American Thinkers Respond to Terror (Part III)

ABCNEWS asked several of the nation's most interesting people to reflect on their feelings at this historic juncture and we've published extended excerpts of their comments here. Read and compare what they have to say, then share your own thoughts on our message board.

Ruth Simmons, President of Brown University

… For a period of time we haven't paid enough attention to the complex relations that exist around the world and our place in that. We are a leadership power in the world, which gives us a special responsibility … We have an obligation. We're one of the most educated countries in the world. That gives us an obligation to learn more about our neighbors and about what it is that they have encountered, and how they live and what their perspective is on world affairs. And we have been inward looking in the sense that we haven't done that enough. Aside from a few specialists and foreign policy analysts and students of international relations, the American people in general don't read enough about the world that they live in.

And now suddenly here we are. The world is coming to us. We always thought that we would be safe within our borders and that we would be taking the war to other nations. Well it's here now. And as a consequence, it seems to me, we need to take seriously our responsibility as world citizens… So I think we will change, and I think that will be good … We're evolving, I hope, to making use of the knowledge and ability that we have to play a much more forthright and responsible role in world affairs.

This is an opportunity for us to look deeply and to assess what we do around the world with regard to poverty, with regard to civil rights, with regard to human rights, and to try to get a grasp of that that's more sophisticated than what we're accustomed to doing by waving flags and writing out banners and so on. There is this very serious issue that we're confronting in the world, and that is how will we — all of us together — live in an environment of trust, respect, peace, dignity and honor. That's a powerful question for us. We can't live here in the United States and assume that as long as we get it right here in the United States we'll be fine. It doesn't work that way.

So I think part of this discourse will be helping us all to understand the complexity of what we're dealing with around the world and really probably developing some things that we haven't had before that allows us to give the rest of the world a clearer picture of who we are as a nation.

Billy Collins, poet laureate

I think the poems that help at times like these are poems that are about the ordinary things in life … that will fit us back into the world that we seemed to be shaken out of by trauma … There's a wonderful little Haiku … "The moon at the window / At least the thief could not take that." The sense is someone's come home and their house has been robbed but the thief could not take the moon in the window. So terrorists can take some things, but there are other things they can't take. Poetry is a shrine in a way for many of the things that they cannot take.

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