The commentary on George W. Bush’s Second Inaugural Address has noted its connection to themes advanced by John F. Kennedy (a point also noted here in connection with Bush’s acceptance speech last September), and to the themes of Natan Sharansky in his essential book.
But the hidden literary image in Bush’s Second Inaugural is “fire” -- a word that appears four times in the address.
The word “fire” appears at the beginning of Bush’s address, and then -- three times -- near the end. In the second paragraph, Bush describes the period that led to the current war on terrorism:
For a half century, America defended our own freedom by standing watch on distant borders. After the shipwreck of communism came years of relative quiet, years of repose, years of sabbatical -- and then there came a day of fire.
At the end of the speech, Bush says this -- in a passage beginning with “I also speak anew to my fellow citizens:”
[B]ecause we have acted in the great liberating tradition of this nation, tens of millions have achieved their freedom.
And as hope kindles hope, millions more will find it. By our efforts, we have lit a fire as well -- a fire in the minds of men.
It warms those who feel its power, it burns those who fight its progress, and one day this untamed fire of freedom will reach the darkest corners of our world.
Roger Clegg noted that the phrase "fire in the minds of men" comes from Dostoevsky’s novel "The Possessed" (the "most famous novel in world literature about terrorism"), and was taken by James Billington as the title for his 1980 book, "Fire in the Minds of Men: Origins of Revolutionary Faith."
In "The Possessed," one of the characters watches arsonists' fires raging throughout a quarter of the town. He sees a man on the roof of one of the burning houses and asks what he is doing (page 513):
"He’s putting out the fire, sir."
"Not likely. The fire’s in the minds of men, not on the roofs of houses."
A fire came on September 11 to the roofs of our tallest buildings. That fire has been put out, and we have "lit a fire as well" -- a fire in the minds of men.
That fire has already begun to reach the darkest corners of our world.
It came to Afghanistan, where millions of men and women braved physical danger to vote. It came to the Ukraine, where millions voted and then overturned a fraudulent count. It will come to Iraq on January 30, where millions more will literally risk their lives to vote.
And it may have started to come to the West Bank and Gaza, where the January 9 election will be followed by potentially more significant legislative ones later this year. On January 11, David Makovsky, in the course of a presentation to the Council on Foreign Relations, said this:
[P]eople think this is just President Bush. This is a big mistake, that he's the only one in the world thinking about democracy in the Middle East. What's important here, is the reason why these elections are resonating is that this message of the president -- it's because the people on the field want it.
They want it no less than the people in the White House. Their view is, Elections are our only vehicle to get new blood in who want a more democratic society. We know how the Arab societies are based, and we don't want another Arab state. Every Arab that I meet who is a reformist said, "We don't want another Arab state."