My first thought last Tuesday, as the horrifying realization sank in that this was not some sort of special-effects hoax, was that it was Pearl Harbor all over again, that this is how the U.S. is pulled into yet another world war.
But not World War III. It's a new century and a very new world. To extend a 20th century numbering system into this new age may cause us to miss important distinctions and implications for the sort of world that will emerge in this war's aftermath. Those 20th century global conflicts were wars of ideology prosecuted by alliances of nation states. They were wars
; this one will be a war
This will be a worldwide
war, to result in the definition and establishment of a set of laws that will facilitate the evolution of a truly global, truly civil society. It will be a better world, and because it will be, the innocent victims of Sept. 11 will not have died in vain.
The Bad With the Good
Globalization is one of those buzz words that we think we understand, until some new element presents itself to demonstrate how difficult it is to fully comprehend the new, when all our experience has been in the old. Like many others, I was tutored in "open economy macroeconomics," in which a national economy is an organic entity with an outer cell wall through which imports and exports pass. As the world has changed, it has become helpful to see it as a globally closed system, a single planetary economy with everything inside the cell wall.
In a source-anywhere, sell-anywhere world, the distinctions between trade among nations and trade within nations are more apparent than real. By bringing everything within the cell wall, within the border, it has been and will continue to be possible to achieve great gains in income and in welfare through economies of scale, the extension of markets and more economical use of resources.
But by bringing everything within the border, you get what ever is out there. You get the bad with the good. That's where the process of globalization has evolved to, and that's what will be dealt with in the war ahead.
There are no certainties in life, as last week's appalling tragedies will testify, but there already are hopeful indications of a postwar outcome that will transcend some of the problems faced so far by people of good will everywhere. NATO has for the first time invoked Article Five, its collective defense clause in which an attack on one is deemed an attack on all.
E pluribus unum
. Russia and China, erstwhile foot-draggers, have pledged full support and cooperation. Ditto for Pakistan, a changeling nation of allies and adversaries. It remains to be seen just how these and other such pledges will be redeemed, but it is possible to hope that, as so often in the past, a common enemy will create unity from diversity.
The perpetrators of the crimes of Sept. 11 certainly have fused the great strength of American diversity into a unity that will prosecute this 21st century world war, as President Bush declared, "to victory. To victory!" But the sheer heinousness of their acts, and the nearly universal sense of "there but for the grace of God go I," promises that a greater unity may be developed from an even broader diversity. If so, the victims of Sept. 11 will not have died in vain.
The Importance of Tolerance
To create unity from diversity requires tolerance. We humans seem to be imperfectly capable of tolerance, but at least in this country we're working on it. But there are some things that should not be tolerated, and the coming world war will help to define the extent and the limits of tolerance. For example, if an individual claims to hear voices instructing him to commit murder, we say he is psychotic and should be locked up for the public good. But if that psychosis is given a veneer of religious doctrine or nationalist fervor, it is often treated as if it is other than a sickness to be contained or eliminated.
No more. No more Mr. Nice Guy, as President Bush implied when he declared that nations will be asked if they are with us -- or not -- in this undertaking. One of the hallmarks of a truly global society is a tolerance of diversity, and one of the mileposts on the way to its creation is an agreement on the limits of that tolerance.
In his column in Friday's
New York Times
, Thomas Friedman relates a parallel offered by Shimon Peres, Israel's foreign minister. Peres noted that when it was determined that smoking causes cancer, people began to demand separate nonsmoking sections. Terrorism, he argues, is the cancer of the global economy, the global society, and nations now must be asked to declare whether they prefer smoking or nonsmoking.
In the deep sorrow of the moment, it is possible to look ahead and imagine the benefit that will flow from these tragedies. In the interest of greater diversity and a greater unity, it is necessary to establish the limits of tolerance. The world war ahead promises to go a long way toward establishing and enforcing such limits. If so, the innocent victims of Sept. 11 will not have died in vain.
Jim Griffin is the chief strategist at Hartford, Conn.-based Aeltus Investment Management, which manages institutional investment accounts and acts as adviser to the Aetna Mutual Funds. His commentary on the financial markets is based upon information thought to be reliable and is not meant as investment advice. While Griffin cannot provide investment advice or recommendations, he invites you to send comments on his column to