Jewish World Review Nov. 15, 2001/ 29 Mar-Cheshvan, 5762


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Consumer Reports

Bush Standing Firm -- PRESIDENT BUSH's speech in Atlanta last Thursday night, typically lampooned as a "pep rally" by much of the media, was a well-written, confidently delivered update on America's international and domestic war efforts. Those who expected a repeat of the rhetorically brilliant oration he gave to Congress on Sept. 21 were disappointed, perhaps, but that's missing the point. That mournful if resolute call-to-action was one-of-a-kind, cemented in a particular time, and will be remembered as the first historic political address of the 21st century.

Instead, last week Bush finally gave a coherent explanation of the "mixed message" of citizens' resuming "normal" lives while living with the administration's consistent warnings of further-even imminent-terrorist attacks on this nation. Go to work, shop, play soccer, dine out, celebrate the holidays, but be cognizant of suspicious activities within your own community.

Then Flight 587 crashes on takeoff from JFK Monday morning-Veteran's Day-and the city is shut down again. That's life post-9/11. Bush's alert makes sense, especially to New Yorkers who remember the crime-ridden years of the late 80s and early 90s: Back then, returning home from work after dark, I'd often walk in the middle of the street, especially in the alarmingly dimly-lit neighborhoods of Soho and Tribeca. Today's threats are obviously magnified but the principle's the same: Either give in to fear and diminish your lifestyle or make the best of a crummy situation.

I thought the conclusion to Bush's speech in Atlanta was poignant, although you could hear the groans in newsrooms from Boston to Washington, DC.

He said: "Courage and optimism led the passengers on Flight 93 to rush their murderers to save lives on the ground, led by a young man [Todd Beamer] whose last known words were the Lord's Prayer and, 'Let's roll.' He didn't know he had signed on for heroism when he boarded the plane that day... We will always remember the words of that brave man expressing the spirit of a great country. We will never forget all we have lost and all we are fighting for... We cannot know every turn this battle will take, yet we know our cause is just and our ultimate victory is assured. We will no doubt face new challenges, but we have our marching orders.

"My fellow Americans, let's roll."

One more jingoistic bit of cornpone from the callow president-select was undoubtedly the reaction from the elitists in the mainstream press, who worry more about Afghan casualties than they do their fellow Americans. One more reason to write and broadcast stories about how badly the war is going, even though the conflict is still in its very beginning stages, and in recent days has yielded swift progress in toppling the Taliban.

(I can't help thinking that reporters and editors involved in the absurd recounting of Florida's election last year were distracted, hoping a definitive victory for Al Gore would emerge. That didn't happen, as is clear by reports in Monday's New York Times (a grudging rehash), The Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles Times and The Washington Post, among other organizations.)

By the way, I include the GOP hawks who believe the United States ought to be bombing Baghdad right now in the doubting-Bush category. But there's no way Bush will stop with the Taliban: What further bulletin do naysayers like Bill Kristol and Robert Kagan need than the following statement from the President's Atlanta speech? "We are at the beginning of our efforts in Afghanistan, and Afghanistan is only the beginning of our efforts in the world. No group or nation should mistake Americans' intentions. Where terrorist groups exist of global reach, the United States and our friends and allies will seek it out, and we will destroy it.")

In any case, I'm certain Bush's "let's roll" sign-off-blunt and concise-met with cheers from those citizens who are frightened but emboldened at the same time. Even those "flinty Vermonters." I was glad that Bush didn't say the country had lost its innocence because of the Sept. 11 massacre, but instead stated that Americans are "sadder and less innocent." That's an important distinction: As I've written before, how many times can an individual, especially one who's reached adulthood, lose his or her innocence?

But "sadder," at least down in my downtown neighborhood, is completely accurate. Last Friday afternoon, I took my sons for a walk down Broadway-our destination was the recently re-opened J&R Music World on Park Row-and it was one more sobering reminder of how brutally Lower Manhattan has changed. It's impossible to close your eyes to the wreckage: In contrast to the now-bustling shopping districts above 14th St., these streets are a swirl of confusion and devastation. Concrete blockades restricting vehicular access, Red Cross trucks, cops as ubiquitous as bums during the Dinkins mayoralty, storefronts boarded up, vendors selling patriotic paraphernalia, wilted flowers and faded posters of missing WTC victims at any number of makeshift shrines, pedestrians milling about with glazed-over faces and the omnipresent smell of death still in the air. As we walked farther downtown, I couldn't help looking west at every block: The smoke, painful noise of bulldozers and the mere sight of the blighted landscape was enough to demoralize even Will Rogers.

As we passed by Trinity Church-now a tourist destination-I had an impulse to go inside and pray for the countless victims of the WTC atrocity; the murdered and their families, the small businessmen now bankrupt, residents still uprooted from their homes and the hope that this vital, vibrant financial district might somehow be made whole in years to come. My sons, resilient kids under the age of 10, didn't want to linger on our march. I couldn't blame them for trying to block out the civic carnage:

After two months of abnormal living conditions, in which they've memorized the face of Osama bin Laden, seen their ballfield and local park destroyed, fastened American flags on their school blazer lapels, watched President Bush on television, they understandably want to resume their carefree pre-Sept. 11 lives.

JWR contributor "Mugger" -- aka Russ Smith -- is the editor-in-chief and CEO of New York Press ( Send your comments to him by clicking here.

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© 2001, Russ Smith