By Eric Fung
Nearly two months after terrorist attacks in the United States, former President Bill Clinton delivered a clear message to an enthralled audience of 1,400 at the Roundup Centre in Calgary.
"The terrorists who attacked the World Trade Center and the Pentagon believed they were attacking symbols of American power, but they were wrong," Clinton said. "Today, our friendship is focused on our common effort against terrorism."
Calgary Renaissance organized the event, aptly titled "An Evening With Bill Clinton." According to president Greg Habstitt, the organization formed for patrons to hear great ideas.
Proceeds from the event were donated to the Canadian Paraplegic Association (Alberta) and the AIDS Calgary Awareness Association. This was Clinton’s first visit to Canada since the events of September 11 and accordingly, he spoke primarily to global interdependence, terrorism and their implications for the world. After the cocktail reception and a two-hour delay, the program began with introductions by Premier Ralph Klein and Mayor Dave Bronconnier.
"Your nation’s tragedy is also our nation’s tragedy," said Klein during his opening remarks. "I would like to thank the United States for leading the effort towards peace."
Clinton spoke after a sumptuous $375-a-plate dinner. He told the audience of his love for Calgary and quickly established a strong link between Canada and the U.S., and admirably demonstrated his renowned talent as an orator.
"We live in a society of dazzling diversity, but with an even stronger content of community," he said. "It’s important to recognize that we face formidable enemies with modern tools, and we are in a struggle to define the shape and soul of the new century."
Given the present situation, Clinton outlined a plan of action to follow focusing on winning the current fight for international development and the promotion of democracy. He specified that this was not in the slightest sense a battle of arms, and that the U.S. and others have suffered a tragedy that will have a brighter outcome.
"Though many people died on September 11, the offence always wins first, then the defence comes to prevail, if they do the right thing," he explained. "I don’t believe winning the fight is enough. We also need to see the problems of the world."
These problems, Clinton said, are a result of one thing: interdependence. To illustrate, he cited the dominant traits of the 21st century before September 11: globalization, the information technology revolution, the growth of democracy, the scientific revolution, environmental and health crises, and terrorism. These trends all reflect recent changes in the global community.
"The events of September 11 showed us the dark side of our increasing interdependence," he explained. "We want to encourage the benefits of interdependence and shrink its burdens."
Clinton stated that while the U.S. and Canada have done well in the global economy, they still have an obligation to promote democracy and reduce poverty, especially in those places where citizens have neither the responsibility nor the chance to express their opinions.
"[Investment in education, health, etc.] is cheaper than going to war, and it does a lot more good," he said. "There is a raging conflict in Islam on the nature of truth. A boy in a Taliban school can answer any question on the Koran, but he can’t tell you what two times two is."
Notably absent was anticipated commentary on his successor George W. Bush’s work. When asked about the current U.S. President, Clinton responded that it is important to be in office at times of tragedy, though it is a painful growth experience.
In the end, Clinton’s message was clear, and in spite of the late start, the spontaneous bouts of applause, and the man yelling from the back of the room, it was a night to remember: the night when the little man from Arkansas told patrons what they needed to hear.
"We are going to win the fight for the nature of truth, the value of life, and the content of community," the former president concluded. "We are going to get through this crisis, and it’s going to be alright."