The first year of the millennium now enters history as one of sorrow and woe unbounded - of terror, death, economic distress, and lives (and life) forever changed. Yet it ended on a note of success in Afghanistan at least, with George Bush standing on an 86 percent approval rating, and an American nation - verily, a West - united as rarely before. So, as with all years, bad blended with good. A random walk through 2001 discloses these things, too ...
Abroad, the year saw AIDS exploding - particularly in the Orient, Eastern Europe and sub-Saharan Africa. The euro, the "Tiananmen Papers" and the Leonid meteors. The Kursk, the Cole, the Greenville (and the Ehime Maru). The Philippines volcano and the Ecuador quake. It was awful times in Zimbabwe and Argentina, dubious times in Colombia and Northern Ireland, improving times (maybe) in Macedonia and Brazil, improbable times between India and Pakistan, odd blood between Prince Philip and Prince Chuck - and Slobo Milosevic heading for trial at last.
2001 was Ariel Sharon throttling Yasser Arafat. It was Osama bin Laden and Mullah Omar - and Tony Blair making the case. It was Vladimir Putin in Crawford, Texas, yet all the while hammering his domestic press, holding down petroleum prices, flirting with NATO, selling forbidden goods to regimes he should not, urging his countrymen to scramble upward, and acquiescing to development of an American missile defense. It was John Tobin leaving a Russian jail and heading home to "the land of the free."
Nationally, 9-11 defined the year. Who will ever forget those images of the Pentagon and the World Trade Center - and Todd Beamer's "Let's roll!"? Who will ever forget the despair, the plummeting economy, Cipromania, worries about tomorrow - and an allegedly incompetent George Bush rallying a beleaguered nation? Who will ever forget the American military getting the job done?
The year was the flag everywhere - and yellow ribbons almost nowhere. It was Segway and stem cells, Santana High and Enron, Bill Clinton's pardons and Dick Cheney's heart. Jim Jeffords and Gary Condit, Jesse Jackson and Willie Brown, Cal Ripken retired and Lance Armstrong riding high. It was Lockheed's F-35 defeating Boeing's F-32, Bridgestone-Firestone battling Ford, Bush getting his tax cuts but Tom Daschle killing the stimulus bill, Robert Hanssen in the slammer and Petersburg's own Moses Malone in the Hall.
What else? California unpowered (and unempowered?). Rudy Giuliani to Ground Zero, Clinton to Harlem with a $10-million advance for his memoirs, and Al Gore with a beard ("I've always wanted to try teaching"). The Army Corps easing wetlands rules. Investigations of federal investigators, base closings and military reorganization delayed (but military retirees getting lifetime health care after 65), and seemingly an endless skein of studies concluding Americans are fat. It was "Harry Potter" and, even better, "The Lord of the Rings."
Finally, 2001 blew taps for, among others, these:
The thousands of victims of the Sept. 11 atrocities.
Dr. Christiaan Barnard. Sir Peter Blake. Timothy McVeigh. Laurent Kabila. Dale Earnhardt. Nguyen Van Thieu and Duong Van Minh. Maureen Reagan and Katharine Graham. Ely Callaway. Herblock. Poul Anderson and Robert Ludlum. Eudora Welty and Anne Morrow Lindbergh. Eddie Mathews and Willie Stargell. Alan Cranston, Mike Mansfield, William Rogers and Harold Stassen. Imogene Coca, Arlene Francis and Dale Evans. Jack Lemmon and Anthony Quinn. George Harrison and Perry Como. Isaac Stern.
A year ago, who would have thought 2001 would engrave in the lexicon box cutters, daisy cutters, "Rummy," and FDNY? Who would have thought one day would do so much to drive superficiality out of our lives - would congeal and heal a nation hemorrhaging in ways large and small, and restore its deeper values? Who would have thought the year would bring confirmation of Walker Percy's observation that "peace is only better than war if peace is not hell, too"?
Sept. 11 helped redefine America - helped remind it of its abiding goodness and essential strengths: generosity, humility, kindness, restraint, civility, charity, diligence, courage, perseverance - the last a quality championed by no one more eloquently than (reputedly) Calvin Coolidge: Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent cannot: Nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius cannot: Unrewarded genius is almost a cliché. Education cannot: The world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are invincible. The phrase "Press on!" has solved, and always will solve, the problems of the human race.
We were lost. Osama and his henchmen, awful as their deeds were, brought us home. For that, if for nothing else, we should thank these orcs - and keep on pressing on.