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The skyline of my youth

By Dr. Michael J. Hurd
web posted May 27, 2002

"It's the skyline of my youth," commented a friend of mine (in her fifties) after the World Trade Center disappeared forever last fall.

It's true. The terrorists have reduced New York City's skyline to the era of the 1960's -- or 1930's. The Empire State Building, beloved though it may be, is now the tallest building in New York once again. I think of that, and I feel sadness coupled with anger, every time I visit New York City (which is often). I know millions feel the sadness I feel; does anyone feel the anger?

It's not that terrorists are strong. It's that too many of us -- most of us -- are weak. In spite of everything that has happened, most of us still seem afraid to support our elected leaders in taking on the countries who sponsor fundamentalist Islamic terrorism. (Not that our elected leaders seem especially interested in doing such an uncompassionate thing). Instead, we simply hope that it won't happen again. We watch specials on CBS and HBO as a way of "working through" the grief and fear generated by terrorism. We speak in vague generalities about the need to never let it happen again, as if holding hands and crying publicly will somehow keep this from happening again -- especially if someone like Rudy Giuliani leads us all in bipartisan group therapy. Through it all, most of us will continue to evade the fact that terrorist sponsoring governments aren't going to stop until our skyline is reduced to nothing at all. We hope and pray and wish they don't mean it. But they do.

The U.S. government, led mostly at present by people like Milk-Toast-in-Chief Colin Powell (rather than the stronger, more principled men such as Donald Rumsfeld), seems to care more about what others think of us than about who we really are. It's a self-esteem crisis playing out on an unprecedented, international scale. We could level all of the Middle East if we had to, except for the oil fields we need to survive, and except for the lone country friendly to freedom: Israel. No, I'm not saying that we should immediately level all of the Middle East. But we should leave no doubt that we're willing to do so if that's what it takes to defend freedom and our very lives.

Back in 1945-46, we dropped not one but two atomic bombs on imperialist Japan until they said "Uncle." Then we helped them rebuild an essentially pro-Western, pro-freedom country by giving them a hand up. This was no mere game; you and I would not be enjoying our current freedoms had the liberal Democratic President Truman not taken this daring, brave and necessary action. If by some miracle the conservative, Republican President Bush were to undertake such an action today, in the face of an even more dangerous enemy, exactly how many minutes do you think it would take before impeachment proceedings would begin?

The truth hurts. Most do not want to hear it, but it's nevertheless true. As you wait in ever-longer lines at airports, and endure terrorist alert after terrorist alert, and all the future attacks which have yet to come, think about the fact that we could blow all of the terrorist countries (Iran, Iraq, the whole gang of them) to kingdom come if we chose to do so. The problem is: the terrorists know we won't do it. As evil and as primitive as they are, they grasp something too few of us do: the power of morality. They understand that although we have the physical power to wipe them off the face of the earth forever, we feel far too morally guilty for our success and prosperity to ever consider doing so. Consequently, they know they can psychologically and physically terrorize us as long as they please.

It's not that they're strong; it's that we are weak. We have the means to defeat terrorism, but we don't -- yet -- have the mindset.

Dr. Michael Hurd is a psychologist in private practice in Chevy Chase, Md. He offers in-person therapy, phone consultation, and e-mail consultation. To learn more about Dr. Hurd and his work, which includes his books and newsletter, visit his Web site at www.drhurd.com.

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