September 11 - One Year On

A year ago, I wrote the following article, just after the attack, but 
before the military action in Afghanistan. How much and how little has 
changed in that year.

We've learned:
- what heroism is
- what community means
- that we stand united
- ideas have consequences, ideologies have actions
- international words of sympathy don't always mean support

Some haven't yet learned:
- that evil is real and must be opposed
- continued resolve is not a luxury
- cultural relativism leads to moral bankruptcy
- solipsistic arrogance is not patriotism
- that history teaches us lessons

	Bill Petro, your friendly neighborhood historian



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

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

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

         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."


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

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