Terrorism is a World-Wide War
Death then, being the way and condition of life, we cannot love to live if we cannot bear to die.
Some Fruits of Solitude, William Penn: 1693
In the past three centuries, Penns words have been significantly modified by latter day wordsmiths. The basic concept lives in many different forms, among them the aphorism He who is afraid to die, is afraid to live.
This week, the first anniversary of 9/11, we can appreciate how appropriate those words are. Much of our lives has returned to normal though much in our lives has not. We live, but things are not the same.
And probably never again will be.
Pearl Harbor, 21st Century Style
Dastardly events in Washington, New York City and on a flight over a Pennsylvania field on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, taught us how vulnerable we are. No longer is terrorism something that happens elsewhere to be seen on TV or in the daily press.
We learned in vivid detail that it can happen here. On the tube, many of us watched it unfold. Who can ever forget that second aircraft going into one side of the second tower, and a ball of fire coming out the other side?
Thats when we realized the strike of the first plane into the first tower minutes before was no accident. In many respects, it was a replay reminiscent of Pearl Harbor. We were at war, though a different kind of war not one ignited in a distant American territory in the Pacific but one that erupted on our very mainland.
As immediately after Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, confusion and chaos rose with patriotism to reign across our nation as the Twin Towers burned and tumbled in New York and just outside Washington a wing of the Pentagon was blown to smithereens. Who could work? Who could play? Who could take their eyes off the video coverage? Who could help but wonder who they might know in the World Trade Center? Or in the Pentagon?
Who can claim that they didnt at least sense moisture in their eyes? Dont be ashamed to say you cried. Im not, and I did.
Who can deny their hearts ached? Or their minds were filled with fear? As a whole, we were a nation confused, frustrated, frightened, united, bereaved and angry. Damned mad!
Now a whole year has passed, and in varying degrees we remain confused, frustrated, frightened, united, bereaved and angry. For weeks, many opted to avoid events that drew large crowds for fear of more terrorist attacks. Others needed time to consider priorities, to sort things out, to best try and go on with their lives as before.
Cicero said Time heals all wounds. But a year is not enough time. Nor, probably, is two, three or more. Nine-eleven haunts us.
To their credit most Americans have shed their fears of crowded places, big buildings, historic landmarks and even flying. They have come to realize, as Penn said, that an unreasonable fear of dying means missing out on so many aspects of living.
So we live. We work, we play, we love, we hate, we worry, we look to the future and many still grieve. Yet all around us there are so many things to remind us that in this nation, so many things are different.
On Dec. 7, 1941, there were more than 150 enemy aircraft; on Sept. 11, 2001, there were only four. But after Pearl Harbor, we knew immediately who our enemy was and we knew what had to be done. Our adversaries were obvious.
In the wake of 9/11, we know what must be done, but to whom? How? When? Where? We are fighting shadows, the unknown. We might say we have liberated Afghanistan and in the process, wiped out some if not much of the international terrorist network, but so much remains. Yet justice continues as elusive as Al-Qaida and Osama bin Laden.
Like all Americans over the past year, on the home front this writer has witnessed the shock, the after shock, the heroics, the spontaneous waving of the flag, the economic backlash and much else including the inconvenience of tightened security, and to some extent the compromising of some of our basic Constitutional rights.
In some neighborhoods and on many vehicles Old Glory no longer waves so conspicuously. The fervor for revenge (lets be realistic, thats what it is) has lessened among some. Government has inched back to politics and party lines in issues of security and foreign policy. There was no instant gratification, and much of the citizenry is an impatient lot. Restless.
You might say were in a curious fix. Nine-eleven is not forgotten, but among some there is evidence of less willingness to endure sacrifices or to aggressively pursue policies to ensure no repetition of the events of that date or even worse calamities.
The average citizen, of which I am one, really wonders what is going on. How committed are we? How committed are we when in the interest of political correctness, the National Education Association suggests that on the first anniversary of 9/11, teachers shouldnt suggest to their pupils that any group is responsible for the attacks furthermore advising some hogwash about discussing historical instances of American intolerance. Let me get this straight. Are we to accept blame for the murder by terrorists of thousands of our countrymen?
Then, tied in with all of this struggle against terrorism, is the question of Iraq the endeavor to unseat Saddam Hussein, a grand master of the terrorist game, a dictator undoubtedly delving into chemical, biological and nuclear weapons, a despot whose experiments with chemical gases deliberately killed many thousand Kurd residents of his own country.
Those in the White House are widely criticized for even considering action in Iraq. Its not up to us, the critics say. Leave it to the U.N. As critics did following World War I, when things were left to the League of Nations, then subsequently to Britain and France?
Some of us were around in the mid- and late 1930s to witness Hitler doing what Saddam is obviously doing today, preparing for revenge. We saw in news reels and read in newspapers of France and Britain continually backing down as Der Fuehrer gobbled up countries and like Saddam of late, and contrary to treaties, prepared for mass destruction.
As the anniversary of 9/11 comes, the home front has been relatively quiet, though the scars are still evident. But elsewhere in this world of ours, turmoil reigns, and worriedly we wonder where it will lead us.
Terrorism is certainly not dead. The fight against it remains in a quagmire, and we are far short of where we had hoped we would be by now in straightening things out with the help of so many other nations, once so sympathetic to our cause but now so cautious.
The words of William Penn are ignored.