Jewish World Review August 22, 2002 / 14 Elul, 5762
http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com | We citizens of the United States have always felt impervious to attack by an enemy. The distance between us and a potential attacker seemed protection enough. We had a wide ocean to the east of us and a wide ocean to the west of us. We had a friendly country north of us and a friendly country south of us. Russia was thousands of miles away.
Since the Sept. 11 attacks, we no longer feel so safe. Distance is not a deterrent to attack. Weapons can be delivered from great distances, but our enemies have weapons that don't have to be shot from cannons or flown here by long-range missiles. They're carried in by suitcase.
Because we've never been the object of a concerted attack by a well-armed enemy, we don't know how we'd react to one. It is possible to imagine millions of Americans panicked and scrambling to get out of the line of fire. If New York was the target, maybe they'd clog the highways headed for the Midwest. Or would they? There was some movement out of town after Sept. 11 by a handful of timid New Yorkers but hardly enough to change the population statistics. People in New York keep going about their business.
The President of Iran, Mohammad Khatami, has accused President Bush of using the Sept. 11 attack "to create an atmosphere of violence and war."
It is true that we're using the attack, but not for the reasons President Khatami claims. By making heroes of those who died and especially of the police and firemen who tried to save them-and died, we've turned the event into an emotional triumph instead of a bitter defeat. The approach has also reduced what might have been a paralyzing fear of the attack being repeated.
I was working as a reporter for the Army newspaper, The Stars and Stripes, in London in 1942 when the Germans were regularly bombing the city. It was bad and much of London was laid waste.
At the time, the editor of a London newspaper talked about how the English had reacted to the bombing raids that destroyed so much of their city.
"Many of us were anxious about the public reaction before the raids started," he said. "We didn't know how the people of a modern city would stand up to it. When the first raid hit London, neither the government nor the newspapers knew what the people who had been hit were thinking and how they would take it. That evening, putting out the newspaper, we decided to assume from what evidence we had that they had acted heroically, and the next morning we printed all the stories that came in to us of their bravery, their good humor and their uncomplaining patience.
"Right then," the editor said, "the newspaper fixed the pattern of how people ought to behave in an air raid. Perhaps they would all have behaved that way anyway. But you know, there is good and bad in all of us and the right example at the right moment can make all the difference in the way men act."
Our American newspapers did the same thing with Sept. 11. For weeks after the tragedy, newspapers and television news broadcasts were filled with stories of heroism. Everyone knew what was expected of them and behaved as they were expected to. It was wonderful. If a few people behaved in a cowardly or fear-filled way, we'll never know. It was television and newspapers that set the tone.
Over the years, civilizations have honored their warriors and idealized bravery as a means of encouraging men to continue to behave that way. It's why armies give so many medals. If a society honors brave men, more men faced with danger will react in a brave, rather than cowardly way because of their awareness of what the public reaction will be. We all look for approbation.
Reinforcing our resolve is reason enough for all the attention being given the Sept. 11 anniversary.
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08/12/02: The preemptive strike