HISTORY OF 9-11: AMERICA TESTED

Gentle Readers,

An historic series of events, to be sure. As many have offered their thoughts 
and prayers at this time, your friendly neighborhood historian will add his. 
This is less an historical analysis than it is a journal of my impressions 
over the last week.

There is an inescapable sense that America is being tested -- in terms of her 
character, her strength of will, her resolve. How is she doing? 

The American psyche has been touched more profoundly than anything in my 
memory, since the assassination of John Kennedy almost four decades ago. 
Because of six degrees of separation, everyone knows someone or knows 
someone who knows someone touched by this.

Already the attack on the Pentagon and the World Trade Center is being called 
the second "date that will live in infamy."

At the time of the writing, the week after the 9-11 call, America is back to 
work, the airlines are aloft, the stock market has re-opened, even baseball 
is being played -- but it is not over. Rather, it is just beginning. America 
now is moving past disbelief and shock in her grief, and toward anger.

Many have considered this attack a second Pearl Harbor. But a foreign attack 
on the continental US, indeed upon the American capital, has not occurred in 
almost 200 years, since the War of 1812. The attack on Pearl Harbor has many 
similarities, but several significant differences. Now, we have an unknown 
assailant rather than an identified national assault. The World Trade Center 
was a civilian target rather than a military installation. And finally, more 
were killed in this attack. A strike against the homeland hasn't been felt in 
so very long.

Most are familiar with the quote attributed to Japan's Admiral Yamamoto 
following the bombing of Pearl Harbor: "I fear all we have done is to awaken 
a sleeping giant." But the more important part of the quote is what follows, 
"... and fill him with a terrible resolve." 

Terrorists struck the emblem of US military might and the symbol of American 
economic power. As in 70 AD when the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed, 
the destruction of American's temple of trade does not spell the end of a 
people, but it does change them. 

The goal of terrorism is to inflict terror, fear into the hearts of those 
attacked, and little could have been more symbolic than these two targets, 
these two lightning rods of American democracy and capitalism. 

On the one hand the destruction was not merely token. With far more deaths 
than Pearl Harbor, the number of missing and presumed dead approaches the 
number lost on D-Day. On the other hand, the goal was not so much destruction 
as the destabilization of a government and the demoralization of a society. 
The old Chinese theorist said: "Kill one, frighten 10,000." In our age of 
mass media that number is magnified ten thousand fold. The attackers knew this.


        "His craft and power are great, and armed with cruel hate…"

The terrorists did not have in their hands weapons of mass destruction or even 
firearms. With incredible cunning, using only knives they turned innocent 
vehicles into guided missiles. It was a plan that was simple in its execution, 
with about two dozen participating… though the planning was extensive. There 
remains the nagging suspicion that the other shoe has not dropped. Could there 
be further tests ahead?


        Hard Challenges

A local acquaintance of mine, a retired Major General in the Air Force was 
called to be at a Pentagon meeting that fateful Tuesday morning. However, his 
meeting was located about a mile south of the Pentagon, from which he heard the 
plane fly over and heard the blast. He reflected afterward, "We all knew what 
this could mean, but not where it was going to end." There are a number of 
dangers that we must be careful to avoid.

Vigilantism: there is an almost overwhelming temptation to take the law into 
our own hands to address this wrong. We've already seen this play out in some 
unfortunate ways. People of a particular ethnic descent or followers of a 
particular faith are stereotyped as the villains, as people look for 
scapegoats. We must not fail the test by repeating the embarrassment of 
racial profiling we saw during World War II when almost 120,000 Japanese
Americans were imprisoned in internment camps.

Over-steering: Inevitably there will be over-corrections. We must be careful 
to avoid acting out of proportion to the evil done. The idea of an "eye for 
an eye" was to prevent people from taking more than an eye for an eye. Good 
intentions don't make up for evil over-reactions. America is being challenged 
again with a "just war," more than a police action or a surgical desert strike. 
My father fought in WWII. I wonder if my son may fight in the next one. 

America has enjoyed a physical isolation protected by oceans on either side of 
her continent, but this new enemy has slipped invisibly across borders and 
seas.


        Wars and Rumors of War

Columnists and politicians are now debating the distinction between a criminal 
act and an act of war. The former conclusion might lead to endless debates, 
and indeed, is what the Taliban regime in Afghanistan is doing to delay 
America's response. However, this has passed beyond political discussion. An 
attack of enormous brutality has occurred against America. The President has 
articulated and Congress has agreed that this is an act of war. This is 
monumental in our generation.

Even more remarkable is the language that is being used to describe the 
struggle. It is depicted in the most elemental and moral terms: a fight 
against evil. This is not discussed as a difference in perspective, which a 
disenfranchised few who were disadvantaged responded to in the only way they 
knew how. In a generation of political correctness, post-modern, 
multi-cultural, you-believe-your-way-I'll-believe-mine -- the discussion is 
now one of right against wrong, of life against murder, of good against evil.


