Former Director of Central Intelligence R. James Woolsey LAW ’68 used to talk to his favorite Washington, D.C., taxi drivers rather than trust public opinion polls. Speaking on campus Thursday, Woolsey imparted a piece of taxicab wisdom to the audience.
“[Terrorists] don’t hate us for what we’ve done wrong,” he said. “They hate us for what we do right.”
At the talk, which was the inaugural event for the Yale College Students for Democracy, or YCSD. Woolsey spoke about the importance of defending and promoting democratic values in the face of terrorist threats.
American citizens must be willing to compromise liberty for security at times, he said.
“During good and easy times, values we espouse don’t seem to conflict very much,” Woolsey said. “When you are at war and some portion of that war is being conducted by terrorist cells, liberty and security can conflict.”
Woolsey explained that the terrorists who planned the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon had a mindset similar to that of the Japanese who bombed Pearl Harbor in 1941. They both perceived America as a “rich, feckless, spoiled country” and capitalized on the relative weakness of American defense, Woolsey said.
While Americans must continue thinking about their security, they must also keep in mind the importance of civil rights, Woolsey said.
He called the Japanese internment camps established during World War II the “single biggest infringement” of American civil liberties in history.
“When this country gets scared, it can do terrible things,” Woolsey said.
Near the end of his speech, Woolsey stressed the importance of eliminating U.S. dependency on oil in the fight for democracy.
“By buying their oil, we continue to fund those against us,” Woolsey said.
Ultimately, hope for establishing democratic government in the Middle East cannot die, Woolsey said.
“Dictators need enemies. Democracies do not fight against each other,” Woolsey said. “There’s only one word for anyone who tells you Arabs will not be able to have a democracy and that word is ‘racist.’”
Woolsey said it was important to remember that the war ultimately comes down to a fight between freedom and terror. He said all of America’s major wars were fights in the name of liberty and democratic values.
“This is the fourth time this country and its democratic allies are on the march,” Woolsey said. “And we’re on the side of those that [America's enemies] most fear — their own people.”
Alexander Llerandi ’06 said he enjoyed the unique viewpoint and wealth of background Woolsey offered.
“I actually found it really informative,” Llerandi said. “I found that Woolsey offered some different perspectives on America’s current situation than you usually get to deal with.”
Robert Spiro ’06, co-founder of the YCSD, said he hopes the group will be able to offer a different perspective on campus activism, which is traditionally anti-government and anti-establishment. Created as a result of the Sept. 11 attacks, Spiro said the group’s primary effort is the promotion of democratic values and awareness about terrorism.