Monday, September 11, 2006

Palpable Fear, Close to Home

"The lessons of 9/11."

We’ve heard that phrase over and over for five years. Of course, what those lessons should be has depended entirely on who was doing the talking. So, one of the lessons of 9/11 surely is that we will all be hearing about 9/11 for the rest of our lives.

For Americans, especially those who live on the East Coast, it was a day unlike any other. Like most of us I remember where I was that morning, what I was doing. Five years ago I was writing opinion pieces for Richmond.com on a regular basis. The first thing I wrote about 9/11 was written that same afternoon and evening. It wasn't easy to gather one's thoughts. Here is a portion of that piece:
Wednesday, September 12, 2001
Indelible Images
by F.T. Rea

Before the first hijacked airplane smacked into the World Trade Center at 8:45 a.m., EDT, Sept. 11, 2001, there were millions of vexations, large and small, on the minds of New Yorkers starting their workday. Suddenly, all those thoughts vanished in the fireball that began the series of explosions that destroyed the rosy illusion shared by many; that New York and Virginia were safe from large-scale terrorist attacks.

The collapse of Manhattan’s World Trade Center Towers, 110 stories tall, and the penetration of the Pentagon in Arlington provided us, one and all, with the stuff of nightmares.

At the same time, the inspirational stories of the heroism of professional rescuers and ordinary citizens have already provided hope for red-eyed television viewers everywhere that decency and courage will endure in this country, in spite of the heinous acts of mass murderers.

Some of the gut-wrenching images provided by television’s instant news capability will no doubt prove to be indelible. They will be remembered always, just as images associated with the stunning assassination of President John F. Kennedy on Nov. 22, 1963. The shock of watching the supposed assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald, murdered on live TV by Jack Ruby remains palpable for this scribe to this day.

Watching that Boeing 767 bank into the second of the two WTC towers to be hit, some 18 minutes after the first crash, is certainly a picture that millions will remember forever; not unlike the bewildering explosion of the Challenger Space Shuttle on Jan. 26, 1986.

As with the Pearl Harbor sneak attack 60 years ago, life for families in New York, Virginia, and all across America has changed suddenly and forever. The lull enjoyed in this country, before this newest day of infamy, has literally gone up in smoke.

Comparisons to those three tragedies are fair, even though there are clear differences. It’s only natural that a nation rocked by the impact of such events try to get its arms around the context of what has happened...
And, here's some of what I wrote in the days immediately following 9/11, as part of the One-on-One weekly series of OpEds I was doing then, opposite Robert Holland:

September 16, 2001
Palpable Fear, Close to Home
by F.T. Rea

After being a spectator in the realm of international terrorism for decades, bloodthirsty fanatics have invaded America and brought their chilling malice close to our homes. Fear and rage are in the air. What’s next?

Following a weekend set aside to mourn the dead and gather ourselves, it’s high time to face the future with eyes wide open. Even as the pros and the volunteers continue to carry out body parts from under the mountains of rubble in lower Manhattan, dust in the air and swelling patriotism should not be allowed to blur our vision or deter our will to endure this ordeal.

Nor should justifiable anger be allowed to propel this nation into taking action that will only play into the hand of the fiendish mindset that dispatched precision teams of terrorists into this country, to insidiously corrode our way of life.

Now, more than ever, it is essential that we move in a measured way. Clearly, no matter how much Americans need to pull together at this most crucial time, we cannot permit political spin to substitute for straight talk and wise strategy.

With those thoughts in mind, I must first ask President George W. Bush to listen to the leaders in Europe and ratchet down his rhetoric. In spite of what Bush has been saying to the cheering mobs, "war" is not the best word to use at this time.

Nor is it an accurate term. The United States is at peace with the other nations of the world and this is absolutely a time for cool heads to prevail.

Watching the heartbreaking toil of the rescuers and the pain-etched faces of glassy-eyed searchers for love ones, yes, it is entirely understandable that a hard-pressed president, groping to connect with the pain of the citizenry, would want to invoke the strongest of language.

Nonetheless, this new president simply must listen to his better angels. It won’t help our cause to put the whole world on the reddest of alerts. Plus, Americans are already angry and scared enough to let their chosen leaders carry the ball.

This son of a president needs to calm the population down and demonstrate that he is up to the arduous task ahead. Leaders of our allies in Europe are already issuing statements regarding this problem of reckless language in hopes of easing off on the pressure that is building.

On top of that, war is a dog-eared word that has been abused by spin doctors in this country’s past. Remember the fizzled War on Poverty? How about the utterly failed War on Drugs?

Let’s not kid ourselves. Threatening religious fanatics by saying we are going to war with them is not going to frighten them one whit. This enemy doesn’t expect to win, or even survive. Its automatons are willing to die merely to cause suffering and wreak havoc. This enemy lives only to pay back.

With that nasty thought in mind, we should not miss this opportunity to express to the Arab world, as a whole, that America recognizes that the residual anger all Arabs feel for having been subjugated, as a people, by colonial powers in the past is legitimate. If this country’s spokesmen demonstrate that simple concession, clearly for all the world to see, it will be immensely easier too for it to win over moderates in the Middle East that are essential to this mission’s success.

What we have is a mission, or perhaps a calling. America, the world’s only super power, must marshal its forces and lead civilization in a campaign to expose terrorism for the blight on humanity that it is. We must isolate the sociopaths, masquerading as patriots and clerics, who practice terrorism.

The USA will have no trouble finding allies for this mission if it is the least bit artful. Bombing whole countries in order to punish a handful of people will only perpetuate the very scourge we aim to eliminate.

Remember, in many parts of the world terrorism has been part of daily life for decades. So, there are plenty of terrified people who will be glad to see murderers in their midst taken down.

What’s happening to Slobodon Milosovich right now is what needs to happen to Osama bin Laden, providing he is indeed the man who set all this in motion. This country should put its evidence before the United Nations and go after the international criminals behind the massacres of Sept. 11, 2001, with the enthusiastic blessing of the vast majority of the peoples of the world.

Moving with anything less than that will doom us to failure.

Once captured, assuming the accused survive that dicey process, they should be tried in a world court and given their just due. Then let’s have a party. Of course, if they refuse to be taken alive, well...

Meanwhile, dropping bombs willy-nilly on Afghanistan or Iraq won’t bring back the dead. That strategy will merely justify, and set in motion, the next terrorist attack on our soil. Then we will be trapped in the endless payback game.

This piece should in no way be interpreted as a lack of support for what President Bush has said will be the focus of his administration: wiping out terrorism. Many have counseled that this is exactly what it should have been all along. I hope this also means we will hear less about the so-called Star Wars plan.

Without a doubt, terrorism has been the biggest threat to civilization for many years...
Remembering 9/11, with five years of perspective, I am glad my daughter and her family no longer live in the suburbs of DeeCee.

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