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America the Resilient
Defying Terrorism and Mitigating Natural Disasters
STEPHEN E. FLYNN is Jeane J. Kirkpatrick Senior Fellow for National Security Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations and the author of The Edge of Disaster: Rebuilding a Resilient Nation (Random House, 2007), from which this essay is drawn.See more by this author
When it comes to managing the hazards of the twenty-first century, it is reckless to relegate the American public to the sidelines. During the Cold War, the threat of nuclear weapons placed the fate of millions in the hands of a few. But responding to today's challenges, the threats of terrorism and natural disasters, requires the broad engagement of civil society. The terrorists' chosen battlegrounds are likely to be occupied by civilians, not soldiers. And more than the loss of innocent lives is at stake: a climate of fear and a sense of powerlessness in the face of adversity are undermining faith in American ideals and fueling political demagoguery. Sustaining the United States' global leadership and economic competitiveness ultimately depends on bolstering the resilience of its society. Periodically, things will go badly wrong. The United States must be prepared to minimize the consequences of those eventualities and bounce back quickly.
Resilience has historically been one of the United States' great national strengths. It was the quality that helped tame a raw continent and then allowed the country to cope with the extraordinary challenges that occasionally placed the American experiment in peril. From the early settlements in Virginia and Massachusetts to the westward expansion, Americans willingly ventured into the wild to build better lives. During the epic struggles of the American Revolution, the American Civil War, and the two world wars; occasional economic downturns and the Great Depression; and the periodic scourges of earthquakes, epidemics, floods, and hurricanes, Americans have drawn strength from adversity. Each generation bequeathed to the next a sense of confidence and optimism about the future.