One rainy day in 1943, my father picked up his new B-17 Flying Fortress at the Boeing factory in Seattle and piloted the plane straight to Europe, where he used it to help win a war that would make the world safe for, among other things, free trade. He loved Seattle, its mist-washed hills and tasty seafood. (This was before the place became better known for its coffee, music and proximity to Microsoft.) But he'd be appalled to see to his generation's dream of a free and prosperous global order. As we report in this week's cover story, violent protests disrupted a meeting of the World Trade Organization, the body that referees commerce among nations. Asians, who have prospered greatly from the postwar growth of exports, must think Americans are nuts to protest something as self-evidently salutary as free trade. Many of the demonstrators were indeed misguided, and our story explains precisely why. But a few were raising intelligent concerns--and the evident willingness of some member countries to consider them may result in a stronger, fairer global trading system. Our principal guides through this tear-gas scented landscape are Toronto bureau chief Steven Frank and Washington economic correspondent Adam Zagorin. It's not every day that you walk out of a hotel in a major American city and see scores of riot police firing tear gas, pepper spray and rubber bullets at hundreds of chanting protesters, says Frank. Reports Zagorin: Most of those demonstrating in Seattle were working people, environmentalists and other activists genuinely concerned about the growth of trade and its impact on the world. As clouds of tear gas and pepper spray wafted through Seattle's streets, many demonstrators were as troubled as I was that violence had broken out.
That's the good news. The bad news is that such an important event could be derailed by a relatively small group of hard-line anarchists; in an accompanying story, we describe these shadowy provocateurs in detail. The potentially hopeful news is that last week's battle in Seattle may cause Asians and others who benefit from international commerce to stop taking the gradual dismantling of trade barriers for granted. After police finally gained control, and talks to launch a new global trade round got under way, says Zagorin, something seemed to have changed: trade would no longer be a subject only for experts, but an issue--as the protesters repeatedly shouted--that 'the whole world is watching.'