Good evening everyone, and welcome to the last President's Forum of this fall semester. I'm delighted to welcome so many of our students, members of the faculty and staff, and fellow Geneva neighbors. We're all delighted that you join us as well. Tonight we welcome Ambassador Alan Keyes to our discussion this evening for the President's Forum. He was, of course, the Republican candidate for President in the year 2000. By my account, I guess he's probably the third or fourth presidential candidate that has been before us in this President's Forum series the past couple of years. We've had Ralph Nader proceed you at this podium. Michael Dukakis reflected on his journey for the presidency in 1988, and of course, President Clinton was here in the fall.
Ambassador Keyes has been the Assistant Secretary of State for International Organization Affairs. He was the Ambassador to the United Nations Economic and Social Council. He is well known, I think, to many of us from his syndicated radio show and syndicated column, he has extensive organizational interests. He is the founder and chair of the Declaration Foundation, the chair of the Black Americans Political Action Committee, the President of the Ronald Reagan Alumni Association, and started, and was the president of, the Citizens Against Government Waste. Ambassador Keyes is the author of two books, Our Character, Our Future…Reclaiming America's Moral Destiny, and his second book, Masters of the Dream, the Strength and Betrayal of Black America. He received his undergraduate degree at Harvard University and his Ph.D., also from Harvard University.
Some folks have dubbed the President's Forum the 'friends of Mark series.' Mr. Ambassador, we've had a few folks here that preceded you that I've worked with or worked for and friends of mine. Tonight is no exception. I've known Alan Keyes since I was in college a few years ago. He was getting his Ph.D. when I was an undergraduate and was my government tutor. We lived in the same house together and so we have spent many interesting discussions together during the course of our friendship, spanning more than 25 years. I think it's fair to say that I probably haven't convinced him of anything in those 25 years and respectively, he hasn't convinced me of anything in 25 years. But I have enormous respect for Alan Keyes for his intellect and for the passion that he brings to civic engagement, and to what he cares about, and to anyone who brings about the journey and goes about the journey of running for elective office. It's my observation that too often in politics we really can tend to demonize the opposition and I would tell you from my own personal experience, when I was a member of the White House staff, and beyond, it was always very helpful to me to have a friend like Alan Keyes or our other compatriot, Hugh Hewitt, who was a conservative talk show host in Orange County, my friend, to reflect upon, while we disagree on many things, I can certainly respect the person. So it is an honor for me to bring Alan to Geneva to welcome him to this President's Forum Speaker series, and to allow you the opportunity to hear his views since September 11, and some of the challenges facing our country. Ambassador Alan Keyes.
Thank you. Good evening. The introduction, Mark, tempts me to repeat what you have, in fact, taught me. And it's actually no small achievement either, since Mark has taught me that it is possible for somebody to work for Bill Clinton and still be a good guy. (audience laughter and applause) I don't know whether that says more for his general character or my general openness of mind, but we'll leave it at that.
I can't help but reflect, in this circumstance, being invited by the President of the Colleges, who was once upon a time, a kind of student of mine, and it's necessarily one of those things that starts to make you reflect on the fact that the gray in the beard and all of that is indicative of something that's passing. But I've got to be honest with you, I bet that in all of the time that we would have lengthy discussions and go through possible scenarios in our days back at Harvard, that we would be standing here together under circumstances where the country had witnessed the sort of spectacle we saw on September 11. I don't think it ever crossed our minds.
At one level, it's been quite natural for Americans to react and for everybody to say 'well, we're never going to be the same, this was such a terrible event, everything's different' and so forth, so I would like to start this evening by doing something that may be a little counter-intuitive, I want to question that premise, because I don't think it's true. Matter of fact, I think the period that ended on September 11, I'm not entirely sure when it began, but it probably began sometime around the fall of the Soviet Union. Sometime around the end of the Communist regime, a period was inaugurated, in which the first time in a long while, we lived in a world where there wasn't for us a clear and specific and prevalent and ongoing sense of threat and danger and difficulty that we always had to be aware of. In point of fact, it was those years that were the unusual times. It was those years that were without precedent. What happened on September 11, my friends, is that we returned to the real world. A world that, in point of fact, we'd never left, except in our own delusions. And if we had been a little less susceptible to those delusions maybe we could have avoided those terrible events. Who knows, that's all speculation. You know that being a good and loyal Republican, I'm not going to stand here disparaging G.W. Bush. I did find it kind of amazing, a little while back, when he included a line in a speech in which he said that on September 11 we, meaning the American people, learned that there was evil in the world. I couldn't help but think that if we didn't know there was evil in the world then we'd spent $300 billion on our defense budget for nothing!
We have been through the 20th century. Can somebody argue that in the course of the 20th century, let's see, we had the horrors of one of the most pointless but massively destructive wars in the history of humankind, World War I. We had the horrors of Nazi-ism and the holocaust and totalitarianism, claiming the lives of millions on and off the battlefield, in the most egregious display of inhumanity that I think the world has probably ever witnessed in one place. We had purges and we had violence, we had all kinds of things where human beings, in massive numbers simply wiped one another out. Rwanda, India, Pakistan, you name it. In the course of that century I think we saw varieties of evil that until that time had only been depicted in the horrid imaginings of human beings that were real for us.
September 11 didn't teach us that there was evil in the world. No, all September 11 did was to shock us out of the belief that we were somehow now invulnerable to that evil. A belief we never should have had in the first place. A belief that also in my opinion, was kind of distinctly uncharacteristic of Americans. And it amazes me now that we find ourselves in a position where we're thinking it's so unusual that we have to cope with the thought of danger and this-and-that. Well, you can't even fly now without looking at everybody and see if they're a terrorist.
You do remember, now it wasn't that long ago in historical terms, that in order to go from say here to St. Louis one had to trek across land that was filled with bandits and difficulties and wars and conflicts that claimed lives every step of the way. That was America, and it was, by the way, an America that continued to exist right up until the 1920s in it's pretty stark and pure form somewhere in the country. We are a people that come from a tradition where danger lurked all over the place, where violence was ever a possibility. Whether it was because you were on a frontier or slaving on somebody's plantation. You were always subject to the possibility that violence was going to destroy your life and disrupt everything about what you were. This is not something new to America. I say this, by the way, because I think some of this talk we're engaging in is the kind of talk that comes because we seem to be forgetting who we are. I hope that what's going on in the country now, with the flags and this-and-that, isn't just about some empty, superficial demonstration. I hope instead, it's a time when we stand back and do try to remember who we are. And one of the things we are is a people that has come from a tradition inured to the reality that there is danger in the world, that one must be vigilant against that danger, that security for one's person and family and community are a constant concern. But, and here's the important point, in the face of all of that you have no excuse, no reason whatsoever, to surrender your liberties. And I think one of the things that particularly irked me in the last several weeks, and it seemed to be the first thing that came out of the mouths of some commentators, Twin Towers had barely fallen to rubble, but they were on the air saying 'well, this means we're going to have to give up some of our rights for security; we're just going to have to decide how much of our liberty goes so that we can be safe.' What bunk!
Exactly what is it we're securing if we don't have liberty? Because any time that one wants that kind of security, you can get it. My ancestors had that kind of security on the plantation. Anytime you are willing to knuckle under and lay down and let somebody abuse and enslave you, you can have a certain kind of peace. But it's never been a peace that Americans were happy with. And it's not a peace that we should care anything about now. And that means that as we face this crisis, I think we need to keep carefully in mind that the understanding of our safety and our security is not just about being able to take that next breath. Not just about being able to walk out there without anybody threatening me. I would rather live with a certain modicum of threat and know that I go home every night a free person, than live in security knowing that I am a slave.
