Reflecting on the Spirit of Sept. 11

The day after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the headline in Paris' Le Monde newspaper read "We are all Americans". Liane Hansen speaks with Jean-Marie Colombani, who wrote the article that ran beneath that headline about his reflections on that time.

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LIANE HANSEN, host:

The headline in the French newspaper, Le Monde, on September 12, 2001 provided comfort when Americans needed it the most. The headline read, "We Are All Americans."

Today, two days before the sixth anniversary of the September 11th attacks, it's hard to imagine a similar headline in a European paper, especially a French one. Jean-Marie Colombani wrote the article under that famous headline. He recently ended a 13-year stint as the editor of Le Monde, and we have reached him in Paris.

Thank you very much for your time, sir.

Mr. JEAN-MARIE COLOMBANI (Former Editor, Le Monde): Thank you.

HANSEN: How aware were you then of the response in this country to your headline, "We are all Americans"?

Mr. COLOMBANI: The response - I don't know. I wasn't aware of nothing. I was just conscious that we were entering a new period of our history so we had to be strong in the way of expressing it.

HANSEN: Many Americans remember the headline, but few remember, really, how movingly written your article was. You have a copy in front of you?

Mr. COLOMBANI: Yes, yes.

HANSEN: Ah.

Mr. COLOMBANI: Yes. Mm-hmm.

HANSEN: Would you read the opening of your column please?

Mr. COLOMBANI: The opening was, in this tragic moment, when words seem so inadequate to express the shock people feel, the first thing that comes to mind is this: we are all Americans, we are all New Yorkers. How can we not feel profound solidarity with those people, that country, the United States, to whom we are so close and to whom we owe our freedom, and therefore, our solidarity?

HANSEN: Do you remember your frame of mind when you actually sat down and…

Mr. COLOMBANI: Oh, yes. It was, I think, a very conscious of the historic moment, I think. And I told a journalist because the paper, of course, worked all the night, that we had a duty of not making mistakes on the gravity of the moment.

HANSEN: Were your sentiments echoed in other papers?

Mr. COLOMBANI: Yes, yes. Afterwards, of course, the - I think it had a very strong audience. It wasn't so surprising because at first, in the emotion of the tragedy, I think it was difficult for anybody to criticize this paper. The critics came afterwards.

HANSEN: What was the nature of the criticism?

Mr. COLOMBANI: Oh, the old French anti-Americanism which is still alive, which was still alive…

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. COLOMBANI: …which is a - in us, one of our own traditions. And that was well represented by President Chirac. Now, as you saw, we have another president with other views, fortunately, on this point.

HANSEN: I'm interested - the conclusion of your column, madness, even under the pretext of despair, is never a force that can regenerate the world. That is why today we are all Americans. Interesting point. What headline would you give a column about September 11th if you were to write a follow-up to this piece for this Tuesday's paper?

Mr. COLOMBANI: I think that I would insist on the mistake that - and the tragedy and the historic disaster initiated by the Iraq's invasion because, for me, it's a huge waste of an historic occasion to reunite as many country as possible, and I am against terrorism with the United States, and this was wasted by a short-view strategy on Iraq.

HANSEN: Jean-Marie Colombani's column, "We Are All Americans," appeared in the French newspaper Le Monde on September 12, 2001. He spoke with us from Paris. Thank you very much.

Mr. COLOMBANI: Thanks to you. Thank you.

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