Where were you when...?
It's the question a fading generation still asks about the Kennedy assassination. Later generations will ask it about the terrible terror events of Tuesday, Sept. 11 - ironically, instructively, 911.
Just returned from a bucolic woodland where evil things do not enter, I was closeted behind the curve and out of the loop - trying to fashion a column about the power of the place. Then word came, and the time since has gone to trying to make sense of unimaginable enormity against innocents whose grim number we have only begun to count - terror against a civilian population on a staggering scale this beloved, beleaguered country never has seen.
What did we do to deserve this kamikaze killing via hijacked planes? The targets make the answer obvious: the World Trade Center and the Pentagon - tangible symbols of capitalism and the defense of freedom. America and Americans have achieved liberty and well-being unparalleled. Tuesday marked the culmination of envious, fanatical hatred for who, and what, we are. In alien creeps and creeds, we instill unforgivable dread and detestation by the mere fact of our being - that we exist.
We will determine who orchestrated and committed this ghastly business. Whether Osama bin Laden and his Al Qaida group - or, for deniability, its surrogates and cells. Whether Hamas or the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP) or the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP). Or whether some other despotism or assemblage of the cretinous malign.
Then we should - we must - track them down and deliver them unto Allah or his equivalent.
President Bush should elicit from Congress - now - a declaration of war against the perpetrators and any governments harboring them. On the assumption that those not with us are against us, we should regard as our enemies any governments failing to enlist in our quest for justice. In a war (jihad?) against America and its defining values - the war we are in - war, even irregular and asymmetric, must be our response.
This nation long has been slow to anger, but when angered nothing has proved able to stop it. Tuesday's death and maiming and mayhem, framed by unbelievable bravery and courage and heroism, all may constitute a wake-up call - may sound the tocsin, may combine at last to lift America out of a theretofore stupefying indifference to the nation's fate. If anything could, Tuesday's horror should generate a new national resolve....
- To revamp and revitalize our military - even funding fully an anti-missile system to prevent America and Americans from being held hostage to nuclear and bio/chemical blackmail.
- To empathize with Israel and other countries whose citizens are targeted by terrorists - as ours have been, and are.
- To reduce our vulnerability by enhancing our domestic security procedures in recognition that those and their kind who succeeded Tuesday likely will try again. And
- To unify as a people - to move up to a new oneness - with a little more civility toward one another, and a little more kindness, in the sobering and fortifying knowledge that we are all Americans together, and in this war together.
Those of us who survived the 9/11 attack will always remember where we were, whether involved or watching dumbstruck as the macabre spectacle unfolded.
Those maimed or directly affected will be forever changed, as will many of the rest.
In memory of the thousands who died (there, but for the grace of God), let us build on their deaths a new national resolve - their everlasting epitaph.