburb of Washington, D.C. They spent all year practicing to take part in the national high-school orchestra competition in New Orleans in March 2003. When March rolled around, it appeared that the U.S. was heading for war in Iraq, so the school board canceled all out-of-town trips by school groups—including the orchestra’s attendance in New Orleans—fearing an outbreak of terrorism. I thought this was absolutely nuts. Even the evil imagination of 9/11 has its limits. At some point you do have to ask yourself whether Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri were really sitting around a cave in Afghanistan, with Ayman saying “Say, Osama, d’you remember that annual high-school orchestra competition in New Orleans? Well, it’s coming up again next week. Let’s really make a splash and go after it.”

No, I don’t think so. Let’s leave the cave dwelling to bin Laden. We have to be the masters of our imaginations, not the prisoners. I had a friend in Beirut who used to joke that every time she flew on an airplane she packed a bomb in her suitcase, because the odds of two people carrying a bomb on the same plane were so much higher. Do whatever it takes, but get out the door.

Let me share the 9/11 story that touched me most, which was part of The New York Times “Portraits of Grief,” a series of biographies of all those who were killed. It was the story of Candace Lee Williams, the 20-year-old business student at Northeastern University in Boston, who had worked from January to June of 2001 as a work-study intern at the Merrill Lynch office on the 14th floor of the World Trade Center. Candace’s colleagues at Merrill Lynch liked her so much they took her to dinner on her last day of work, sent her home in a limousine, and later wrote Northeastern to say, “Send us five more like Candace.” A few weeks after finishing some exams at school, Candace Lee Williams decided to visit a friend in California for a vacation. Candace had recently made the dean’s list. “They’d rented a convertible preparing for the occasion, and Candace wanted her picture taken with that Hollywood sign,” her mother, Sherri, told the Times.

Unfortunately, Candace took American Airlines Flight 11 that departed from Boston’s Logan Airport on the morning of September 11, 2001, at 8:02 a.m. The plane was hijacked at 8:14 a.m. by five men, including Mohammed Atta, who was in seat 8D. With Atta at the controls, the Boeing 767 was diverted to Manhattan and slammed Candace Lee Williams right back into the very same World Trade Center tower—between floors 94 and 98—where she had worked as an intern.

Airline records show that she was seated next to an 80-year-old grandmother—two people at opposite ends of life: one full of memories, one full of dreams.

What does this story say to me? It says this: When Candace Lee Williams boarded Flight 11 she could not have imagined how it would end.

In the wake of 9/11, we all are now so much more conscious that a person’s life can be wiped out by the arbitrary will of a madman in a cave in Afghanistan. But the fact is, the chances of our planes being hijacked by terrorists today are still infinitesimal. We are more likely to be killed hitting deer with our cars or being struck by lightning. So even though we can now imagine what could happen when we get on an airplane, we’ have to get on anyway. Because the alternative is putting ourselves in our own caves. Imagination can’t just be about reruns. It also has to be about writing our own new scripts. From what I read about Candace Lee Williams, she was an optimist. I’d bet anything she’d still be getting on planes today if she had the chance. And so must we all. America’s role in the world, from the nation’s inception, has been to be the country that looks forward, not back.

One of the most dangerous things that has happened to America since 9/11, under the Bush administration, is that the U.S. has gone from exporting hope to exporting fear. We have gone from trying to coax the best out of the world to snarling at it way too often. And when you export fear, you end up importing everyone else’s fears. Yes, we need people who can imagine the worst, because the worst did happen on 9/11 and it could happen again. But, as I said, there is a fine line between precaution and paranoia, and at times we have crossed it.

Europeans and others often love to make fun of American optimism and naïveté—our crazy notion that every problem has a solution, that tomorrow can be better than yesterday, that the future can always bury the past. But I have always believed that deep down the rest of the world envies that American optimism and naïveté—and needs it. It is one of the things that helps keep the world spinning on its axis. If we go dark as a society, if we stop being the world’s “dream factory,” we will make the world not only a darker place but also a poorer place.

Thomas L. Friedman is a foreign-affairs columnist for The New York Times and author of several bestselling books about the Middle East, international relations, and globalization.

Excerpted from the book The World is Flat (Farrar, Straus %amp% Giroux, 2005)

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America the na

While Europeans laugh at the U.S. for its “dreams,” optimism has long been its most important export. But has that all changed since 9/11?


