Jewish World Review Sept. 17 2001 / 28 Elul, 5761
These attacks upon America, which both shared and exceeded the worst aspects of Pearl Harbor and the Kennedy Assassination combined, have united this previously bitterly divided country in a way that I was not sure was still possible. Ironically, one of the forces that has splintered us over the past decade or so, the fragmented media which has largely robbed us of our common experience and has separated us along demographic lines, has been the main vehicle through which we have all been suddenly brought together, perhaps like never before. While we all may be watching different networks, at least we are all, for once, on the same page, with the same agenda, and, judging from opinion polls, thinking largely the same thoughts.
It seems that even geography (unlike with past national incidents, such as the Oklahoma City bombing) plays almost no role in the way that Americans are reacting to this horrendous catastrophe. At least for now, sharp divisions among blacks and whites; men and women; Northerners and Southerners, Easterners and Westerners; young and old; rich and poor, and Democrats and Republicans have seemingly crumbled away as quickly as the twin towers themselves. We have all become just Americans again and, frankly, that it is quite refreshing and more than a little surprising. After the ugly display in Florida after last year's election, I was beginning to doubt that we still had our trademark ability to unite under adversity that has made this nation so unique and successful.
It has become almost cliché after national disasters for the news media to proclaim, in almost a knee jerk attempt to pander to their audience, that the American people and their spirit have come through with flying colors, but in this case it seems that these claims are more reality than just rationalized wishful thinking. Americans everywhere are exhibiting a kind of genuine and spontaneous patriotism that we have not seen in my lifetime. More than the buying and displaying of flags and jamming of blood banks, it seems that we have finally regained some sense of community that many (including our President who in his Inaugural Address declared that it sometimes seems that we share "Continent, but not a Country") had felt that we had perhaps lost permanently. One can almost sense the camaraderie and common purpose in the streets as the walls of personal space have dissolved allowing strangers to be transformed into neighbors.
But almost as impressive as the tireless dedication of the rescue workers, the stories of heroism of many of the victims, and the gallantry of our political leaders, have been some of the incidents that have NOT happened in the wake of our country's largest disaster. We have taken the most powerful and painful blow we could ever imagine (though, in reality, it could have been much worse), and yet there has been no chaos, no rioting, no looting, no partisan politics, very little price gouging, only minor inconveniences for the vast majority of our citizens, and relatively few acts of violence against Arab-Americans. Apparently even the least serious among of us have reacted differently to this particular calamity. Despite the incredible ease with which it could be done, there has apparently been only one meager (and quickly punished) hoaxed-up story of dramatic escape, and no false witnesses of the event who has called into a TV station as a rabid fan of Howard Stern, an unfortunate happening that has become almost a post-tragedy "tradition."
It has already become fashionable (and accurate) to say that America will never be the same after September 11, 2001, but I am beginning to think that, in the long run, this may be a net gain for our nation. While we should certainly be wary of the unnecessary loss of our precious freedoms in the name of security, perhaps the reverberations from these attacks will shake us from the spell-like apathy in which we have been wallowing for far too long. Perhaps we will no longer take our freedoms for granted and will better appreciate how lucky we really are, even while we are forced to relearn the qualities, values, and sacrifices that made this nation what it once was.
Even the timing of this disaster may be inadvertently fortuitous. Every day we are losing literally thousands of what is left of our "Greatest Generation," which faced and overcame our last grand challenge by winning World War II. With them the lessons of that remarkable world changing experience have been slowly fading away. A decade or two from now I fear that our lives would have been so far removed from that era that our fighting generation would view those acts as little more than ancient history from books they never bothered to read. Thankfully, this test is now being presented to us when those memories are still fresh enough to draw upon and still seem to matter.
In order to pass this formidable test in a manner that would make our forefathers proud, we will have to show a resolve that, before this week, I would not have guessed that we still had. You already get the sense that unlike like all of the other supposedly "earth shattering" news events of the 24-hour news channel age that are usually quickly forgotten soon after the media gets tired of the story, this one will stay with us for a very long time. Again, it is that often divisive power of television that, in this case, will insure our united tenacity by having emblazoned on our minds those horrific pictures that will fuel our need for righteous retribution and retaliation. If those images of the grotesque violation of our mainland and our national psyche cannot keep our normally short-attention spanned populace focused for long enough to achieve our vengeance, then we will know for sure that we are no longer the country we once were. We will relinquish the title of world's greatest nation with the American experiment having finally failed.
But while we are all obviously still uncertain as to how this will all
finally turn out and there is certainly potential peril ahead, I am beginning
to think that maybe the best days of America are not really behind us and
that we still have something special left inside of us. For a pessimist who
only a few days ago felt this was probably no longer the case, that kind of
thinking seems like a pretty good sign for all of us. Regardless, for the
first time in while we can be proud to say we live in the truly United States
of America. Amidst all the horror of this unforgettable week, that is
something we can all feel good
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