And I think, by the way, that that means we need to start conveying to some of the people who represent us, that we don't want them to be stampeded into all kinds of heedless measures just because they think we're frightened out of our wits. Because in point of fact, I don't think we are. Matter of fact, I think some of the steps being taken go way beyond what we really would consider necessary. I understand why they're happening but I was thinking about it today and it kind of depressed me. In the context of this very tradition of a people who had spent their time enduring, in one way or another, all kinds of horrors and difficulties, whatever their background, and had come out on the other side of it, people strong enough to build one of the greatest nations in human history, that I should be standing in line with a sign that says that you've got to make sure that you're not carrying nail clippers and nail files and stuff. I know that we might think 'well, we're going to be safer on the plane if there are no nail files' but my friends, it does say something a little bit disturbing about you, if you are terrified at the thought of a terrorist with a nail file. (audience laughter)
There was a time when we might have considered ourselves people capable of handling that one. We can't be stampeded into accepting and understanding of ourselves that's inconsistent with our dignity and with our real aspirations. I think that's part of what's going on right now. And it bothers me deeply. I know, what I just said might seem kind of trivial, but it's not just trivial. Because concepts are being brought forward that must be examined, not just in light of the punitive threat, but in light of what we are supposed to know and remember about our way of life and our system of self-government and our way of laws.
Take, for instance, a question that has been coming up lately on these military tribunals, I think the President addressed it today while I was traveling. I was with Mario Cuomo at Northern Kentucky University, and we started out, I think surprising the audience, by agreeing extensively for five or 10 minutes on the fact that neither of us thought that military tribunals were a good idea. And low and behold, as if to remind folks that whatever the labels, there's still a certain common ground we stand on as Americans. And it was for the same reason too. And that reason was very simple: we live under a system of laws. We live under a constitutional system. One of the premises of that system is the separation of powers, the combination of executive and judicial power in the same hands is, by definition, an abuse. And even if you have to use it sometimes, you better use it carefully because it's an abuse that'll destroy everything. That's a no-brainer for a free people. The fact that it's not for us, or for some people right now, this ought to worry us. Because it means that we're getting so carried away with the short term threat that we're forgetting our long term commitment. And our long term commitment is to hand a stronger, and more broadly enjoyed system of self-government that we're supposed to have here. And we're not going to do that if we allow September 11 to turn us into people so afraid for our physical security that we will accept all kinds of measures, so long as somebody tells us that that's going to make us safe.
We've got to look at these things in light of principles that remain true, and have remained true, even in the most difficult and dangerous times of this nation's life. During the Depression, during the great wars, during the trials of nuclear confrontation in the Cold War, one of the things that I think was most remarkable about this country was that the system of self-government chugged along. As I often tell people, the Romans used to have a phrase that I'm sure you're all familiar with; I think it was 'in the midst of war the laws fall silent.' Thank God that has never been true in America.
Now I'll admit, sometimes they did fall to an ineffectual whisper, but they never fell completely silent here. And we ought to keep this in mind because it resulted from the fact that somewhere in the back of our minds we know that what we fight for cannot be put in the sort of simple emotive terms that has sometimes been characteristic of the rallying cries of peoples when they did not have values and principles to stand for. I mean people fought for their homeland and they fought for their home, they fought for this-and-that. They fought for things that have reality, yes, but that don't necessarily have meaning in terms of their moral allegiance and identity. We are a people of all kinds of backgrounds. Some of us fresh from homelands that are not America, embracing a new country, truly ours, not because we've always lived here but because in some part of our heart we have always believed in the principles of justice that this nation is supposed to stand for. That every human being has dignity that no one has the right to disregard, whatever their wealth or power. That can be the basis for a society in which people cooperate together without mutual abuse, in order to act for the sake of their profit, yes, but also with respect for their common needs. This is who we are supposed to be and we can stand together, we can face danger, not simply because we stand with a background of some emotional ties, but because we stand with what I think is the stronger common ground. Of our common commitment of heart and conscience to a way of life that affirms the dignity of our humanity for all people.
I think that's what we ought to be about, but that means we can't afford to give up the things that represent that. And those things, having to do with the due process of law and having to do with the ability of everyone in this country, including, by the way, foreign folks, to believe that if they come here and run afoul of the law they're still going to be treated with certain respect, not because they are citizens, but because they are human beings. This is what we are supposed to stand for. When they wrote it into our constitution, that no one shall be deprived of life, when no person shall be deprived of life, liberty or property without due process of law, don't think they didn't know the difference between person and citizen. They did. They used the word person advisedly, because no system of law can have integrity with respect to the basic premises of human justice, if those premises are not applied to all, including those who do not have the claim of citizenship. And that's why we've always done it. You know if you come to America and you commit a crime that you're going to be tried in courts of law with the same rights to adversarial procedures as Americans who are citizens here. And that's the way it ought to be. It's part of the reason that we're supposed to represent to the rest of the world an aspiration that isn't just ours, but that can, in fact, be shared by folks who don't wear our same national label, but can still have an understanding of the same common ground of principles that we are supposed to respect in our actions. That's why I think some of the things that are being talked about these days, we need to look at them real carefully, and I say this advisedly. I know we're in the midst of a hard period. I know that it's difficult to deal with threats like this. But I think the challenge of our time is not just that on the other side of it we're still all of us here, most of us alive. I think the challenge is to make sure that we still are here, all of us free. And if we don't meet that challenge, the rest of it still will be a failure. And in fact, the terrorists will have achieved their objective.
What is the premise, in the end, of tyranny anyway? As I recall from my reading of the philosophers we used to argue about, Mark, the basic premise of despotism is fear. Fear. Ruled by fear. And by those means, physical intimidation, moral and other intimidation that lead people to act out of fear. Even though the terrorists who move against us today may not be acting on behalf if this regime, or that regime or another country, they are still acting on behalf of the regime of fear. Of the principle of that despotic rule that we are supposed to define ourselves against. But don't you see, you can give in to fear in many ways. One of the ways in which we could give in to fear today is by adopting measures out of fear that actually undermine our ability to sustain our liberty.
This is not, or at least it shouldn't be, a choice for us, security or liberty. No, because what we seek to secure is liberty. And yes, that is in part, a physical security, but there's more to it than that. Now the implications of this are partly practical of course, and partly more moral and abstract. The practical implication, I think, is a difficult one for me to articulate because at a time like this I think the one thing we all of us have wanted to avoid for some weeks now is the notion that anybody's engaging in blaming and recrimination and all this. And that's perfectly true, it's laudable, it's right. But tell me something, how are we supposed to judge which measures are actually necessary and essential in the fight against terrorism and which are not? If we haven't actually made a careful assessment of exactly what happened on September 11, of exactly what is the nature of our vulnerability, of exactly why it is that a system of national security that has been in place for over half a century failed so completely on that day of horrors. We haven't' even been willing to think about this question and I don't know why not.
