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By W. James Antle III
There are many important issues to be debated in the wake of last week's terror in New York City and Washington, D.C. To what extent should security be tightened at airports and other public places vulnerable to terrorist attack? Do we need better funding and equipment for our armed forces and intelligence resources? How do we avoid endangering the Constitution and the Bill of Rights in our efforts to become more secure? Does the United States intervene too much in the affairs of too many foreign countries, gaining itself new enemies and making war and attacks on our citizens more likely?
All of these issues are vitally important. Yet the time to debate them will be upon us soon enough. Let us first concentrate not on issues that will produce difference of opinions. As we survey the smoldering wreckage of the Pentagon and the World Trade towers, let us first remember we were attacked as Americans and focus on what unites us as Americans.
We frequently speak of "The Greatest Generation" as being those who survived the Great Depression and prevailed in World War II. This same generation would play a decisive role in the defeat of Soviet communism during the Cold War. Yet there was nothing in their human nature that made them any different than today's Americans. What made them achieve great things was standing in the face of adversity, confronted by grave threats to their way of life and situations that seemed to offer little hope. In the face of these challenges, they were able to rise to the occasion. That is what this generation is called to do today.
Already the American people are giving every indication they still have the capacity to answer this call. When flames and explosions led to fear and anger, as twisted metal and broken glass coincided with shattered lives, a great reservoir of strength, courage and compassion was summoned forth. Police officers and firefighters willingly laid down their lives for the city they served. Neighbors helped neighbors. Flawed political leaders acted as statesmen.
In recent years, there has been much division among Americans. Political debates have grown more heated and less civil. Debates over values are now referred to as "culture wars." Racial hatreds and resentments we thought the civil-rights movement would extinguish began to manifest themselves anew. The distinctions between those living in the United States obscured any common heritage, purpose or destiny. Differences towered over that which Americans share.
Yet when those who despise America and the whole of Western civilization crashed airplanes into the heart of our nation's capital and its financial powerhouses, they made no distinction between who was black or white, male or female, Republican or Democrat, Jew, Muslim or Christian, naturalized or native-born. Innocents perished and families were ripped asunder, all to shake the confidence and security of those living in the most powerful and prosperous nation of the world.
Americans again began to think of themselves as such and realize that we are all in this together. The fate of this republic is our fate, and that of our families, our posterity and our legacy of freedom. Flags were unfurled and can be seen more prominently in more places than at anytime in recent memory. One news report showed a block in New York where a Jewish American storeowner and American Muslim storeowners of Arab descent were located side by side, each with Old Glory hanging proudly in their windows. The American people are more united than they were during the Persian Gulf War a decade ago and a sense of patriotism has been reawakened.
This renewed sense of patriotism and common national identity may be one blessing to come out of this horrible tragedy. People's eyes once again tear up at the sound of the national anthem (who could forget that moving moment when the "Star Spangled Banner" was played at the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace?) and the sight of an American flag passing by once again produces a lump in the throat.
People poured in from all over the country to assist with the cleanup and rescue of those trapped in the debris in New York. Surgeons, construction workers, firefighters, nurses and people whose professional backgrounds did not even match any relevant skills were on hand to offer their assistance. To those families not likely to see their loved ones rescued from the twin towers or the Pentagon, there was an outpouring of moral support. The Red Cross has provided food, shelter and counseling to those victimized by these attacks while providing some 377,000 meals to those working to put out the fires, rescue survivors, recover bodies and clean up the mess left behind. Corporations are matching their employees' relief fund donations as every workplace became a flurry of activity on behalf of their fellow countrymen, who in some cases lived hundreds of miles away.
The passengers of Flight 93 are believed to have rushed the cockpit of their hijacked aircraft to wrest the controls from the terrorists' hands and thwart another Kamikaze mission. If these reports are true, they laid down their lives for what might have been an attack on the US Capitol or the White House. Another example of ordinary Americans rising up to do extraordinary things on behalf of their friends, families and fellow citizens in the face of unspeakable terror.
Polls show as many as 91 percent of Americans now stand behind their president, as he warns them of the possibility of war. A new resolve is apparent to fight terrorism and punish those who slaughter the innocent.
Despite the long road ahead of us, stories continually pour in about the courage and the faith of the American people even in the worst circumstances. Americans are uniting to respond to violence, death and hate with patriotism and love.
The challenge will be for us to learn the lessons of September 11, 2001. We must remain united as Americans. We must remember who we are as a country and what it is that makes this nation great. We must be willing to claim that heritage and act with an enlightened nationalism, rather than bullying adventurism and blind revenge. We must value important things rather than focus on the trivial and continue to cherish our liberties, rather than give up our birthright as a free people out of fear.
America, we truly are in this together. Neither the solution to terrorism nor the best course of action against the perpetrators is readily in sight. But we can only triumph as one nation, under God.
W. James Antle III is a senior writer for Enter Stage Right and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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