Thomas L. Friedman | September 2005 issue

Two years ago, my older daughter, Orly, played in her high school’s symphonic orchestra in a suburb of Washington, D.C. They spent all year practicing to take part in the national high-school orchestra competition in New Orleans in March 2003. When March rolled around, it appeared that the U.S. was heading for war in Iraq, so the school board canceled all out-of-town trips by school groups—including the orchestra’s attendance in New Orleans—fearing an outbreak of terrorism. I thought this was absolutely nuts. Even the evil imagination of 9/11 has its limits. At some point you do have to ask yourself whether Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri were really sitting around a cave in Afghanistan, with Ayman saying “Say, Osama, d’you remember that annual high-school orchestra competition in New Orleans? Well, it’s coming up again next week. Let’s really make a splash and go after it.”

No, I don’t think so. Let’s leave the cave dwelling to bin Laden. We have to be the masters of our imaginations, not the prisoners. I had a friend in Beirut who used to joke that every time she flew on an airplane she packed a bomb in her suitcase, because the odds of two people carrying a bomb on the same plane were so much higher. Do whatever it takes, but get out the door.

Let me share the 9/11 story that touched me most, which was part of The New York Times “Portraits of Grief,” a series of biographies of all those who were killed. It was the story of Candace Lee Williams, the 20-year-old business student at Northeastern University in Boston, who had worked from January to June of 2001 as a work-study intern at the Merrill Lynch office on the 14th floor of the World Trade Center. Candace’s colleagues at Merrill Lynch liked her so much they took her to dinner on her last day of work, sent her home in a limousine, and later wrote Northeastern to say, “Send us five more like Candace.” A few weeks after finishing some exams at school, Candace Lee Williams decided to visit a friend in California for a vacation. Candace had recently made the dean’s list. “They’d rented a convertible preparing for the occasion, and Candace wanted her picture taken with that Hollywood sign,” her mother, Sherri, told the Times.

Unfortunately, Candace took American Airlines Flight 11 that departed from Boston’s Logan Airport on the morning of September 11, 2001, at 8:02 a.m. The plane was hijacked at 8:14 a.m. by five men, including Mohammed Atta, who was in seat 8D. With Atta at the controls, the Boeing 767 was diverted to Manhattan and slammed Candace Lee Williams right back into the very same World Trade Center tower—between floors 94 and 98—where she had worked as an intern.

Airline records show that she was seated next to an 80-year-old grandmother—two people at opposite ends of life: one full of memories, one full of dreams.

What does this story say to me? It says this: When Candace Lee Williams boarded Flight 11 she could not have imagined how it would end.

In the wake of 9/11, we all are now so much more conscious that a person’s life can be wiped out by the arbitrary will of a madman in a cave in Afghanistan. But the fact is, the chances of our planes being hijacked by terrorists today are still infinitesimal. We are more likely to be killed hitting deer with our cars or being struck by lightning. So even though we can now imagine what could happen when we get on an airplane, we’ have to get on anyway. Because the alternative is putting ourselves in our own caves. Imagination can’t just be about reruns. It also has to be about writing our own new scripts. From what I read about Candace Lee Williams, she was an optimist. I’d bet anything she’d still be getting on planes today if she had the chance. And so must we all. America’s role in the world, from the nation’s inception, has been to be the country that looks forward, not back.

One of the most dangerous things that has happened to America since 9/11, under the Bush administration, is that the U.S. has gone from exporting hope to exporting fear. We have gone from trying to coax the best out of the world to snarling at it way too often. And when you export fear, you end up importing everyone else’s fears. Yes, we need people who can imagine the worst, because the worst did happen on 9/11 and it could happen again. But, as I said, there is a fine line between precaution and paranoia, and at times we have crossed it.

Europeans and others often love to make fun of American optimism and naïveté—our crazy notion that every problem has a solution, that tomorrow can be better than yesterday, that the future can always bury the past. But I have always believed that deep down the rest of the world envies that American optimism and naïveté—and needs it. It is one of the things that helps keep the world spinning on its axis. If we go dark as a society, if we stop being the world’s “dream factory,” we will make the world not only a darker place but also a poorer place.

Thomas L. Friedman is a foreign-affairs columnist for The New York Times and author of several bestselling books about the Middle East, international relations, and globalization.

Excerpted from the book The World is Flat (Farrar, Straus %amp% Giroux, 2005)

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