We were fast to make comparisons. For instance, we compare it to Pearl Harbor. That's not a fair comparison because the America that witnessed Pearl Harbor was an America that had the very bad habit of going to war in a spasmodic way, disarming afterwards and leaving itself utterly naked to whatever enemy came along after that. And we thought that was okay. We were protected by our oceans, or this or that. That's not where we were, my friends, and we haven't been there since the Second World War and it's aftermath. We have repeatedly, year after year, decade after decade, burdened ourselves with a huge defense establishment, precisely on the grounds that we must be ready to meet threats to this nation's security. That readiness, that concept which has been at the heart of our security policy, implies that we are expending all of this effort precisely so that we will be defended against the sort of horrors that took place on September 11. We don't want to look at it, we don't want to say it to ourselves but it's time we did.
I think a grace period, during which we smacked up the Afghans for their role in this, is understandable. We need to get it out of our system and we also needed to establish to everybody in the world that you don't hit us that hard with impunity. This is good. But if we're really going to defend ourselves then we're going to have to make an assessment of what went wrong here. And something did go wrong. All these people talking as if we just started fighting terrorism yesterday. What nonsense is this? We've been fighting terrorism so long that even a young fellow like me was part of that fight for a while. And my friends, we know all kinds of things about what works and what doesn't work. The most important thing we had realized over the years was that in one sense you don't defend, you anticipate. Because if you don't anticipate, you can't defend. There was a failure of anticipation here, a failure of intelligence, a failure of coordination, a failure to know what was going on before the worst of it hit us. And this was an egregious failure and it was a failure of a system on which we have expended many billions of dollars.
We have a right to an account. An account that will give us some sense of why that system didn't work, and what can be done in concrete ways to make sure that such failures are not repeated. That's not a matter of assessing blame or anything else, it's just a matter of trying to analyze so that we can, with some integrity, reach a conclusion about what measures are really necessary. I've been looking at some of the things that have been going on the last little while, and I've got to tell you, some of it looks to me like CYA stuff, where folks who know we're feeling vulnerable are doing stuff in order to make us feel like they're getting something done. And this is all well and good. I understand why it happens but it's not good enough, and we need to start asking for more.
Take one big example: the federalization of the folks who are screening the baggage and all this. Now leave aside all of these abstract questions about should the government do it, should the government not do it and so forth. I, myself, think that it's kind of a rash assumption to think that handing something to the government means you'll get it done better. But this isn't what really irks me about this business. What really irks me about it is that the premise that we seem to be acting on is that on September 11, the folks who were involved in that screening were somehow inadequate to their job. And from everything I've read and seen on the basis of what we do know about what happened, that's not so. What they were told to look for they looked for, and not a single thing they were told to look for got on those planes! They didn't fail. They succeeded. The parameters of their search were wrong, but was that their fault? We actually expect that those parameters should be drawn up by the low-paid individuals we have checking the bags? That's not their job. People at a much higher pay grade than they are the folks who are supposed to analyze the facts, understand the world in order to pass on the parameters of their search, so that they reflect the nature of the dangers we actually face. That didn't happen.
One of the things that bothers me is that you've got these poor low-paid folks who are going to be smacked out of their livelihood, and meanwhile, the folks who didn't give them the right parameters are still being very well paid and we haven't even asked 'what went wrong! Why is this fair? We kicked the little people and we don't bother to ask the tough questions of those who are really responsible. I don't think this is right. I also, by the way, don't think it's going to make us safer. The fact is, and this is one of those things, and it's interesting that I should be here, across lines of some of disagreement with Mark, because you know this is one of those things that's going to embarrass everybody. Let's be frank about it. There is no way that anybody can argue that 'this was so-and-so's doing' and 'that was so-and-so's doing.'
The business of what happened September 11, I think had to do with a lot of bad policy, hesitation, reluctance, blindness, myopia, difficulty, lack of urgency on the part of a whole lot of people. I have Republicans, for instance, who are constantly telling me when I raise this kind of question, 'well, he'd only been in there six months' and you know, meaning all apologies to your boss, 'and you know that Clinton guy did such terrible damage to everything, what was he supposed to do?' And I'm sitting there thinking to myself wait a minute folks, wait a minute please. Think about what you're saying. Can we establish a standard for this president just because he's ours and we like him, Republicans, I mean, that the country can live with? I'm honest, be honest about this. So what are we going to do? We'll tell every president coming in new that he gets what--shall we give him six months? Shall we give her a year? What shall we give? Six months, a year, I don't know, in which they can lose the equivalent of the World Trade Center and a chunk of the Pentagon and we'll just write it up to learning on the job. I'm sorry my friends. You know where that standard is going to take us? To the ash heap of history, that's where.
The minute you take the office you're 100 percent responsible for the safety of this country. You drop the ball and we need to hold you accountable and I don't care what label you wear. If we have any other standard, we won't survive. Somebody asked me that the other day, about whether or not this was something were we could make these demands and so forth. Anybody who's been involved in national security or military things knows that you can reach certain moments where you're looking a situation in the face and that situation has 'impossible' written all over it. And guess what? It's a situation where if you don't do that impossible thing you're going to be dead, see? This is where I think September 11 ought to be a real wake up call for us, because we've been walking down a road where we think everything's choice.
We have a choice about everything. We choose to do this and we choose to be that and we choose to do the other thing. Some things aren't about choice. Survival is often not about choice, it's about doing what you have to do and being good enough to get the job done or you won't be there to worry about it. And that's what we're going to have to tell our leadership because there are certain jobs we can't afford to let slip. We can't afford to lower the standard, not for anybody because if we do, we won't survive. And this is one of those times, and therefore, I think in spite of the fact that the Republicans don't want to talk about it because it might be that Bush will be criticized. Democrats don't want to talk about it because it might mean Clinton will be criticized and so forth. It doesn't matter. It's time that as the American people we looked them all in the eye and said 'there's something more important going on here than Democrats and Republicans.' We keep saying how we're all Americans together. Well as Americans together let's look for the truth here. Let's find out what, in fact, led to this disaster, and make sure that the things that are being asked of us aren't just things that are being pulled off somebody's shelf because it's power they always wanted. But are actually powers that will contribute to our greater security without the sacrifice of our freedom.
Another point: this gets me to the other side of it though, the sort of practical side of it. But I think there's also a side of it that deals with the moral underpinnings of who we are. And what I'm about to say is hard to say. It's hard to say because there's no way in which it can be very popular or sit very comfortably with us, but I think we're going to have to look at it because it's one of those things that going to haunt us whether we like it or not. We are a people that has actually never, to my knowledge, been able to fight a war and sustain it with success if we did not believe in its moral basis. It's very simple… It's not a question of whether it's the good guys versus the bad guys, it's a question of bad as we may be, what we're fighting for has good in it. Something in us has always required this.
I think partly because we come from such diverse backgrounds. Because we can't easily have the basis for community that is there in countries more homogeneous, countries with longer common history and so forth, no. We all know in our heart of hearts that all of the differences among us, the racial differences, religious differences, national differences, etcetera, if we're one people it can't be on a tangible basis like that. If we're one people it's got to be on one basis that transcends all of that. That goes to things that we can share in common because they are things of our conscience and of our heart and things that have to do, in fact, with our moral identity, not our national identities and creeds and all that. You see that means that to our identity moral things are terribly important and if at some level we rally to fight for ourselves there's going to be a moral ground. And it is on this occasion too. It's on this occasion exactly the same.
It's fascinating to me because the pattern is very clear in American history and it's been very clear in this episode. Soon after it happened, of course Mr. Bush stands before the world and he says, quite rightly in my opinion, this heinous act, repugnant to every decent human conscience. He made it clear that we thought people in the world just had to fess up and choose sides because they "were either for us or against us." Remember that? And I actually think there was a certain amount of truth in that. A lot of truth. There can be no neutrality here, but you did know what a novel thing that was, did you?
