The great exercise in self-abuse ended with a whimper, not a bang. The bang was previewed in the Middle East on "Bloody Sunday" in Israel and then played out Tuesday in Washington and New York.
The sputtering, stuttering, hissing and spewing of invective in one session after another against Israel (and America) at the United Nations Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia, and Related Intolerance reflected rather than dealt with the injustices that the conference had been called upon to decry. Israel was not singled out as pariah in the final document. That was supposed to be a triumph. Some triumph.
The words of rage in Durban were quickly transformed into sticks and stones in the Middle East - suicide bombers, drive-by killers, and scattered bombs that left several dead and more than a hundred wounded in Israel.
Then came the biggest bang of all. Hijacked airplanes set towers afire as the evil enemies of humanity employed the maximum intensity of their viciousness to slaughter innocents in the air and on the ground. As things seemed to fall apart, we watched every televised detail in terror that "the center will not hold." Our democracy, so brazen in its pride, so free in its spirit, so admirable in its ideals was threatened from without. But it's threatened by those who have only their hate to move them. Hate can win battles, but it has a hard time in wining wars. Hate consumes itself.
In less than 24 hours we have a new marker for history: Sept. 11, too, is "a date that live in infamy," the Dec. 7 for the 21st century. (And more Americans were killed on September 11 than at Pearl Harbor.)
The cliché of the day is that we got a wake-up call, with a bucket of ice water in the face. That's indeed what this terrorist attack was - a piercing wake-up call demanding better military and civilian intelligence against our enemies as well as the recognition that we must prepare for a different kind of war.
The vermin who plotted Sept. 11 might remember Admiral Yamamoto, the designer of the surprise attack at Pearl Harbor. When his colleagues praised him for great success in destroying the American fleet, the admiral, who was no dummy, replied: "I fear that all we have accomplished is to have awakened a giant, and made him very, very angry."
We don't yet know exactly who did what yet, but it's clear that terrorists elsewhere have aided and abetted the success of the murderers of September 11. President Bush got it right: Those who harbor terrorists are as guilty as those who commit terrorism.
Nor can we ignore all those young Palestinians in Israel, in Egypt and in other Middle Eastern countries who watched the explosions in New York with cheers of celebration. We have seen the enemy and it's the terrorist, the old, the young, and the apprentice.
President Bush must continue to establish his voice in a moral language commensurate with this tragedy. His speech Tuesday night was a start. When Ronald Regain spoke of the "evil empire" he knew what he was talking about, but it took a lot of time for the rest of us to understand the truth of his words. His insight was validated when the Iron Curtain collapsed of its own weight.
President Bush already finds it easier to fight terrorism today than it was yesterday, when so many Americans were still busy criticizing him for having instructed the American delegation to walk out of the Durban fiasco. He no longer has to persuade us that Israel's enemies are our enemies, too.
The heroes of September 11 are those New Yorkers who, covered with soot, dust and ash, stopped to help others who needed help. They showed us again that Americans are made of the right stuff. We who are quick to raise a fist are even quicker to extend a hand. For all the talk about global economies and global cultures and the erasing of national lines, it's this horrific day that will bring us closer together - to value, to cherish and to defend what we are, and who we can become.