September 11 – One Man’s Response
By Alfred P. Carlton Jr.
President, American Bar Association
This past year Americans embarked on a journey we neither foresaw
nor intended to take. The journey began with the horrific attacks
on September 11 – attacks not simply on important financial
and defense buildings serving our nation, but attacks as well
on our way of life, our values, and our sense of security. We
were incredulous and horrified, but, as is our way, we were
not stunned into inaction. We wanted to act, and act in ways
that would create understanding of who we really are as a people.
Like all Americans, lawyers were anxious to do something, to
help in some way. Articles appearing in the newspapers underscored
that students everywhere were trying to understand what had
happened and why. They were asking hard questions about why
our democratic form of government and the underlying ideas that
nurture our government and way of life were under attack. One
man felt the need to act. He saw that it was a perfect match
– who better than those trained in the rule of law to go into
classrooms and talk about the fundamental values of our democratic
society with the future leaders of our nation? – and set out
to make a difference.
Armed with this idea, Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy
designed "Dialogue on Freedom," to encourage judges
and lawyers to talk to high school students not only about the
ideals of a democratic society and how it fits into today's
world, but also about our continuing struggle to perfect our
democracy, constantly vigilant to new challenges, changing circumstances
and realistic evaluations of what we are doing right, and what
we are doing wrong.
Justice Kennedy not only proposed the program, he personally
participated in a half dozen dialogues in schools from Washington,
D.C., to California. The American Bar Association worked with
Justice Kennedy to implement the program, and lawyers and judges
throughout the country are now taking part in dialogues. The
San Diego Bar Association, for example, is sending lawyers into
some 175 classes to hold dialogues on September 11, as part
of the students’ remembrance of the events of 2001. Similar
events are taking place all around the nation.
What have we learned through this effort? We learned that the
flame of America’s passion for freedom continues to burn in
the hearts of our young people, and burns with an intensity
that demands freedom for all oppressed people, not only in our
nation but also in our world.
We learned that our young people are extraordinarily sophisticated
about the interdependencies of nations. We learned that idealism
continues to thrive in our youth and that underlying it are
strong moral and ethical convictions that bear a striking resemblance
to what we know were the convictions of our founders.
We learned, not surprisingly, that those students whose
family histories include personal oppression or loss of freedom
are most categorically opposed to any wrongdoing by any group
of people against the innocent.
We learned that it is our people who keep our democracy alive
and relevant. It is the obligation of one generation to not
take freedom for granted, but to share the responsibilities
of freedom with the rising generation.
We were not surprised by the fact that even in the blur
and frenzy of the months that followed the terrorist attacks,
there was great clarity in the minds of the students that our
nation and our freedoms, most especially freedom from oppression,
must be preserved at all costs. Though some may have wondered
at times whether the price of freedom was too dear a price to
pay at a time when our attackers were difficult to identify
and fatally committed to our nation’s destruction, our young
people have full conviction that the importance of freedom is
not in question. Their conviction renewed our own.
And as we took Justice Kennedy’s dialogues into more and
more schools, I learned anew the impact that one person’s vision
can have. It took courage and foresight to take on this challenge.
Judges so rarely step out in public arenas, but September 11
called for us to put away the sign that read "business
as usual" and find the courage to be bold in our beliefs.
This past year Americans embarked on a journey we neither
foresaw nor intended to take. When lawyers look at all that
we learned during our own journey into America’s classrooms,
we learned that there is a need for our journey to continue.