The fight against terrorism is a battle to determine the course of the next century, former U.S. President William Jefferson Clinton told a crowd of about 5,600 in Harvard University’s Albert H. Gordon Track and Tennis Center Monday, Nov. 19.
Clinton reassured the audience that the United States and its allies will emerge victorious, but cautioned that we need to build a world that shares more broadly in the fruits of globalization.
“We are engaged in a struggle for the soul of the new century,” Clinton said. “The world’s poor cannot continue to be led by people like Mr. bin Laden and think they can find their redemption in our destruction. But the world’s rich cannot be led by people who play to our shortsighted selfishness and pretend we can forever claim for ourselves what we deny others.”
The 45-minute speech, sponsored by the Kennedy School of Government’s (KSG’s) Institute of Politics (IOP), was the first of a series of campus stops by Clinton that day. After the speech, Clinton attended a question-and-answer style meeting with Kennedy School students and faculty at the KSG’s ARCO Forum and then a private meeting, billed as a tea at Loeb House, with Harvard President Lawrence H. Summers.
Summers, who served as treasury secretary in the last years of the Clinton Administration, and IOP Director David Pryor, a former U.S. senator from Clinton’s home state of Arkansas, introduced the former president.
Summers hailed his former boss for his knowledgeable leadership, courageous decision making, and his ability to inspire others’ belief in the importance of public service. It is that belief, Summers said, that led to the sacrifices made by firefighters and others during the Sept. 11 tragedy.
“You have always inspired a belief in the value and importance of public service,” Summers said. “The most recent and poignant reminder of the nobility of public service came on Sept. 11 when the only people in America whose job it was to go up the stairs of the World Trade Center were public servants.”
The crowd, largely composed of Harvard faculty, staff, and students, welcomed the former president with enthusiastic applause and standing ovations at the beginning and end of his speech. The audience listened attentively, breaking into Clinton’s speech with applause a couple of times toward the end.
Jen Brooks ’04 said Clinton struck a chord with her in the way he addressed the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
“It was absolutely amazing and very inspiring,” Brooks said. “The way that he addressed the Sept. 11 tragedy, he gave a very hopeful message.”
Kathleen O’Brien ’03 agreed, saying the reassuring words help during a difficult time.
“What he said was so reassuring. It’s what everyone needs to hear right now,” O’Brien said.
Despite the close quarters in the expansive Gordon Track and Tennis Center, audience members were able to see close-ups of the former president projected onto large screens flanking the stage.
The cavernous arena was decked out with a large American flag almost covering one wall, the stage was backed by a blue backdrop hung with a large crimson IOP banner flanked by twin Harvard veritas shields. Rows of chairs were set up on the track’s infield, expanding the seating capacity provided by the row of bleachers along one wall.
The event had several lighter moments, including a presentation to Clinton by Harvard football captain Ryan FitzGerald ’02. FitzGerald presented Clinton – a Yale Law School alumnus – with a Crimson football shirt, complete with “Clinton” and the number “01” on the back. He also presented Clinton with a game ball, signed by the Harvard football team, from the Crimson’s historic victory over Yale, 35-23, last Saturday.
Clinton also got in on the act, joking about calling Summers “president,” saying Summers used to be the one who had to call Clinton that. “I think I liked it the other way around,” Clinton said.
He took a swipe at Harvard’s $18.3 billion endowment, saying, “Thanks to Larry’s leadership we actually ran some pretty healthy surpluses in the federal budget. But nothing could have prepared him for the kind of money you have here at Harvard.”
Globalization’s benefits, pitfalls
Globalization has been a favorite topic of the former president. Clinton’s eight-year administration, which ended in January 2001, saw several important agreements affecting global trade. The North American Free Trade Agreement, which opened trade borders with Canada and Mexico, went into effect in 1994, and the Global Agreement on Tariffs and Trade led to the 1995 establishment of the World Trade Organization.
In his speech Monday, Clinton cited among globalization’s benefits the recent rapid rise of technology, spread of democracy, and explosion of scientific knowledge. Those gains are offset by problems that include the spread of terrorism, environmental degradation, health crises such as the African AIDS epidemic, and the fact that large segments of the world’s population are missing out on globalization’s benefits.
Because globalization is already a reality, the debate has to be over how to maximize its benefits and reduce its problems, Clinton said. He listed a handful of promising programs as examples, such as an aid package to poor countries that distributes free meals for children – but only at schools. The result, he said, is that school enrollment is skyrocketing where the program is being used.
Clinton reassured the audience, which contained students for whom the Cold War’s nuclear tension and the Vietnam era’s military and social strife are just history. Addressing them, he said, terrorism is something people of all nations have been dealing with for a long time. None have been spared and very few have completely clean hands, he added.
“As chilling as what happened on Sept. 11 and the current anthrax scare is, good people have been working on this for a long time. They are getting better and will continue to get better,” Clinton said.
Clinton struck an optimistic note, saying that despite the relative quiet of the 1990s, the 20th century was the bloodiest in human history, with two world wars, smaller conflicts in Vietnam and Korea, and numerous other bloody struggles within and across national boundaries.
“I for one do not believe the 21st century will claim nearly as many people as the 20th century did,” Clinton said.
Central to that optimism, however, is the imperative that we begin to pay attention to the needs of the world’s poor and to make the preachings of radicals like bin Ladin less attractive.
“We have to build the pool of potential partners and reduce the pool of potential terrorists,” Clinton said. “Most important, in our hearts, we must make the world a home for all its children.”