Brian Lee Crowley

Brian Crowley discusses what America means to him on the 10-year anniversary of 9/11 in the Ottawa Citizen

September 10, 2011 – On the 10-year anniversary of September 11th, MLI Managing Director Brian Lee Crowley discusses what America means to him in his Ottawa Citizen column. He recalls a newspaper column he wrote about the terrorist attacks 10 years ago and says that “nothing in the intervening decade has changed my view” about what America means to him. To Crowley, America represents freedom:

Freedom American-style is the freedom to try, not the right to succeed.  Freedom isn’t important because our dreams always work out, but because ultimate  responsibility rests with each of us to do what we can with what we have. Free  men and women are responsible for what they become, and that responsibility is an awesome burden that many around the world would give anything to bear.

Yes, the liberty that Americans so value can be misused and abused. But then if you give freedom to all people, what results is the fullest expression of all the yearnings that beat within the human breast. Some of them are mundane, some obscene, some incomprehensible. But some are glorious, powerful and spiritual.

 

An Attack on all that America represents

By Brian Lee Crowley, The Ottawa Citizen, September 10, 2011

In the wake of the murderous attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, I wrote about what  America means to me and the world. Nothing in the intervening decade has changed  my view, including America’s excesses in responding to the terrorist threat.  Today it is fashionable to feel smug schadenfreude over our neighbour’s  difficulties. It may therefore be salutary to spend a moment remembering why  America bulks so large in the world’s imagination and therefore why the attacks  those 10 long years ago were more than just the vicious assassination of  thousands of innocents and more than an attack on a single country. Here,  slightly edited, is the newspaper column I wrote in those dark days.

Most of us are still speechless in the face of the enormity of the evil done  in New York and Washington. If you’re like me, you are seeking some way to make  at least a flicker of light in the sea of darkness that has settled on the human  spirit, to make some gesture, however tiny, to say that what has been done to my  friends and neighbours is inhuman and intolerable and shall not stand.

What I can best do to put my grain of sand on the balance on the side of good  is to say what America means to me. Because make no mistake about it, what  terror sought to blot out on Sept. 11 was what America means to millions of  people who are not American. If, as I believe, America symbolizes the yearning  of billions of people to be free, then we have a duty to stand up and say that  what America represents shall never be defeated by hate and terror. It can only  be defeated by the indifference and complacency of those for whom freedom  matters.

The America that I have come to love and admire is not official Washington or  Wall Street. It is the idea that animates American life, and the character that  idea has imbued in the American people.

That idea is that freedom matters more than anything. America is the place  where people, no matter what their circumstances, no matter what their origins  or social class, no matter what their mother tongue, can deploy their own  energies in an attempt to become what they want to be.

It was no accident that citizens of scores of nations were killed in the  attack on the World Trade Center. America is a beacon for those who want to be  their own masters, who dream of doing what they want. America is so feared by  the world’s zealots and ayatollahs because it constantly reminds people that  life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness is an ideal deeply rooted in a  powerful nation and will never release its grip on the human imagination.

As for the character of Americans, it has something to do with a  semi-articulate consciousness of having been blessed with liberty. Forget about  the bluster and boastfulness of some Americans. If you want to see them as they  really are, go to any small town on the Fourth of July and see the faraway look  in their eyes as they sing the national anthem, hand on heart. They do not doubt  that their country has bestowed upon them something so precious that, if they  have to, they are willing to die to defend it. That’s not jingoism – it is  patriotism of the most admirable and moving kind.

Freedom American-style is the freedom to try, not the right to succeed.  Freedom isn’t important because our dreams always work out, but because ultimate  responsibility rests with each of us to do what we can with what we have. Free  men and women are responsible for what they become, and that responsibility is  an awesome burden that many around the world would give anything to bear.

Yes, the liberty that Americans so value can be misused and abused. But then  if you give freedom to all people, what results is the fullest expression of all  the yearnings that beat within the human breast. Some of them are mundane, some  obscene, some incomprehensible. But some are glorious, powerful and spiritual.  America is a country of excesses because it is the largest canvas in the world  on which all facets of the human spirit are free to paint.

Thousands of innocent people died on Sept. 11 because of what the United  States represents. In responding to this outrage, America will, of course, make  mistakes – what would be the value of freedom if the answers to all the  difficult questions were already given? But they will never shrink from  defending the idea on which their republic was built, because it is worth  defending.

America, it is true, is a sometimes exasperating, even infuriating neighbour.  And I would have no other.

Brian Lee Crowley is the managing director of the  Macdonald-Laurier Institute, an independent non-partisan public policy think  tank in Ottawa: www.macdonaldlaurier.ca

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Brian Lee Crowley