I mean, the fact that somebody attacks one country and that country defends itself has never really been considered a basis on which all other countries much choose sides. If it had been, I suppose the Swiss wouldn't have made all their money over the years. They made quite a fortune out of neutrality, didn't they? In the past it was understood that the mere fact that you went to war with X didn't mean everybody else had to go to war with X. No matter how justified you thought you were they could sit on the sidelines, declare their neutrality, trade and do other sorts of things with both of you and that was okay. There was the President saying 'that's not okay, can't do that here, and we mean it in a way that applies to everybody on the face of the planet.' I found it fascinating that he would stand up and say such a thing in light of the kinds of things we have been prone to teach ourselves over the last 50 years because frankly what he was saying seemed to imply is that there's a standard of moral judgment that transcends boundaries and identities and situations that can be appreciated universally by every human heart and conscience and that we not only have the right to presume upon but act upon and appeal to, up to and including the use of force against folks who dare to try to be neutral and go on facilitating the behavior of those who have attacked us.
Now you can't tell me that we did that just on the grounds that they attacked us. Now I know we think we're really fine people and on most days of the week we may be, but the fact that somebody comes and smacks us up isn't in and of itself an absolutely universal moral wrong. No, there might be some people who would disagree with that. If it's a universal moral wrong, it's got to be because the attack itself represented an act, which violates a principle that should be universally appreciated. What was that principle? I think it's pretty clear. You can see it in the nature of the act itself. And it wasn't just the attack, by the way, because we all know that people are out there, sadly, in the world attacking each other all the time. I don't believe there has been a year of my life when there hasn't been some awful war going on somewhere. Has there, Mark? I don't think so.
Somewhere in the world there are people killing each other all the time. I know that being as how it was us we think that has a special status, but shown in and of itself that fact that you get attacked this time doesn't suddenly make it a universal moral wrong. There has to be something else involved. And with terrorism I think there is. The nature of terrorist acts is terrorists, with malice aforethought and conscientious design, target and make use of means that show an utter and complete disregard for the claims of innocent human life. It's very simple. And there's something really wrong with that. It has taken time over the course of human history but much as the 20th century was marred by all kind of nastiness, it was also marked by a little progress in this area. Where at the very least, even though it was often observed in the breach, we reached kind of a consensus dentium in the international community that war is a nasty business and innocent people die in it. It really isn't acceptable to make their deaths your conscience objective. And, if and when, in the course of a conflict you do that you've crossed the line. I'll admit that's not exactly the most huge advance in human ethics that we've ever seen but it's better than nothing.
We had made some little steps in that direction in the course of the 20th century. Maybe just out of sheer survival instincts since we seem so determined to hack each other up during the 20th century that we thought there'd better be some rules to keep it from going too far. It was that sense, to a degree I think, that underlay the tenuous, but in the end, successful balance of terror that forestalled the general nuclear war. Conscience is safe by the notion that somehow the use of nuclear weapons does involve an inherent violation of that fundamental principle. Drop a bomb and you just killed a whole bunch of innocent people, along with everybody else you wanted to destroy. Even though they attacked you and all this, somewhere in our conscience we said 'that's not really what we want to do, that's not the kind of people we want to be.' I don't mean just us, because I think that was true of the Russians and other people. We didn't know it maybe at the time but there was still, in their heart and conscience, a sense that the massive destruction of life on that scale had something in it that went way beyond the usually wickedness of war. That's not a bad thing.
It's that very premise that in a cold blooded and calculated way terrorism completely disregards. Completely disregards. It's not a hot-blooded disregard, it's not a disregard that comes from some place of passion and deep resentment, no, it's a calculated strategic disregard that was summed up, I believe, by the lives on the planes on September 11. See the lives in the buildings were part of the terrorists purpose but the lives on the planes were like dust on the carpet. The only thing they were interested in was the fuel and the fuselage and the elements of the missile bomb that the plane represented. The people were less than nothing in that strategic concept of terrorism.
That utter disregard for innocent human life is, I think, the deep heart of evil that struck us on September 11 but that in striking us also struck against every human being who must, as our power and technology increase, live in the shadow of horrors that will be perpetrated if that tenuous little voice of conscience is utterly still. This is what we're trying to fight I think to preserve. I don't want to exaggerate this. Some people are trying to exaggerate it because it's not as if this is going to be some perfect world and so forth. No, what we're trying to hold on to is just a little advance we made, just a tiny little advance we made, but one that might spell the difference between holocaust and utter destruction as our power, whether in nuclear or biological terms, grows in it's ability to wreck massive havoc. We desperately need consciences that are revolted by that kind of massive disregard for innocence, and as a result, I think, the appeal we make to the world in this war against terrorism is a justified moral appeal. Here's the problem, though you know. It's illustrated for me again, see, and here I'll have to do it again because I must use Mr. Bush as an illustration because he's such a good illustration.
I put in mind the speech he (President Bush) gave some two or three weeks before the terrible episode of September 11 in which he justified stem cell research. What was interesting to me about this speech in which he justified federal funding of stem cell research, it's not stem cell research overall that I'm concerned about particularly that on lines that result in the destruction of human embryos, and what's important here is that he, himself acknowledged that that for him posed a moral problem because it involved the destruction of what he called "potential human life" and all this.
But what was interesting about his (President Bush's) argument was that he posited a distinction between money that was spent helping people exploit the fruits of that destruction of life and money that was directly spent for that destruction of life. You see that distinction? And what was fascinating to me about the argument was that it was a peculiar kind of moral argument in that it focused our attention on the what, as if actions are responsible for themselves. Whereas usually, you know, on the moral things we focus on the who since we generally understand that human beings are responsible for the what. And that would mean that if I, on Monday, see somebody killing people and on Tuesday accept the body parts that result I am part of the evil, even though I did not fund the killing. We know the feeling. Matter of fact, we know it so well that it was one of the basis for controversy that still rages over what one does, for instance, with the sort of knowledge that came out of Nazi experiments in which they were brutally, brutally disregarding humanity in the pursuit of what they said were great advances for science and the security of their people, and so forth and so on.
Funny how when the Nazis were doing it we had no particular trouble recognizing that as wrong. Not only shouldn't you do it, but if you eat the fruits of it you're part of the wickedness. That doesn't come as a surprise to anybody. Was an argument made and generally accepted about those terrible things? But there was, in that speech, this distinction. See over here you have the people who are killing the embryos and then you have the lines of research--stem cell lines that result in research and those are two different things and we can fund the fruits but we're not part of the who. And you know what I find interesting about that? What I find interesting about that is that that's not the standard we're applying to the rest of the world when we talk about terrorism. No. We're telling people in the rest of the world that if you eat the fruits, if you facilitate, if you support, if you fund, if you are part of the network, then we're going to treat you as part of the enemy. I think that that's a right judgment. But will somebody tell me how we can dare to apply to the rest of the world a standard of moral integrity we refuse to apply to ourselves? Do you think that's going to work? See, because I don't. It'll work for a while, yes it will. It'll work for a while because we Americans, as our history suggests, somewhat slipshod when it comes to moral things. We could get caught up in the advantages of the moment. Matter of fact, we can get caught up sometimes for several centuries in those advantages, in great detriment to all kinds of people.
