It has been said America lost its innocence during the Vietnam War. So what to make of a terrorist attack on a building where nearly as many people work as the number of Americans dead in Vietnam?
The one illusion we have always held is that the continental United States is invincible. After all, not since the War of 1812 has an another country attacked the American mainland. There is no question that had the planes that attacked the World Trade Center and the Pentagon been from another country, they would have been intercepted and brought down.
But the attack was not conventional, and we are not invincible. Instead our own civilian planes were used to attack our own civilians, and the result was the worst terrorist attack in history; another “day that will live infamy.”
As an act of war, yesterday’s despicable attack was phenomenally successful. But as an act of terrorism, the success of the perpetrators is not yet assured, for a successful act of terrorism would result not only in a society living in fear, but also in a society with less freedom.
One of our most treasured freedoms, indeed part of what makes America unique, is the freedom of movement. The least of us can travel throughout the United States, from Seattle to Miami, from our financial center in New York to our political center in Washington, D.C.
And in those places we enjoy unparalleled freedom of access. You or I can simply walk into our nation’s Capitol, or if we are willing to wake up early, take a tour of the White House. Or we could have taken a tour of the World Trade Center.
But as so eloquently stated by Tom Brokaw, “We’re vulnerable because of all the things that make us so great.”
This is a vulnerability and an innocence that must not be lost. Already we are fighting back. Defense Secretary Rumsfeld held a press conference in the damaged Pentagon, declaring defiantly that the icon of American military power “will be in business tomorrow.”
Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) said much the same, announcing that Congress would be in session. He then joined over 100 congressmen in singing “God Bless America.”
These steps are small and symbolic, but extremely important indicators that such a terrible act may cause us to lose loved ones, but will never cause us to lose our freedoms.