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Published: 9/15/2001 - Updated: 1 year ago

White House Watch: Emotions are raw, but we cannot be afraid

WASHINGTON - Amid the agony and the anger, the joys of small snatches of normalcy and triumphs of nobility reverberate. But there are many dangers ahead, and we are right to be afraid of them.

For far too many life will never be the same as it was before Sept. 11. The anguish of those left to mourn numbs us.

Yet the last gift of the victims to the rest of us is a passionate reminder to live. We must take new heart at a patch of blue sky or a flower or a child's upturned face.

We crave the comfort of resuming routine. Boring now seems wonderful, and our hearts break for those who will never take another carefree stroll, delight in a new taste, wrinkle a nose at an unusual smell, or hug a loved one.

We are awed by the courage of so many, the outpouring of compassion, the professional competence, the stamina, the patriotism, the kindness we all have witnessed.

But this ordeal is just beginning.

We must be on guard against losing our fabled open society. If we become hostage to red tape and official silence and mindless security, the terrorists have won. Yes, new precautions will be necessary; too many restrictions will doom us.

We must fear any tolerance of intolerance. Reports of slurs, vandalism and physical violence against innocent Muslim Americans are frightening. Evil must not be repaid with evil. We must prevent young people from vowing to exact their own revenge. We must keep them from tormenting others whose headgear they don't understand or who speak a different language. We must restrain those who rage against the bonds of civilization by such acts as smashing windows of mosques where worship seems different from what they know.

We must empower our national leaders with our support and give them time to formulate their response. But we must fear giving them unfettered power. We must ply them with questions about their actions.

It is good and not surprising that Americans are rallying around the President and that at least 80 percent say they wholeheartedly support him. But we must not be afraid to ask exactly what he means when he says that “acts of war'' must be answered.

We need to know what President Bush is thinking when he says this is a “new kind of war'' and the “first war of the 21st century” and that the United States must not be afraid to fight. We must ask him what he means when he says that ‘'nameless, faceless” enemies who know no borders will be retaliated against.

We must fear too many platitudes and too many easy cliches from those who have great power over us. But we must not be afraid of words, our best tools in our search for understanding.

We must fear our reluctance to demand real answers and practical solutions. We must fear not being rigorous in demanding honesty. We must fear the bondage of ignorance and our tendency sometimes not to want to hear the details, of letting our leaders act on our behalf without our consent.

We must be afraid of becoming so angry we dispense with rationality. Only a few cunning madmen hate the United States and want to destroy it. The world is not against us, and most governments and billions of people support America.

We must not be afraid to be sad and to unite in grief. But we must fear too much bureaucratic resistance to business as usual. We must be wary of succumbing to the idea of a society which too long tolerates airplanes not flying, children pulled out of school, financial markets in chaos, and officials who say they can't be forthcoming to the American people about what most concerns them.

We must fear both overestimating and underestimating the power of terrorists. They are brilliant and evil and driven by inner conviction, but they are human. They will be stopped.

We must not be afraid of justice. We must fear our eagerness to kill in kind and those among us too quick to say that if innocent lives must be lost, so be it.

At the end of the day we must not be afraid to hope for - and demand - a happier tomorrow. Our children who have not yet had the chance to stretch their wings and the rest of the world are counting on us.



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