Gordon R. Mitchell, "Summation speech." Public address at the Stand For Justice Rally, sponsored by the Western Pennsylvania Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons Coalition. Market Square, Pittsburgh, PA, October 11, 2001
The collective trauma we have shared in the past month is now intensified by uncertainty about the future. How can we prevent the tragedy of September 11 from repeating itself?
Our own government knows that military reprisals are suspect tools for this task. Last week, FBI and CIA officials told members of Congress in classified briefings that a U.S. military operation in Afghanistan would produce a "100 percent" chance of another terrorist attack.
That said, failure to respond in some way to the mass murder committed on September 11 would replicate a different kind of New York tragedy, the 1964 murder of a woman named Kitty Genovese.
Detectives working on that case eventually discovered that while Ms. Genovese was being fatally wounded, at least 38 witnesses stood idly by, peering through their window shades, thinking that someone else would call the police.
So today we find ourselves in a bind, bearing the weight of great grief, and burdened further by the angst of knowing there may be no good answers currently on the table to the question: How can we prevent terrorism?
The beginnings of a possible answer to this question may be in the air here today: A public audience. Creative discourse. Critical thought. Free speech. And cameras. The cameras are important, because recently our leaders have sought to limit the flow of critical ideas by controlling the media. These attempts at control are dangerous, because they silence important questions that must be asked and debated.
Some of these questions come out of the excellent speeches we just heard. Dr. Robbie Ali shared a powerful narrative about treating people at the World Trade Center. His story raises the question: What does it mean to come face to face with the gruesome products of terrorism? Professor Thomas Kerrs remarks prompted us to ponder: When does the cost in civil liberties become too high a price to pay in the war on terrorism? Dr. Safdar Chaudhrys stories about friendly gatherings in his neighborhood raise the question: How is it possible to come together in a way that does not sow the seeds of eventual fragmentation and divisiveness? Molly Rush asks us: Have we really explored alternatives to military reprisals? Are we overlooking the possibility that something new and different might produce a more lasting and just peace?
These questions dont settle the issue of what to do about the Taliban. They dont resolve definitively the dilemma of how to reconcile safety with liberty in a threatening world. But they do set into motion processes of critical thought and reflection that are absolute prerequisites to any just, wise, and lasting solution to this problem.
I worry that today, our policy-makers and opinion leaders are short-circuiting this process of critical thought and reflection. Part of the danger here comes from overt government attempts at information control, such as increased secrecy and censorship.
But a more insidious aspect of information control is what the Finnish people call itsesensurri, or self-censorship. During the Cold War, Finnish journalists who covered the Soviet Unions invasion of Afghanistan practiced itsesensurri, limiting disemmination of information about events and softening descriptions of the conflict. All this occurred in a climate when the Finnish people largely believed that they were living in a society where an unfettered press aided democratic decision-making by ensuring the free flow of information.
If we repeat this same process now, by practicing what might be called an American version of itsesensurri, we may inadvertently create blind spots and spirals of silence that obscure elusive answers to the pressing question what should we do next, given that all options currently on the table seem flawed?
Thank you very much.