September 16, 2001
Terror strikes, and a united America family emerges
by Donna J. Wade
When I was a kid growing up in Georgia, Mama used to say that the only time my four siblings and I weren't fighting each other was when we were ganged up on somebody else. We could give each other bloody noses, but let someone outside the family try it, and there was hell to pay. An attack against one of us was an attack against all. The American family is no different.
For all the spirited political disagreements, differing priorities and varied perspectives on the course our nation should travel, Americans pull together in times of crisis like no other nation on earth, willfully setting aside cultural and political differences to serve a greater good. This is such a time.
Throughout our history, our leaders have garnered public support for our military involvement in world conflicts by pitching a moral imperative. That representative government, democracy, is morally superior to communism was one of many prevalent ideas fueling the Cold War. Preachers and politicians alike cautioned about the "Evil Empire", so that no matter what atrocities occurred in our efforts to vanquish this enemy, we were justified in using any means at our disposal because we are, after all, the folks in the white hats, the good guys.
I believe that our national feeling of moral superiority only added to our communal outrage and surprise over the attacks on New York and Washington. We were caught off guard partly because we as a nation didn't believe anyone would have the balls to attack our turf.
But we have known for a long time that Osama bin Laden is a completely different kind of animal. He declared war on America and her citizens years ago, and all of his efforts since that declaration have focused on bringing an end to our global influence and to our way of life. As Islamic fundamentalist extremists, OBL and his followers have no fear of dying, believing that death in this "holy" war gains them brownie points in the hereafter. They live more in anticipation of the next life, and are less concerned about preserving this one.
No matter what happens to bin Laden, there will always be someone willing to step in and die for a perceived divine mission. To think this incident is the first and last time terrorism will scar our national soul would be more stupidity than naivete. Throughout history we have seen the atrocities visited upon unsuspecting victims by zealots purporting to be doing the will of God. If we don't see how serious a threat to our nation and its security these extremist factions present, and devote adequate resources to its elimination, we will deserve what we get.
The truest test of our national mettle will be in our reaction to Arab Americans and Muslims, as well as whether we can restrain our desire for retaliation and revenge rather than justice.
I've personally struggled with this issue, because I am not a supporter of the death penalty, viewing it as state sanctioned murder. I know executions are a time-honored tradition, but I dont see how society can benefit by lowering itself to the same level as the people it intends to punish.
But my moral reservations about executions have waned in the face of the unspeakable horror perpetrated on September 11. I have come to embrace another of Mamas maxims, "some folks just need killing." In fact, I'm hoping that when they find bin Laden and his ilk, that we bring back public hangings especially for the occasion. Erect the gallows on the site where the World Trade Center once stood, and broadcast it globally as an assurance of things to come for those who even think about proclaiming bin Laden a martyr and taking up his mantle.
US counterintelligence specialists report that bin Laden is suspected of having branches, or "cells" of his loosely-knit terrorist alliance in nearly 60 nations of the world. The pervasiveness of his network causes the US to seek to build a global alliance of its own to eradicate this threat to humanity. Though it might be a balm for our wounded national psyche to use our military might to level Afghanistan in an effort to flush bin Laden out of hiding, acting alone at this time could be counterproductive, only fueling anti-American sentiment both within and outside our borders.
We are, after all, a country ruled by laws enacted by elected representatives. To breach those laws in pursuit of vengeance would be a disservice to the memory of those who perished at the hands of these madmen. And the psychos will have won.
There's not much difference between a bully and a terrorist. If we adopt the terrorist rules of engagement, we diminish not only the lives that were lost, but the altruistic, tireless efforts to rescue them as well. We will have fulfilled the prophecy I once read in the Sunday comics: "we have seen the enemy, and it is us!"
Situational ethics have no place in our national response to this attack. President Bush fancies himself a unifier, not a divider, and he can prove it by forging a global alliance of nations focused on eradicating terrorism from the planet. He has signaled that this is his intent, but sometimes even the best of intentions go awry with the passage of time and changing circumstances. (Like not touching the Social Security surplus). Time will tell.
Like the family feuds of my childhood, the US must seek backup from the global community to ensure success in this endeavor. In a fight for your life, it's nice knowing a kindred spirit is watching your back. The terrorists wont go easily. Theyll give as good as they get until they cant any longer.
So this is no time to go it alone. The countries of the world know that if it could happen to us, the world's remaining superpower, no nation is safe or immune from attack. Hopefully, that knowledge alone is incentive enough for nations to commit resources to united efforts against the terror of violent religious extremists. The global outpouring of outrage and condemnation creates a common ground from which to forge such an alliance if we dont let the opportunity pass us by.
I can only imagine how emotionally difficult it is for rescuers to relentlessly dig through tons of rubble with their bare hands, fully knowing that people they know and love are buried in there somewhere. That kind of mind-numbing pain and emotional stress is incomprehensible to most of us. The cops, firefighters, civilian volunteers and military personnel taking part in the rescue efforts are shining examples to the world of what it means to be an American.
So are the passengers on board the San Francisco-bound airliner who, after hearing about the WTC attack, confronted their hijackers, causing the plane to crash in Pennsylvania before reaching its intended target, believed to have been either the White House or the Capitol. In true American tradition, they sacrificed their lives so that others might continue theirs.
We will rebound from this tragedy, because that's what Americans do. I hope we all, individually and collectively, renew our commitment to the freedoms we too often take for granted. And I hope we never forget what happened on September 11, 2001, because failure to learn from this incident will only bring more like it.
Copyright 2007 Donna J. Wade / All Rights Reserved