NEW YORK, N.Y., MAY 11, 2002 -- It is eight months since that terrible day, and while the memory of the events remains strong, the pain and outrage associated with the day seem to be fading for those not related to the dead.
We stand in limbo between that horror and a possible future assault. James Pavitt, CIA Deputy Director for Operations, predicts there will be another major terrorist attack by Islamic insurgents on American soil. "It's not a question of if, it's a question of when," Pavitt told the Middle East Newsline (www.menewsline.com).
The Bush administration claims it's doing everything it can to protect us. Yet, what kind of defense is there against people motivated by the type of religious hatred broadcast May 10 on official Saudi government television? In a 28-minute live sermon May 10 from the mosque in Medina, Shaykh Hasan Al al-Shaykh (cq) said, "O God, strengthen Muslims everywhere. O God, destroy the Jews and their supporters. O God, destroy the Zionists and their supporters. O God, use your power against them. O God, grant victory to the faithful...O God, deal with the Jews and their supporters, for they are within your power."
President Bush and his administration assure us the Saudis are our friends. If so, what would our enemies sound like?
Eight months ago, we lost more than lives and property. We lost some of our confidence in the strength and promise of America - an appreciation for what makes us unique in the world today and in world history.
The Circle Line tour of Manhattan is a good place to rekindle the patriotic fire that once burned in so many American hearts. Past Ellis Island we cruise, where Dave, the guide, reminds the 200-plus people on board that between 1892 and 1924, 22 million passengers and ships' crews came here, hoping to become Americans. Some of the hijackers who flew those planes on Sept. 11 passed over Ellis Island on the way to the World Trade Center. They might have caught a glimpse of the island, but unlike those millions of immigrants, they did not come with hope in their hearts, but with hate and evil intentions.
The loudspeakers on the boat deliver a bagpipe version of "Amazing Grace" as we near "Ground Zero." Passengers maintain respectful silence. Dave bows his head and puts his hand over his heart.
On around lower Manhattan we go, heading toward the New York Naval Shipyard (unofficially known as the Brooklyn Navy Yard). Here were built Robert Fulton's steamboat, the ill-fated Maine, and some of World War II's greatest battle ships, including the USS Arizona (now part of the Pearl Harbor memorial in Honolulu) and the USS Missouri, aboard which Japan signed the surrender documents. The USS Intrepid was refitted here in 1956 after World War II service and later served off Vietnam and as a recovery ship for American astronauts. It's now a museum anchored in New York Harbor.
Dave reminds us that Gen. George Washington lost New York City to the British in the last months of 1776 and that 5,000 revolutionary soldiers stood firm, giving Washington time to retreat so he might fight, and win, another day.
I end the tour with a new sense of love and appreciation for my country and the many who fought and died to give me the privilege of being an American. I also realize how reluctant we have been to teach our children what makes America unique in the world and why so many loathe -- and are jealous of -- the freedoms we enjoy. This is a land of freedom. Intolerant oppressors hate freedom and reject liberty of conscience because it deprives them of power over others.
The hijackers of Sept. 11 came from a region of political and religious oppression. Our forebears gave their lives so that others might be free of such things.
The Bush administration wants to enact policies to take advantage of the outpouring of patriotism ignited by Sept. 11. The administration believes love of country should be taught to schoolchildren. Why did we ever stop teaching kids to love this country? Was it because of the misguided notion that a few might be offended? We've seen the result of that kind of twisted thinking. If Americans don't love America, who will?
Perhaps all schoolchildren should begin their American love affair with the New York City Harbor Tour. Ask for Dave.