Watching two seemingly invincible towers holding some of the brightest minds in the country collapse, America felt a collective chill down its spine.
Watching the heart of the nation’s defense awash in smoke and flames, Congress fleeing Washington, the nerve centers of perhaps the most powerful nation in the history of the world shut down and evacuated, Americans’ sense of security was shattered with the force of a Boeing 757.
Watching halfway across the world, as joyous shouts and festive gunfire shot through the air in some parts of the Middle East, the anger of Americans penetrated deep into their blood, their marrow, their very souls.
And this is exactly the reaction the perpetrators designed. But they designed much more than that.
The word “terrorism” connotes fear itself, the kind of shock and horror that paralyzes reason. Yesterday’s terrorists succeeded in hitting three symbolic targets, in killing thousands, and in producing the initial shock that brought the nation to a standstill.
But we cannot let it bring us to our knees. President Bush, Congress, the federal agencies and all Americans cannot let the terrorists succeed in the long term. We cannot let this paralyzing fear run rampant; we cannot let it grip the nation so tightly that it chokes reason – and, in this way, permit the attack to continue indefinitely.
Such fear can continue to shake the foundation of America in many ways. It can sink confidence in the stock market, bringing about a panic that sends the nation into a downward spiral. It can destroy faith in the government as a whole. But worst of all, such fear can drown reason and perspective; the desperate and understandable search for a restored sense of security can trample our very creed of “liberty and justice for all.”
Justice cannot be delivered out of mere anger, out of raw emotion. We cannot right this wrong by indiscriminate attacks against civilians, nor can we attack blindly against those who insensitively celebrate our tragedy. Such attacks serve only to bring America down to the level of these cowards; it would compromise our creed for a temporary, shallow feeling of satisfaction. We must single out only the guilty and bring them to justice.
Such a wait can be painful as anger continues to boil, but preservation of the American Ideal – the preservation that has cost so many lives over the last 225 years – demands no less. Justice out of deliberation, rather than reckless retaliation out of anger, can be the only answer.
The threat to liberty is equally strong, not from the cowardly attacks of stealthy terrorists but from the fear that lends itself to totalitarian measures. The panic can lead Americans to voluntarily cede their own liberties, trading them for an ultimately hollow sense of security. Allowing constant government surveillance, limiting travel, making the private into public – all these are tempting options to Americans wishing to restore a feeling of safety to a world different than the one they used to know.
But amid the terror, the American creed must live on. The initial damage of Tuesday morning has ended; the remaining destruction now depends on the resolve of the American people to resist actions out of panic and anger. American principles are easy to adhere to in times of peace and prosperity, but maintaining them in the face of unspeakable tragedy is the true test of our nation’s honor.
And we must pass this test. If we do not, this weak attack by individuals upon the America, upon the creed of “liberty and justice for all,” will ultimately prove more successful than any cowardly terrorist could imagine.