In the Aftermath of Terror, We Must Make the Right Decisions, by John Meredith

Reparations for the descendants of slaves. The percentage of black characters on television. The Confederate Battle Flag. All of these issues became meaningless on September 11 when terrorists struck New York City and Washington, DC. On that fateful morning, the civil rights of all Americans were violated with extreme prejudice. None of our lives will ever be the same.

Actions like this, as terrible as they are, provide inspiration because they bring America together. The destruction hurt people of all races and wealth, and men and women of every shade and status likewise came together with the common goal of helping. Grudges were put aside. Rescue and relief was a shared, colorblind goal. God Bless America. This cooperation should be a model for every day.

But we’ve got to attend to business first. After spending countless hours sifting through the remains of the World Trade Center for survivors, a firefighter interviewed on the Fox News Channel repeated in a weary but determined voice, “Somebody’s got to pay.” Nothing could be truer. We must do everything in our power as a nation to find the people responsible for the attacks and exact retribution.

That’s right. Retribution. Let’s not pretend by calling it justice. Our retribution must be cold, calculated and complete so all will know – in no uncertain terms – that the United States will not live in terror. We also must punish those countries that harbor terrorism.

Taking out the countries that sponsor terrorism is key. As I write this, Osama bin Laden is the leading suspect. Bin Laden has become today’s Jesse James, with politicians and the media blaming pretty much every evil in the world on him. But it is the countries sponsoring terrorism that ultimately must be brought to their knees. If or when we take out bin Laden, the possibility of someone replacing him is almost guaranteed. What is important, and will provide a more lasting security, is taking away the willingness of governments to harbor and fund terrorists like him.

Our leaders also must not lull us into complacency by telling us this will never happen again. That would be a lie. It will happen again, but we can make the fight against it easier and more successful by rethinking our security policies. We need to stop living in the past and start preparing for the threats of the future.

Obviously, day-to-day security must get a lot tighter. Let’s do it right for once. And let’s also keep it isolated. Considering the constant risk that’s been associated with air travel, let the military run the security at our nation’s airports and expect the same high level of security from any airline that intends to land at our airports. But let’s not give the military, the police or anyone else the right to arbitrarily impose their will upon us without warrant. We risk losing our freedoms by not fighting back against the scourge of terrorism, but we also risk our freedom by giving the government too much authority.

Let’s also look inward. Prayer has been the suggestion of an overwhelming number of Americans. Whether done at home, with friends or co-workers, faith is a common refuge in crises like what happened on September 11. Perhaps, as America officially embarks on the new millennium, God and his teachings can be welcomed back to the mechanics of government.

As with all national tragedies, we will survive, rebuild and become stronger as a result. Perhaps we will see this event as a wake-up call that made our nation a better place. But we must make the right decisions and be decisive in carrying them out.


(John Meredith is a member of the African-American leadership network Project 21 and is a board member of two community-based non-profit organizations, a consultant for an educational organization and the national co-chairman of minority outreach for an independent election monitoring organization. He can be reached at [email protected].)

Note: New Visions Commentaries reflect the views of their author, and not necessarily those of Project 21.

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