September 24, 2001
Carter: 'Our nation will survive'
The 20th annual Carter Town Hall Meeting, held Sept. 13 in the P.E. Center,
was without a doubt the most somber in the events history.
Coming just two days after the terror attacks on New York and Washington,
none of the more than 1,000 in attendance was in the jovial mood that
normally accompanies the former presidents annual forum.
I know this is a special occasion, Carter said. Our
nation has been stricken by an unprecedented attack that will have the
same aftermath in suffering and indelible memory as the attack on Pearl
Our nation will survive, as it always has, he continued.
Were the strongest, most powerful, most freedom-loving nation
of them all.
As is Carters standard procedure, he opened his remarks by discussing
the recent work of the Atlanta-based center that bears his name. In the
previous weeks, Carter said, he had been in Mongolia, learning about that
Asian countrys fledgling democracy; in China, promoting democratic
reforms; and in East Timor, observing the tiny island nations first
free parliamentary elections. Next month, Carter said he and his wife
Rosalynn will be in Bangladesh, observing the election there.
This is the Carter Centers work, and all of that belongs
to you, he said. We have an inseparable marriage between the
Carter Center and Emory.
The focus of the evening, though, was the question-and-answer period,
where Carter always has answered fully any question posed to him. This
night was no different.
Asked if the country was at wara word used by President George
W. BushCarter said, No. But we are in a global confrontation
with terrorists who threaten [all] people in the world, not just Americans.
As was certainly to be expected, at least half of Carters discussion
was devoted to the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the
Pentagon, as well as their aftermath. And Carter was candid in his remarks.
I dont think theres any doubt that punitive action
must be taken, Carter said. He took his comments a step beyond simple
military movements and discussed the cultural implications of terrorism
Im afraid that one of the worst possible consequences of
a terrible and unjustifiable attack on us is that Americans might tend
to lash out at those who worship Allah and who happen to be Arabs,
Carter said, even though there are few of those who are guilty.
I hope that this doesnt happen.
The evening wasnt limited to talk of reprisal, however. For instance,
Carter was asked whether he though Microsoft should have been broken up
(he said no, but admitted being a personal friend of Bill Gates), why
he allowed Cuban refugees to land in Florida during his presidency (Carter
said he wanted to treat them humanely), and about the U.S. role in Tibet
(Carter said the head of Chinas foreign relations committee had
asked the Carter Center to send a delegation to China to explore the Tibetan
issuean invitation Carter said he is working through).
Carters response to a question about stem cell research brought
sustained applause. I personally wish that President Bush would
have authorized the unrestricted use of stem cell research, he said.
I think he made a mistake.
Carter also earned applause for his answer to a question from freshman
Amit Tiwarys question about what has motivated him to succeed.
Things that measure success are the things you cannot see,
Carter said, his voice softening with every word. Justice, peace,
humility, service, a willingness to forgive, compassion, sacrificial love:
Those are the most important attributes of life.
At this point, Carters voice was barely above a whisper. And
I would say the most perfect example of real success might be in the face
of a child with Downs Syndrome, a child who with absolute faith
will invariably look at you, a stranger, and with a beatific smile will
reach out his or her arms to embrace you. So I would say, in the eyes
of God, that would be success.
It was that sort of quiet emotion that hung over the gym throughout the
Even the normally sardonic William M. Dooley, who took to the stage at
the start of the program, understood the gravity of the evening.
Presidents may come and presidents may go. Professors may come and professors may go. Students may come and students may go. But Dooleyand freedomlives on forever, he said.. But we need to promote these things in the Middle East and not use them as an empty slogan.