        Freedom vs. Safety

There are many who say, sight unseen, that they are unwilling to abide 
stricter airport regulations, not wanting to give up their "freedoms." But 
this is not really a debate of civil liberties vs. safety. It is the 
canonization of conveniences as rights. And these are provincial conveniences 
at that. Only in America can a traveler expect to show up half an hour before 
a flight with two large carry-on bags and get on board. Anywhere else in the 
world travelers can expect to arrive hours before the flight for security 
checks. Europe is tight, parts of Latin America are tighter, Israel is 
tightest of all. In my million plus miles of flying I've seen armed guards 
(Germany), tanks in front of the airport (Athens), and have gone through three 
luggage searches in 100 yards (Colombia.) Americans are simply spoiled. Most 
travelers across the world are used to a level of security checking that 
Americans have never seen. Is America up to the test of sacrificing 
conveniences for the consideration of the safety of others?


        End of Innocence?

Some would say this is the end of American innocence. Rather, I believe 
America is seeing an end to naivety. Since the end of the Cold War, and the 
perception that America is the only remaining "superpower" the country has 
become complacent. But now, we've awakened, as George Will has recently said, 
from "our holiday from history." America has received a humbling blow. How 
will America face this test? With arrogance, chest thumping, and 
sabre-rattling? Or will America respond soberly, justly, and nobly?


        United We Stand

This week has seen a remarkable uniting of American citizens and government. 
Congress put aside petty partisan politics to rally behind the President. It 
was curious and moving to watch the member of Congress talking on the steps of 
the Capitol last Tuesday night. Following the interviews the crowd of members 
of the Congress and Senate burst out spontaneously singing "God Bless America."


        Heroes

America loves heroes. They inspire ordinary people to do extraordinary things. 
This motivated Tom Hanks to produce "Band of Brothers," the 10-part true-life 
mini-series about a company of citizen soldiers, paratroopers in WWII, which 
is currently running on HBO. 

America's current tragedy has produced countless heroes -- from firefighters, 
police, and rescue workers -- to ordinary people going the "extra mile" to help 
customers, neighbors, and complete strangers in need. We are touched by people 
who, in that moment of desperate need, live the credo, "greater love has no one 
than this, that one lay his life down for his friends."


        "To everything (turn, turn, turn) there is a season, 
        And a time for every purpose under heaven. 
        A time to weep and a time to laugh, 
        A time to mourn and a time to dance."

President Bush, in his first address after the incident to the American people 
quoted from Psalm 23, perhaps the most familiar Bible passage to both Jews and 
Christians. "Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will 
fear no evil, for You are with me." Bush commemorated last Friday as a National 
Day of Prayer and Remembrance, the first President in a long time who was 
actually serious about it. He called people to pray and attend their houses of 
worship, and people did: Tuesday night after the attack, Friday at noon and in 
evening candle lighting vigils. And Sunday, houses or worship were packed. 
America hit her knees, bowed her head, and mourned. 

President Bush said that "terrorists may shake the foundations of our tallest 
buildings, but they cannot shake the foundations of America." What is this 
foundation?

Early American literature talked about the New World as the Promised Land, 
the New Israel, especially blessed by God. While America has never had an 
established church, like England does, her founding documents establish a 
civil religion based on the Biblical ideal of a moral community and the 
utilitarian values of individual freedom and responsibility. It held to a 
basic faith in God, the reward of virtue and the punishment of vice, and a 
religious tolerance that would serve the new Nation.

Three major threads were evident in the historical foundation of the Nation. 
First, The Founding Fathers were guided politically by a sense of a Republic, 
a representative form of government. Intellectually they were influenced by 
the French Enlightenment, a rationalism that informed their apprehension of 
English dominion. And finally, while some of the Founding Fathers were of a 
deist persuasion, all were influenced spiritually by a Biblical worldview. 
All of the primary founding documents invoke God in one way or another, with 
the exception of the Constitution itself. But even the Constitution was 
advised by a keen understanding of the Judeo-Christian concept of an 
appreciation for the depravity of man, and so protected itself by a series of 
checks and balances between the three branches of the government: executive, 
judicial and legislative. 

This survives today in our pledge of allegiance "one nation under God," on 
our currency "in God we trust," and in our song "God Bless America."


        The Spirit of America

Billy Graham, the elder statesman of American spirituality, in his address at 
the National Cathedral last Friday said, "We need a spiritual revival in 
America. And God has told us in His Word, time after time, that we are to 
repent of our sins and we're to turn to Him and He will bless us in a new 
way." Historically, America has seen a number of great revivals, each 
resulting in significant social renewal. Three things preceded each revival. 
First, people prayed. America has been called to do that now by her President. 
Secondly, people confessed their sin, both personal and corporate. Right now, 
we are in the midst of the Jewish High Holy days, when Jews the world over are 
called upon to take an "accounting of the soul" with the aim of correcting
defects in one's behavior. Not all criticisms leveled against America are 
without merit. There is room for confession. Lastly, revival involves 
repentance, a "turning" away from sin and back to God.

My prayer is that America will pass this test, that she will respond nobly 
and wisely, putting aside the temptation for instant revenge, but instead 
soberly respond with the assurance of what is right, with a resolve for 
justice, and honorably and patiently prosecute the cause of liberty and 
freedom based on a solid foundation of the truth, with the help of God and 
trust in His sovereignty.


        You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden.
        Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. 
        Instead they put it on its stand and it gives light to everyone…


Bill Petro, your friendly neighborhood historian
www.billpetro.com