Eventually though we do wake up, at least we did, and somewhere along the way, folks started to work on our consciences and then we start to get bothered and we start to get more than bothered and as we tussle and wrestle with things it undermines our purpose and our sense of commitment. Can we afford to have that happen in the war against terrorism? I don't think so. And yet you see on the one hand we are fighting for the sake of a principle that claims that somehow it's particularly wrong to show utter disregard for the claims of innocent human life. And then, as you all know, as a society we have adopted some approaches that are now turning into other things. We used to think that this was all--and you all would be sitting there thinking 'oh, he's into that abortion thing again.' Well see, now we know, don't we, that that's only part of it. I'm glad to say I am vindicated by this, as Mark will know, because years ago I said that was going to happen. Start there, end up over here. And we have ended up over here because now we're having debates about whether or not it's going to be okay to engender life in the Petri dish. Bring it along to a certain level so that I can get that liver, I can get that body part that I particularly need. And what are we going to do? Are we going to pretend that we don't know what we're doing. We're going to pretend 'that's my DNA therefore anybody who comes from it is not anybody I need to regard.' Says something bad about yourself. That's kind of self-contempt, I think, but truth of the matter, that's a lie anyway. I mean, we don't think it's okay for twins to kill each other, do we? They're pretty close in that regard. We know darn well that there's an element of human personality that transcends the material that we are made of. We may or may not agree on how exactly it comes about but we now from our experience that it's there. And that means I don't care what material you come from. That material can still, in it's human action, exhibit the characteristics that make it crystal clear that there is a unique being at work in that with as much right to be respected as you or me.
Petrie dish? And then the ones that escape the petrie dish and have to live with the consequences of a regime established to cast contempt on their humanity, claiming that it was okay at some stage of their life to treat them like they were just a farm to be used for their body parts. Do you know where we're headed with this? Into a hell-hole of human degradation. Saying we want it because we want cures but the only thing we're exhibiting is that we haven't cured the canker of our own moral sickness. We want to indulge it in a different form now. This is a problem and I think this problem is brought against us in this war of terrorism. See? Because we are struck by an evil that acts on the basis of the very principle that's sad to say we are tempted now to make our own. And I don't think we can get away with it. I think we'll do it for a while but then it'll start to worm its way into the consciences of some of us and they'll start to speak up more and more and more and more until we won't be able to stand it anymore. Last time we went through a thing like that, rightly or wrongly, we screwed up the Vietnam War and I think we'll screw this one up if we aren't clear about the need for moral consistency in the premises that we are fighting for. And that's going to require some real self-examination. Difficult self-examination too. Because we can't ask the world to stand with us in a crusade representing some moral stand against the massive disregard of innocent human life that terrorism represents. And then, in order to cure Alzheimer's, save ourselves, do whatever we want to do, act in a way that in fact systematically reflects the same principle. Nope. Nope, can't do it that way. We'll end up being one thing or the other.
Now, admittedly, somewhere along the line since human beings don't like that kind of confusion we might just decide to forget all this moral stuff. We could do that. We could be like the Romans. Didn't keep them awake one minute at night worrying about whether they had the right to slaughter and oppress. They had the power. They had the glory. They had the right. The thing I love about this country, and I guess what I'm about to say I say with some difficulty, and it's something that I say with difficulty because I usually don't get personal but I feel really personally about this.
I think you have to appreciate that when I say the thing I love about this country, that's a statement coming from a really difficult place. In the course of my life I have found it from time to time really difficult to love America. When as a young person I learned about the reality of slavery and tears were brought to my eyes by the account of the utter degradation of my ancestors I found it really hard to love America. There are things that we have done, things that we have tolerated, things that we have been responsible for that are just as deep-dyed in wickedness as some of the worst things humanity has ever seen. And you can't love a country for the sake of that evil. But you can love a country for the sake of an acknowledgement of the very principles that let us recognize the evil. I think there's something to be said for people, even in the midst of their wrongdoing, when they willing to do what often human beings find it hardest to do at that time and that is to acknowledge the standard by which they are condemned. In that, we have at least been honest to our history. Understanding in the midst of slavery that what we professed to believe in condemned our actions. Understanding in the midst of our destruction of native peoples that what we professed to believe condemned our actions. And you might say 'oh, that's just hypocrisy.' Hey, I'll take hypocrisy over sincere evil any day. Because what hypocrisy means is that you're vulnerable to argument, you're vulnerable to persuasion, you're vulnerable in the end to those movements of conscience that have in fact helped us to move away, painful bit by bit, from that evil. And if I love America for any reason it's for the sake of that acknowledgement of principle. It's for the sake of that willingness to live with a pained conscience and ultimately to respond to that pain with something more than words. See that's the difference between America and Rome. It's why our republic is superior to their empire. Not because we are perfect and not because we were good, and all this, but because we never forgot that good was possible. We never became so inured to the comfort of our own strength that we let abuse be taken for righteousness. This is what I think we could be in danger of letting slip now. And for the sake of things, yes, they might represent real advances for us. Things that will cure this disease and that disease, and prolong life in this way and that way.
I think something Patrick Henry said is still true. "Is life so dear that we shall purchase it at the price of chains and slavery?" Add a few more years but destroy the principle, that on moral grounds, has distinguished us, even in our wrong doing, from the worst of evil-doers. And has given us an opportunity, when we rose to the occasion to defend in good and noble ways, right principles that have helped to elevate the better hopes of human kind.
I pray to God that we will never give up those truths. But we are in the midst of a test of that now. And I think its time we started to take it seriously. Stop looking at our petty desires and our petty wishes for this and that, because I know they're there and they're clear. Start looking at the larger implications of the things that we embrace or reject. Now I wouldn't say that if I didn't believe there was a lot of hope in this situation. I wouldn't do anything that I do if I didn't have a lot of faith in this country, and not just in the country but in the people. Now we are better than we used to be. Not as good as we're going to get, I hope.
But what really heartens me is that we are a people always willing to consider the right action that we have neglected. And even at the expense of inconvenience to ourselves willing to take on the struggle of wrestling with the truths by which some deep hope of ours, some action, some vice, some habit will be condemned. I think that's still who we are, and as we embark on this war and get into the midst of this war on terrorism or whatever, I think we're going to have to confront these challenges and make sure that the decisions we take are not decisions dictated by short term convenience and a little bit of benefit, but decisions seen in the light of the larger implications of this struggle, which is as it has ever been for us.
Not just a struggle for our physical lives, but a struggle to make clear and to vindicate the principle that transcends our physical lives, that will bind us if we are true to it-- to the lives of those not yet born who will live yet to bless us or curse us for what we do. I hope that there will be blessings. Bless us because instead of planting the seeds of new eras of oppression we renewed our allegiance to the moral principles that by confirming the dignity of human life and by fighting against those who systematically disregard it. Allowed that one little light of hope for human progress to be handed on to new generations. I don't want to exaggerate the significance of this. You know, sometimes we like to pat ourselves on the back as the greatest people in the world. Maybe we are and maybe we aren't in some material respect but I think the greatest thing that we can do is just to hand on our freedom intact to new generations and to hold on to the principle of respect for human dignity that in the end makes that freedom possible. And to hold on to it in such a way that it is hope, not just for us, but for all the people everywhere to whose consciences we appeal, but to whose consciences we must also answer, in terms of the actions we are willing to take. If we can show that integrity I think we'll come out of this not only all right but we'll come out of it exactly where we're supposed to be. Still free and still offering to other people, however imperfectly, an example of how human beings can, in spite of all our differences, live together peacefully in a community, based upon a principle of heart and conscience, that by transcending our particular identities reminds us that we stand on one common ground of human hope.
