Fittingly, in the wake of September 11, there is increased appreciation of the vital importance of our police and our military in defending us against attack.
But the terrorist assaults should have also underscored the crucial role of another group of American heroes. The deeds of those individuals, unfortunately, continue to go unrecognized.
Remember that as admirable as our men in uniform are, we would be better off if their courage were not needed–i.e., if there were no criminals to jail or foreign aggressors to defeat. Their actions derive meaning from the values they dedicate themselves to protecting–the values commonly described as the “American way of life.” But what is that exactly–and who is responsible for creating it?
To those who caught even a glimpse of daily life in Afghanistan, the contrast to life in the United States is shocking. In that primitive country there are few cars or paved roads, no shopping malls or bountiful grocery stores, virtually no high-rises, little in the way of entertainment–be it television or movie theaters or concert halls–few hospitals, no high-tech devices. What there is, in abundance, is the backbreaking labor of a subhuman existence. Unlike America, Afghanistan has scant material wealth and virtually no industrialization.
Why? What explains this lack? Only one factor: the absence of freedom.
Afghanistan has been a country without liberty. Its citizens had no right to think for themselves: their “thoughts” were dictated by the Taliban. They had no right to property: what meager goods they managed to produce was loot for the nearest warlord. They had no right to pursue their own happiness: their lives were supposed to belong to God and to the state.
The American way of life is, fundamentally, a life of individual liberty. Devoid of the freedom that America’s men in uniform safeguard, Afghanistan lacked the type of person who flourishes only under freedom: the businessman. It is the free mind of the businessman that raises the capital and creates the methods by which the discoveries of science are transformed into commercial products.
It is the businessman who invents assembly-line production and turns the automobile from a curiosity into a necessity. It is the businessman who figures out how to deploy the latest discovery in chemistry into a fertilizer that boosts agricultural yields. It is the businessman who coordinates and directs vast amounts of capital and labor in order to build transcontinental railways, colossal dams, ocean-hopping passenger planes, and electrical generating stations. It is the businessman who is among the first to recognize the value of innovations, patiently waiting for others to see what he has seen–and so builds an IBM or a Microsoft, which raises everyone’s standard of living.
The businessman is the one who devotes his mind to producing wealth. The businessman is the creator of the American way of life–a life of prosperity and progress made possible by freedom. Without his present and past actions, our daily lives would resemble the dismal existence of the Afghanis.
The terrorists, who in their words “love death like Americans love life,” understand the connection of business to life. That is why they struck at the symbols of commercial success: the skyscrapers of the World Trade Center. It is time we grasp that same connection.
Rather than denounce businessmen whenever the price of gasoline rises (and, when it falls, take that as proof that the price was too high in the first place)–rather than habitually cast businessmen as the villains in our TV shows and movies–rather than smear all businessmen for the dishonesty of a few who want to get rich not by production, but by fraud–we should praise the producers.
The attacks of September 11 have made people more acutely aware of the value of the American way of life–and of those who defend it. But the many businessmen who perished on that date, and their thousands of brothers-in-spirit who survived, are the individuals who make that way of life a daily reality.
In justice, as we commemorate the anniversary of that tragic day, should we not also pay tribute to these heroes?
Copyright 2002 Ayn Rand Institute. All rights reserved. That the Ayn Rand Institute (ARI) has granted permission to Capitalism Magazine to republish this article, does not mean ARI necessarily endorses or agrees with the other content on this website.