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Jewish World Review Oct. 5, 2001 / 18 Tishrei, 5762

Bob Greene

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Flags, songs and rallies
are the easy part -- THE home front part, we have been handling wonderfully.

The home front part -- not to be confused with the new Office of Homeland Security, which will be the subject of tomorrow's column -- has been an inspirational success from the very first moments after the passenger jets were used to attack the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. From courageous (and for once that word sounds insufficient, too mild) firefighters, police officers and rescue workers, to diligent-beyond-the-point-of-exhaustion government officials, to private citizens showing the very best of what it means to be an American, those of us who are here in the United States have responded in ways deserving of commendation and thanks.

There is only one thing about this that is vaguely troubling, and it is no one's fault:

This kind of home front support has, in the past, been seen in the context of a war that is raging overseas. Selfless support on the home front has been the sidebar; the war itself, with American troops fighting on foreign soil, has been the main story.

What has been different this time around is that all of the heartening shows of support at home -- the entertainers putting on concerts to raise money, the citizens on every block displaying flags, the singing of patriotic songs, the writing of prideful poems by regular men, women, boys and girls who might never be inspired to sit down and write a poem under any other circumstances. . . . what has been different this time around is that this great, memorable show of solidarity on the home front took place before American troops had engaged in a single skirmish overseas.

The overriding reason for this was self-evident: In an unprecedented assault, the mainland of the United States had been attacked in what the nation's leaders called an act of war. The home front coming-together was in response to that -- the home front effort was as much in support of the victims of the attacks and their families, and of the fallen rescuers and their families, as it was for whatever our government would decide should come next in response to the murderous strikes.

The home front here felt different from the U.S. home front in, say, 1942 or 1943. New York and Washington in 2001 had more in common with London during the Blitz than they did with the spared-from-strafing New York and Washington of the 1940s. The American home front in World War I and World War II offered its support to the American troops fighting "over there"; in the first phase of the American home front 2001, there was not yet any clearly defined over there. There was just here -- and it was an awful thing.

Chances are, though, that Americans at home are going to be called upon to maintain this level of support when the focus shifts across the oceans. The home-front activity here was already robust and well organized by the time the first warships sailed out of American ports for destinations on other parts of the globe. What has the potential to be jarring -- to jolt America just when it feels it has been jolted enough to last a lifetime -- will be when and if the president's promised long campaign against terrorism begins to claim the lives of U.S. military forces far away, and when there is no quick end in sight.

There already have been the first hints of confusion on the part of the American people -- initially the president and other government leaders appeared to be proclaiming the imminent onset of fierce military strikes, but then the strategy seemed to shift at least momentarily into something more akin to a bank audit than to an airborne assault -- but things will change rapidly as all of this unfolds.

The home front response has been stirring. But the center of attention will soon enough shift away from entertainers on soundstages singing tunes of love of country, and from people raising charitable funds in schoolyards and corporate boardrooms. The home front will likely be called upon to support the people whom home fronts have always supported from afar:

Soldiers, sailors, Marines, airmen, Navy SEALs. The home front has been admirable. Now comes the war, or something like it.

JWR contributor Bob Greene is a novelist and columnist. Send your comments to him by clicking here.

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