Ambassador Keyes has agreed to answer a few questions. We have portable microphones in each aisle to amplify the question so raise your hand and let's go at it here.
Man in Audience:
Just a quick question. Why is it, do you think, that the party you're in doesn't seem to share so many of your views. You know, when you're talking about choosing security over freedom, and that can be secured in other ways.You know, opposing ways in which our focusing on security…why is that? Do you describe that as just a moral weakness of that party, is it it's ties to business world? What do you think?
Well, I'll tell you. One, I always find it a little difficult when you speak of the party because I know for a fact that, I do it all the time, I go around speaking to audiences at the grassroots of Republicans and so forth and so on and they agree with what I'm saying, and this is good, I think. And that means that there is sensitivity to this within the party. Why isn't that reflected right now in policy and leadership? I don't think, first of all, it's fair to ask that of Republicans, I don't right now see anybody in the government standing up fully to articulate and take responsibility for this, even in the Congress. Because if there were, Congress has tools to get the job done.
Instead of just knee-jerk, rubber-stamping legislation, I would like somebody to start some hearings so we can find out what went wrong, what happened, what are the real threats that we face based on the failure of our national security system. The Office of Homeland Security has the implication that the National Security Council system, established under law in 1947 has failed. If that's true, this isn't something we ought to deal with piecemeal. We didn't put it in place piecemeal and we shouldn't just through it away piecemeal. So, I'm not sure anybody's responding at an adequate level to this, regardless of party. I think that there is a certain sense in which people get caught up in the moment, a lot of them. And they're dealing with things that they have to deal with today. I mean, after all, you wake up one day to the nightmare that haunted the minds of anybody who ever worked in national security and there it is, it happened on your watch. I have a feeling you're in shell-shock a long time after that, just doing what you hope will keep it from happening again.
I think a longer view is needed though, and we need to start encouraging them to take it so that we can get the job done. Finally, let me acknowledge some truth in what you say though. Uncomfortable as it is for me, and maybe for some Republicans, because I've learned this lesson the hard way and I'm still a Republican, because I believe we have to fight these battles, you don't just throw your hands up in despair because things don't go your way. There is a struggle in the Republican Party between money power, and moral conscience, without any doubt. I think the money power in the party is very corrupting. I think it often leads people who are running for office to abandon positions that they claim they believe in with integrity, but that then in order to keep the bucks flowing they disregard. I think that happens a lot. To the extent that it's just a political sacrifice, maybe we can live with it. To the extent that in a situation like this that it means that you're actually willing to neglect things that need to be done and examined for our security, then we can't tolerate it. And that's why I take the risk I do. Speaking out like this, all said and done, there's a certain amount of risk. At the very least, I risk not being invited to the White House ever again and not getting my Christmas card and all this, but I learned during the Clinton years to live without all of that, I can live without it now.
So I want to say that there is a problem here. Can I make one final point though? Don't fool yourself into thinking it's just a Republican problem. There's a little bit and it's probably why somebody like Mark and I can remain friends because at some level, I think there are elements in both parties that, though we might profoundly disagree, we are motivated by a sense that America must stand for something that makes sense morally; that has integrity from a moral point of view. And there are lots of people in both parties who are basically either about money deals or political deals, and they don't care how it comes about, so long as they get what they want out of it. And I think that in one sense the moral party in America stands against that element in both parties. And though it doesn't necessarily lead to a lot of measure of agreement on particular policy issues, I think it does suggest that we represent something important about the reality of American life. Because I think a lot of Americans, somewhere in the back of their minds know how important it is for us to be true to our moral identity.
Man in Audience:
Now I understand why business didn't fund your campaign so much.
If it wasn't for folks sending me little dollars at a time I wouldn't have had a campaign.
Woman in Audience:
Thank you for taking my question. I was struck in your talk by the use of conscience, and I saw in that a legacy of conscience as it was used by great conservative writers of our time, specifically The Conscience of A Conservative, written by Barry Goldwater and Abortion and The Conscience of A Nation, written by Ronald Reagan and I'm interested that legacy because of course, The Conscience of A Conservative was actually written by Brent Bozell, who argued that abortion was America's Armageddon and Frankie Schaefer was very much behind getting abortion in the nation and the conscience of a nation. And he too had a sort of apocalyptic vision of abortion so I'm trying to figure out in your embrace of that idea of conscience and seeing that sort of genealogy, do you see abortion as an escalogical sign of the end times?
Well, put in those terms I'm immediately forced to keep in mind one of the scriptures of Christ--that you shouldn't think that you're going to know the time because, as I understood His words, there is some dispute about this, but what it seemed to me what he said was that even He doesn't know. I mean, it was known only by the Father and it was implied that it was one of the few things the Father hadn't shared with him. So I am to presume to know what Christ didn't know and call myself a Christian? No, I won't go quite that far. He did tell us though to look for signs. It's not as if he didn't give us some sign posts and things like that. And I don't see anything wrong with that so long as you don't get too much confidence in your judgment in that regard. So on the one hand, whether or not the issue of abortion raises issues that are in their implication signs of the end of the world, I don't know.
I do know, and it was clear in what I said today, that the fundamental principle that is at stake has at it's heart, issues that will be involved in the survival or demise of the United States of America. There's no doubt of this in my mind. We are a country founded on the basis of certain premises about justice. Disregard those premises systematically in our policies and our laws and we cannot sustain the system. I used to have to speculate about the chain of events that moved in this direction. I don't have to anymore. What do you think you're looking at? We sit here talking about military tribunals in the United States of America!
This isn't something we have to speculate about anymore. The transformation of this regime has begun. The first vestiges of that despotism we are supposed to adamantly oppose are, in fact, already being constructed before our eyes and we're making excuses to ourselves. We don't want to recognize it, and yes, what does it come in the context of? It comes in the context of a war against an evil that represents the very principle we've been wrestling over for these past 40 to 50 years. So yes, like slavery in the 19th century, the issues that have to do with our attitude toward the dignity of life are issues that are make-or-break for America. I believe this deeply. It's why I devote so much time to talking about it. It's why I have been willing to sacrifice everything and I don't say this very often, but people tell me I'm reasonably good with the spoken word and I have all kinds of people that are always coming to me and they'd like me to talk about this and that and the other thing because they feel like I could go make their case well. Some of them are offering lots of money and so forth and so on. I can't do it. I can't do it because I feel like the most important thing is still this issue of the dignity of life. I look back at a history where I know darn well that at the end of the day the only thing that kept the struggle alive that ended slavery and all that was that somebody somewhere that had talent and ability was willing to forego everything else and just focus on these issues that mattered to our heart and conscience. And I think that's what one needs to do and I do it, yes, because I believe these are deeply, deeply important to our survival as a free people. To the survival of this republic, to the survival of the way of life that we sadly, have too much taken for granted. So in that sense I guess I would say I have a kind of urgent view. I wouldn't call it apocalyptic, but I do think that it's an urgent sense of the fateful significance of the whole constellation of issues that we're faced with here that have implications by the way that actually even go beyond our own survival because some of the evil seeds we plant, this cloning thing, I was talking about it a few minutes ago.
