They ravaged the New York skyline as a bitter show of their force. They hijacked planes filled with unwitting passengers to prove that they are as ruthless as they are organized. They invaded the heart of the U.S. military and showed Americans that we are vulnerable to terror.
Whoever they are, they want America to be frozen in terror.
Even people not involved in the attack want America to suffer. Those toothless Palestinians who reacted by celebrating and yelling, "God is great," want us to turn into Western versions of them -- dedicated to a stupefying hatred. They want us to be as ugly as they are.
Rage, dear reader, at the carnage, at the innocent lives snuffed, at the cruel way the victims died. Rage at the senselessness of an operation dedicated to killing people who aren't even an enemy.
Rage, but resolve not to let this episode turn America into a lesser country.
President Bush ordered "a full-scale investigation to hunt down and to find those folks who committed this act."
Great. Still, the president should know that there are many Americans less interested in speed than accuracy and effectiveness. Get the real bad guys, and if there is military action, work to minimize "collateral damage." Terrorists don't care who they kill. The United States of America should.
Precision, please. Remember that an early, off-base strike can enable some of those cowards to elude punishment.
Pundits already are comparing this day to Pearl Harbor, and Admiral Yamamoto's declaration that he feared the bombing had awakened "a sleeping giant." America will never be the same, some say. Hereafter, the country will be more vigilant.
That's fine, as long as the vigilance doesn't turn the country into a nation bent on distrust.
Congress no doubt will investigate how intelligence agencies were blindsided. Washington politicians will ask why, for example, Osama bin Laden was not tracked down and brought to justice since both the attack on the World Trade Center in 1993 and the bombing of the USS Cole in 2000. They'll be outraged that prosecuting terrorists was not accorded due priority.
Then there are those countries that have been happy to harbor terrorists. President Bush should come up with a payback plan that squeezes them.
Frequent travelers cannot be surprised that airport security failed to prevent four hijackings. Security checks of late have had the feel of a bureaucratic nuisance, not only for passengers, it seems, but for many security workers, as well. Washington must look for ways to make air travel less vulnerable to terrorism.
At the same time, Americans must beware of the danger of going overboard. Law enforcement must be careful to refrain from reckless racial profiling that gratuitously targets various ethnic groups. Civil liberties must not be sacrificed in a post-attack hysteria.
The terrorists win if Americans retreat into their homes, avoiding planes and government buildings. Citizens must resolve not to let this attack turn America into a barricade nation.
Never forget why terrorists target America. It's not our faults that bother them as much as our strengths and basic goodness.
Those are thoughts for tomorrow. For today, we must take a moment to bow our heads in remembrance of those who died. This week, families will gather to cry and rage at the loss of fathers and mothers, daughters and sons. There is no way to give their deaths meaning. One can only hope that their deaths don't spawn more stupidity and violence.