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Palo Alto Online

Publication Date: Wednesday, September 11, 2002

Guest Opinion: Chiseled words: Combat 'every tyranny over the mind of man' Guest Opinion: Chiseled words: Combat 'every tyranny over the mind of man' (September 11, 2002)

by Gordon Earle

One year ago today I rushed outside our New York City apartment and looked up at the World Trade Center towers four blocks away -- and saw in awe and unbelieving horror the second plane's flaming devastation as it hit the South Tower.

Although the tragedy occurred a year ago, people across this nation -- from New York to California -- are still trying to cope with the horrific events of Sept. 11.

Memories of that day have never left me from the moment I saw United Flight 175 slam into the south tower of the World Trade Center. I like everyone else was shocked and devastated by this mindless act of terrorism. I saw people die, my family was displaced -- I wondered if the world would ever return to normal.

As months passed, I asked, along with many thousand others: How do I -- or any American -- live with what happened? How do we regain our sense of balance and peace?

My answer came to me -- of all places -- in the back seat of a Washington, D.C., taxicab at the end of a business trip. I made an instinctive decision to travel to Capitol Hill before returning home.

I didn't fully realize it, but I was searching for peace, for a way to overcome 9/11-related anxieties that my family and I had been unable to shake. During many previous trips to Washington, the Capitol had always lifted my spirits.

On this day -- warm, sunny, with a brilliant blue sky -- it again provided comfort. As I gazed at the Capitol's gleaming white facade, I couldn't imagine anything destroying it, not bombs, or airplanes or anything else. I began to feel safe.

As if pulled by some historical force, I started walking toward the Jefferson Memorial, where the meaning of my odyssey came sharply into focus.

Engraved in the ceiling of the Memorial were words taken from a letter Jefferson wrote more than 200 years ago. They said, simply and elegantly: "I have sworn upon the alter of God eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man."

"Tyranny over the mind of man," I repeated several times, to myself. Wasn't this what the terrorists were trying to accomplish by instilling feelings of fear, paranoia and suspicion in all Americans? Aren't we obliged to swear hostility against those who seek to destroy us? And shouldn't our actions be swift, persistent and unyielding?

Lost in thought, I continued walking along the Tidal Basin and literally stumbled upon a memorial I didn't know existed -- one dedicated to Franklin Delano Roosevelt. There, amidst a monument of rocks and waterfalls, I read words as powerful -- and meaningful -- as Jefferson's.

"The only limit to our realization of tomorrow will be our doubts of today," the first inscription began. "Let us move forward with strong and active faith." Like Jefferson, Roosevelt seemed to be reaching out from history and speaking directly to me, to the crisis or our times, not his. Another inscription struck me right in the heart: "...there comes a time when men of good will find a way to unite, and produce, and fight to destroy the forces of ignorance and intolerance and slavery and war." Amen, I muttered quietly.

I thought of our need to fight prejudice and ignorance -- to embrace our Islamic friends -- when I read the following, etched in stone: "We must remember that any oppression, any injustice, any hatred, is a wedge designed to attack our civilization." And finally there was the famous: "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself."

I was almost carried by those lofty words to the Lincoln memorial, where an inscription of the Gettysburg Address reminded me of the hundreds of people who died after rushing into the burning towers of the World Trade Center to save others. While Lincoln was speaking about valiant soldiers who had fallen in battle, he could well have been talking about those who perished at Ground Zero.

"We can not dedicate -- we can not consecrate -- we can not hallow -- this ground," Lincoln said. "The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here."

The short, powerful address ends this way: "It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us -- that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion -- that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain -- that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom -- and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth."

Heading home to New York City, I felt a sense of peace I had not experienced in weeks. The wise and comforting words of Jefferson, Lincoln and Roosevelt -- who had led our nation through its most perilous times -- gave me hope and strength.

I knew those were the real weapons I needed to combat the deadly threats of hatred and terrorism.

Gordon Earle on Aug. 12 became vice president for public affairs at Stanford University. He resides in Menlo Park. He can be e-mailed at


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