Think of the implications of this. We start over there with this notion that you can clone for therapeutic purposes, body parts, whatever you want, and you're actually going to make it sort of a crime, reproductive cloning, to go further than that, at least that's the implication. Well, what about the people who slip through. Somebody slips through, and a matter of fact, there might be folks who, like the folks who had the underground railroad, I'm sure some Americans are eventually going to get the idea that it's their job in life to help people slip through. To help people go all the way and become full to term. Well, what happens then to those people? Under law, they shouldn't exist and also by virtue of what the law has allowed to them at some stage in their development, they have been degraded into commodities. You don't think that's going to affect their status? Don't you see where we're going with this? We have come out of one era of awful, ugly slavery, discrimination, repression and injustice and now, we seem determined to use our scientific knowledge to create a whole new class of people that we can oppress and treat with indignity. This is sick! And I think it's a sickness we need to wake up to. And that goes beyond whether we survive or not, because, you know, that's a disease that if we don't do something to fight it, it's just going to spread. It'll characterize human beings for centuries. That struggle will go on just the way slavery did. Dark day that somebody introduced the idea that it was OK to hold somebody permanently in bondage just because you defeated them in battle yesterday. Introduced evils into the world, the fruits of which we know. Isn't it sad to think that we might be watching the beginning of such evils right now? Seeds planted, new ages, ages of oppression. So yeah, so I have a sense that we're in very fateful times and I just hope we'll take our responsibility here seriously.
Woman in Audience:
I was just wondering what you think about the idea, you talked about that we need to worry about what could threaten our consistency of moral conscience that we had in terms of our tradition as a country and all that. I was wondering what you think that what could be threatening that is our economic motives and the business pursuit and more of what we're doing economically in terms of our form of capitalism. I was just wondering about what you think about that idea.
I think in and of itself, I have never thought that capitalism posed a moral threat. Quite the contrary, I think at one level it's an off-shoot of an important moral principle. That human beings have talents and ability and you kind of let them rise to the level of those talents and abilities and reap their rewards in this life accordingly.That, of course, has to be tempered by both an understanding of justice and the means you use so that oppression and force and fraud and all those things that unfortunately are altogether too common when greed takes over are intolerable. But also I have to be colored by the fact that we do make part of a moral community and that one element of liberty is that even as we will be respected in our talents and the ability to reap rewards for those talents, so we must respect our obligation to voluntarily care for others.
See, it's one of those things that I think is terribly important if you want freedom to survive. And it hasn't always happened, because if you don't take seriously your obligation to use the fruit of your ability to help others, that is to say to meet your moral obligation to build people up and work with them and in various ways help them to realize their opportunities, if you don't do that voluntarily then eventually moral conscience will arm itself with force. That I think is one of the major differences between liberals and conservatives in this country, meaning no offense to anybody. I believe that human beings should be left to do that of their choice. I think that's more consistent with our dignity than to use government power, which at the end, is based on coercion. The common ground, however, is that the moral challenge of those obligations must be met. Now, our society has, call it free enterprise, capitalism and so forth, been really mindful of that? I'd say yes and no. On the one hand we have a society that probably has the strongest tradition of philanthropy and illamoscinary activity of any society our size and variety in history. And this is, by the way, not just something I say.
When I was at the U.N. and so forth, people marvel at all the junk Americans do without anybody asking them to do it and that sort of freedom of association. The fact that we go out and we start this and we do that, and somebody in our family's affected and we want to start an association and we want to make sure everybody's going to know what we know because we always act, don't we, as if our encounter with something was the beginning of the world. At one level, this is a good thing and it's admirable. Has it been adequate? No. No, and I think in part it hasn't been adequate, not so much because of the inherent evils in capitalism but because of a failure to appreciate the moral dimension of the freedom that makes capitalism what it is. And that's part of what I try to do. If you forget that freedom at the end is based on moral ideas then you can pretend that it's okay to use that freedom without regard for moral obligations. And that's not true! You can't use your freedom in a way that destroys the premises from which it comes and if freedom comes from moral premises, it must be used in a way that respects the obligations that arise from those premises. I think forgetting that has meant that capitalists…have run roughshod and still does, over needs of individuals and over the real justice that needs to exist in the market place. I think that can be addressed in a couple ways. Partly it can be addressed by the education of conscience. I think it also has to be addressed in some instances when it's really egregious by government action, but that ought to be, as we always say, the last resort. And insofar as we resort to it first we are actually shrinking the sphere, both of freedom and dignity. Because at the end, they don't fool yourselves, anything you are forced to do is not something that has much dignity to it. The root of the word dignity, of course, is worth. And you don't prove much about your worth if the only good you do in life is the good you're forced to do.
I consider freedom and opportunity for people to build, display, confirm their dignity. Insofar as we leave a broader sphere, we give greater opportunities for the confirmation of that dignity. Insofar as we have to narrow it, we destroy the field of that dignity. And I think that's a bad thing if we care about human dignity.
But at the end of the day, Madison, I think it was, is right. In the federalist papers he wrote, "Justice is the end of government, it is the end of civil society, it will be pursued either until it be obtained or until liberty be lost in the pursuit." In the midst of all the other things people read and remember to justify their differences, I wish people would pay more attention to that phrase. Because what that means is that the people who founded this land and thought they were establishing something that would help people stay free understood that freedom must serve the higher cause of justice or it can't survive. That right and wrong must be respected and justice means justice in the distribution of opportunity, justice in the respect for human dignity, justice in the bargains that are made in the market place that respect the dignity of labor and the dignity of people who are working in that market place. Forget those things and in the end, freedom will perish. And that I think means that a capitalism that forgets those moral foundations will destroy itself, sadly, because I think it has a lot to be said for it obviously. Capitalism is like a wonderful engine, a wonderful engine. You put it in the car and it has run better than any other engine we've found economically, so far, in the history of the world. However, that doesn't mean that the car isn't used to run people down. This is what I think we need to work on.
Man in Audience:
Thank you Mr. Keyes. It has been long said that we should be looking at the root causes of terrorism in this time. Could you elaborate some more on what you think the root causes of terrorism are? What do you think our perception should be of Islam in this time?
Well, let me deal with the latter first because it's one of those things. I was awhile back on Sean Hannity's show, he and I are great friends, but I think that day he wasn't too happy with me because he was really trying to get me to talk about this war in some religious terms and I was really refusing to do that because I think that's not only a grave error but it's also not true. To the extent that people allow this to be cast as some religious conflict we are moving away from the proper moral ground of our battle and we're giving in to an idea of the whole business that I think in the end will greatly strengthen our adversaries. Because right now insofar as there might be help and sympathy within the terrorist network, within certain elements of the Arab world, they've played the Israeli card and done that. Muslim people in Indonesia have no particular reason to care about Bin Laden. Muslim people in other parts of the world, and there are a lot of them, have no particular reason. You turn it into some anti-Islamic conflict and they might wake up some day and say 'hey, these people, I don't like 'em. They don't like my religion. I don't like them.'
My wife and I go at it a lot on this because she is originally from India. As you know, between India and Pakistan there have been occasionally some bad blood. So, she remembers some things and this is actually not a light-hearted thing because when people go through the kinds of wars they've fought it means you had a childhood of blackouts and bombings and people dying in your neighborhood because of wars that were fought right down the street. That's how she grew up. So it's not an academic thing. It's a very real, traumatized existence that people lived in the midst of this war and it left real feelings. We go back and forth sometimes because I adamantly oppose the idea that we should be making all kinds of arguments about how phony it is to say that terrorism is not contrary to Islam and how all of this and get into something like we're going to be master interpreters of the Koran. I am not of the Islamic faith. I have read the Koran through but I haven't studied it the way I studied the Bible and I wouldn't pretend to want to go up with somebody who has and tell them what it means.
