September 11th, 2001. Flickr

That Day America Had to Come out of Itself

David Forte teaches law at Cleveland State University and is a scholar whose opinion is respected in the United States. At the Meeting in Rimini, he gave a talk as part of the meeting entitled “Uncle Sam’s Return.”
Roberto Fontolan

Professor Forte, a year after September 11th, can we say that the feeling of American identity has changed?
We certainly can. For ten years, up to September 11th, America was focused on itself, totally wrapped up in itself. Its president was focused on himself. Bill Clinton did not have a “vision,” a strategy; he and his staff lived from day to day. George W. Bush is not an intellectual, but besides the fact that he knows how to choose the right people (Condoleeza Rice, Dick Cheney), he understood that that day a year ago opened the doors to a completely different era. What matters is the long run, a systematic strategy. Bush, like Truman, has to reason by taking the long view. The old White House had a calendar of months; the current administration has one of decades (the tax reforms, for instance, will have long-range consequences over ten, twenty years). The difference is that after the “Clintonian” decade we are now coming back into the world; America is back in the world again. When Bush spoke of a long war, he called Americans to a new commitment, a commitment in the world. And Americans are starting to understand him, maybe only now…

…in the sense that also the American people are aware that America is “getting back into the world” after a “self-centered” decade?
Undoubtedly, something is happening in the popular mind: there is the beginning of a new sense of nationality, even if I believe that a greater symbolic capacity is needed for it. I mean the flag, gathering together under this symbol of unity; or I have in mind an excellent public service advertising campaign entitled, “I’m an American.” These are powerful symbols, on which the capacity for judgment and the strength of feeling will be concentrated. But when Bush indicates the prospects for a long war, he has to give an adequate reason for the sacrifice requested; this is what I call symbolic capacity. And more is needed.

But is the war the only answer? Are there no second thoughts or doubts about the war, in view of the debated outcome of the campaign in Afghanistan?
No, the war cannot be the only answer. This is true also because in Afghanistan the victory in the field has not had a strong “symbolic” counterpart, like the capture of Osama. In any case, commitment is needed to spread and consolidate democracy everywhere, and a strong economic recovery is needed (and, in fact, Bush’s re-election will hinge on the question of the economy). But on the question of the war, he has to be clear. The media, in America as in Europe, is leftist and plays on confusion. And to this the intellectuals, especially Europeans, add cynicism. In Europe, indeed, it is being continually repeated that the world is more complicated than America thinks, it is difficult to distinguish between good and evil. In America we say: the world is simpler than Europe thinks; we can choose between good and evil. You look for reasons not to act; we look for reasons to act. This leads, for example, to a different consideration of terrorism. We think that terrorists cannot be legitimated, ever, for any reason; this is an absolute discriminant, which takes priority over any other question.