The Taipei Times
Wednesday, September 19th, 2001
For more than a decade, taking friends from China to visit the World Trade Center had been a matter of particular pride to me as a New Yorker. Whenever I flew back to New York on a bright sunny day, the sight of the twin towers prompted a sigh of relief: I'm finally home. Whenever I drove back from New Jersey on a dark rainy night, the bright lights of the twin towers showed me the way home.
Naturally, the two giant buildings had become part of my -- and every New Yorker's and American's -- emotional property. As a rule, we took them for granted, just as we do most of our valuables. But when they collapsed and broke into pieces, so did my heart.
It was horrific to see two airplanes ram into the towers, and all the more so to watch the bodies and body parts being recovered from the hellish ashes and debris. The black smoke that shrouds the sky of Manhattan will one day disperse and the beautiful, symbolic twin sisters of America will proudly stand up again some day, just as the mayor of New York has vowed.
But the thousands of innocent and once robust lives will never come back to breathe the clear air of New York, to see the blue sky of America and to enjoy the sight of human civilization. The anguish and grief in my heart is beyond words. I do not dare to imagine what I would feel if my wife, who works in Manhattan, had been buried in the debris, but I could not hold back my tears when watching weeping husbands and wives desperately seek glimmers of hope in the search for their loved ones.
No, this is not a conflict between nations, ethnic groups, religions and cultures. It is purely and simply an act of evil perpetrated against all humanity. No man with the slightest sense of humanity could carry out such an atrocity.
Did the Muslim hijackers hate Americans so much that they willingly took their own lives to murder thousands of them? Obviously not. The fact is that the hijackers themselves had been hijacked and poisoned by their vicious leaders.
Exactly like the innocent humans who were hijacked in the attacks, some Muslims -- along with Islam and Islamic culture -- have been hijacked by evil dictatorships in the Arab world and used as weapons against democratic systems that originated in the West and are now spreading all over the world.
Some blame US policies toward the Middle East for provoking the barbarity. Some even take perverse pleasure in the tragedy, saying it was a consequence of America's interference in world affairs. I wonder whether people who believe this have ever asked themselves a simple question: Would those dictators love the US if she did not spend her own money and sacrifice her own sons' lives to protect world peace? No. Certainly not. They would hate the US all the same. This is not a war between Muslims and Christians, but a war between dictatorship and democracy.
The very existence of America -- a strong and healthy democracy that exposes weak and sick dictatorships like a mirror -- is enough for the world's tyrants to hate and fear. They fear that the powerful influence of the US political system might lead their people to want American freedom and democracy, and that that it might eventually topple their regimes.
This is why Osama bin Laden, and terrorist groups like Hamas and Islamic Jihad are given sanctuary and support by several dictatorial regimes in the Middle East. The territorial disputes between Palestinians and Israelis are certainly not the only problem, and the war against international terrorism will not end until all the world's thuggish regimes are eliminated.
America will always be a target of dictators' attacks as long as she holds the banner of freedom and democracy. Yes, a country as free and open as the US is vulnerable to faceless enemies; and yes, the US should be more cautious, but hidden arrows are difficult to guard against, as the Chinese say. Indeed, the US has no option but to turn from the defensive to the offensive.
I've never seen the US suffer this much grief and I've never seen the US as united as it is now -- I've also never been as moved by the worldwide support for America. From Paris to Beijing I hear people declare they are Ameri-cans. What do they mean by "Americans?" They are not American citizens, but they stand by the US' victims, they stand its values, and they stand by its spirit.
Now I see the star-spangled banner displayed everywhere in New York, in shop windows, on people's front doors, on roofs of buildings and on passing cars.
In my mind's eye, I see American flags waving in Normandy, the Philippines, South Korea, Haiti, Kuwait and Kosovo. This flag led peace-loving people all over the world to defeat the Nazis, to win World War II and the Cold War. This flag gives a hope to dissident voices in China. This flag shields democratic Taiwan from a dictatorship's military attack. This flag brings the prospect of a free and democratic world of tomorrow. How horrible the world would be if, instead of America, the Soviet Union were the lone superpower of the world today.
As a Chinese I appreciate America's efforts to protect the peace of the world and to spread the value of freedom and democracy. As an American, I am proud of what the US has achieved and want my country to contribute more to a safer and freer world of tomorrow. I see that promise in those waving flags.
I used to hate the aircraft noise that constantly droned above my apartment, which is not far from John F. Kennedy Airport. But when I first heard that familiar whir after two days of silence following those deadly crashes, I sprang to the window and looked up to the slowly-moving and arrogantly-roaring civilian aircraft. It brought tears to my eyes. How wonderful a normal life is!
Cao Chang-ching is a New York-based writer and journalist.