As I see it there are as many differences among Islamic people over what the Koran says as there are, you may have noticed, among Christians as to what the Bible says, and then some. So who are we to say that the religion has some uniform attitude toward terrorism? I don't think it does. I think that it's susceptible to abuse by people who want to go murder folks and it's susceptible to good use by people who want folks to live in harmony and surrender to God's justice. And that therefore the possibilities pair up and are knocked off the table. We should look at the fact that what we are fighting against here is not a religion, it's actions that come from an evil principle, and that insofar as people join us in there, it doesn't matter whether they're one religion or another, they can stand with us on that. And insofar as folks join the other side it's not because they are of one religion or another, it's because they're willing to embrace that evil and that's why we fight them. I think that's critically important. Don't let this become about Islam. Now that doesn't mean that in analyzing things we don't have to analyze the role that the manipulation of the Islamic faith and other things can play in Bin Laden's cells and in motivation and all that, and yes, that's part of the job and business of war, to understand the mind that is at work in those who are trying to do you harm. The root causes of terrorism.
I had an experience of this in my own parish shortly after the terrorism thing. One week we got a sermon from a priest who got a rousing applause as he explained the moral basis of the response to an act like this and how it is, in fact, morally justified to act in your own defense. The following week we got a sermon from somebody who was going to explain to us why everybody in the world hates us and then alluding to the terrorist episode in New York, what we needed to do in the way of getting out there and working for justice and peace and truth and against poverty and all of this so people wouldn't hate us so much and the implication was that we wouldn't see them blowing up any more of our skyscrapers. There's just one, as I pointed out to him afterwards, there's one small problem with that in this particular case. I might have a tendency to be more sympathetic with the notion that we have been struck by the downtrodden of the world if the leader of the downtrodden didn't come from the bosom of one of the richest families on the face of the earth. And who has spent more time using his money to buy up instruments of death than he has using it to try to save and help people. See? I'd be more convinced that he cared about saving and helping people if he'd spent some of his time saving and helping people, instead of all of his time killing them. And so this, to me, struck me as kind of off the wall, to say the least, in terms of whether it accurately reflected the nature of the particular terrorist threat we are faced with right now. Second, why are we letting folks convince us that everybody in the world hates us? This is not true. It's not true. So far from hating us, I think there are many people in the world if you have them a instant chance they'd be right over here joining us any day. And they'd come by droves and by millions and they'd come here and they'd be perfectly happy to stay and live our way of life and join right along with us in saluting the flag and other things like that, and it's not because they hate us and it's not because they hate our way of life either. So this notion that we are universally hated; this is nonsense.
Third point: OK, we're not perfect and we haven't spent 100 percent of our time trying to wipe all shades of wickedness and evil off the face of the earth. I would question myself the hubris that's involved in thinking we can do that. But here again, we might get into one of those little differences in our politics, because see I think that you've got to temper your desire to help people with your respect for the dignity that comes from people helping themselves. You are taking something away from people you do too much for. You're taking away something from them that can't be replaced, and so even when you want to do good it's got to be done in a temperate, moderate way that respects the dignity of other people. And by the way, folks whom you're trying to help often will make this real clear to you, you try to walk in and take over their lives, thinking you're going to help. I think people, even those in need, are in need in a way that reflects their human dignity. And when we set up things that rush about helping them, regardless of that dignity, we hurt ourselves and we hurt them. Now that's not making excuses for things we've neglected to do but it is pointing to a principle that we ought to use to temper our judgments. Don't make judgments about this in a vacuum. Sometimes I think we do this. Do you know why we do this? I think we do it because we are good people. Good people beat up on themselves because they're not better. Its only wicked people who never beat up on themselves when they're doing good. They think 'ah, I've done good, that's all that's needed.'
No, a really good person does good and thinks 'ah, I haven't done anything good today, when am I going to doing something right?' This is right, and this is the way we are, and I like this about us. But we need to get a perspective here, and one other thing we need to remember is that if you look at the vast array of things that have gone on in human history, read some of those books that go over the sweep of it, find another nation like unto the United States. Find another nation that stood at the pinnacle of power holding the thunderbolts of Zeus, could for a while there have wiped off the face of the Earth anybody we pleased. Could have established a power so supreme that nobody could have broken it. Who not only didn't do it, but actually didn't think about doing it, seriously. Think of that. Think about a people, that after having borne awful struggles in a war and this and that, turned around, looked at a world in ruins, understood, both as a moral and a practical fact, that that world in ruins couldn't be left as it was and expended all kinds of treasure in order to make sure that others were brought to a situation of not only self-sufficiency, but of prosperity.
Now the other day Governor Cuomo pointed this out and said that we had done it so we would have people to trade with. ( audience laughter) Okay, I think that may have been part of it, you know? But I also think that we did it because at some level we are a people moved by the spectacle of other people's misery to do something about it. And we still are. We always are. It doesn't matter where in the world it happens, we always are. And I think this is good thing. It may not be enough, it may not go far enough, but it's a good thing. We have a record in that regard, therefore, that I'll hold up against anybody's record in the world and in human history to say that even though we should 'keep on keepin' on' and beating ourselves up to do more, I like this. But the truth is don't take this as some root cause excuse for people to come murdering us.
I think that people who act on the principle to kill 4,000 Americans ought to be taught a lesson. That's what I think. I don't think we should brow beat ourselves about the root causes of terrorism. I think the root cause of the utter disregard for innocent life in the pursuit of one's vendetta of fanaticism, the root cause of that is that you're evil. The root cause of that is that you have wickedness in you that can only be stopped by strength that will oppose you until you have stopped. And that's all we need to know right now so I don't spend a lot of time because I don't think the root cause of Osama bin Laden's terrorism is the downtrodden oppression of people in the world. I think quite the contrary. He might plead that. He doesn't even plead that as an excuse, by the way. He uses Israel. I haven't noticed him using the oppression of others because, frankly, I think with his sort of bigoted understanding of things he probably doesn't care too much about non-Muslim people who are suffering.
One thing I do care for in America. In the midst of all our other temptations and this-and-that is that we are a people, because we come from all different places, because we are Muslims and we are Poles and we are Jews and we are Italians and we are Nigerians and we are Ebos and we are Chinese and we are Koreans, it means that there is no place in the world where people suffer and Americans are not touched. And there is no part of the American conscience that can lose touch fully with humanity. I think this is what distinguishes us from the terrorists in the world. Understanding it, we are with confidence to defend ourselves against them without second-guessing the root causes of the evil that they do.
Thank you. Thank you, Alan, very much. We have a tradition here at the President's Forum of presenting a tie to our guests, and I was sitting here thinking just some day Ambassador Keyes in going to be in an airport walking across it and see some of our other guests with their tie, and they will be joined by this experience. We thank you for that. I was brought back many years to conversations when I was in college and I thank you for coming to this very special place with our very talented students and faculty and staff to share your perspective with us. Thank you and goodnight.
Address given by Ambassador Alan Keyes as part of the President's Forum Series; introduction by President Mark D. Gearan
Nov. 29, 2001