Feet First

September 11, 2001, 8:45 a.m.



"Freedom itself was attacked this morning by a faceless coward and freedom will be defended."
- George W. Bush, president of the United States

I was in class when it happened.

My professor, at the beginning of class, mentioned that a plane had crashed into one of the World Trade Center towers in Manhattan. Like a flippant fool, I envisioned a small Cessna plane smashing into the building, similar to the one that crashed into the White House during President Clinton's first term. I thought the damage would be minimal, the work of a lone, deranged person determined to end his or her life.

Every bone in my body wishes that were the case.

Being a three-hour class, we took a break to stretch our legs, utilize the bathrooms, clear our heads - mundane, trivial items normal days in one's life are made up of. It was at that point my class learned of the horror that obliterated all those mundane thoughts from our minds.

Many in our generation have lamented - with a foolishness born of youthful ignorance - that we have no "Where were you?" event such as President Kennedy's assassination in 1963 or the Apollo 11 landing in 1969. Certainly things have come close - the Oklahoma City Bombing in 1995 and the Election 2000 debacle spring to mind.

How small and insignificant those events seem today. I, and undoubtedly millions of Americans, would trade all we have to make yesterday as unremarkable as Monday.

New York City, lower Manhattan, the social and economic capital of this empire of liberty: struck down, paralyzed. Washington, D.C., political capital of the United States since 1800: attacked for the first time since the War of 1812 when the city was burned by the British.

In September, 1862 Union and Confederate armies clashed in Antietam, Maryland resulting in 23,000 causalities. A hurricane slammed into Galveston, Texas in September, 1900, flooding the town, killing over 6,000. Considering both the population density of Manhattan and the 50,000 who work in the World Trade Center it's an unfortunate and horrific possibility that both numbers will be eclipsed when the dead and wounded are counted - making September 11, 2001 the bloodiest day in American history.

Intellectually, I knew what had happened and was outraged, but hadn't yet felt anything, which worried me. I should feel something. Thousands, perhaps tens of thousands of my people lie dead at the hands of cowards, yet I felt no rage, no sorrow.

Then CNN showed the footage of the first of the two towers collapsing and the tiny figures of people falling out of the building was pointed out to me. Only then did the cold reality of the moment hit me in the pit of my stomach. Imagining the utter terror and helplessness they felt in the last moments of precious life is almost too terrible to contemplate.

Our souls -- as Americans and human beings - scream with righteous fury to know who plotted and schemed this barbarism. The men who actually flew the planes now reside in Hell and will receive their just punishment.

Those left to punish are the ones who masterminded these attacks. At the moment, popular speculation holds that Osama bin Laden, who is reportedly being harbored in Afghanistan, and his followers could be suspects in the attack. The AP has reported that bin Laden followers recently made threats to commit an unprecedented attack against the United States.

"Make no mistake -- the United States will hunt down and punish those responsible for these cowardly acts," swore President Bush yesterday in Louisiana after ordering a full-scale investigation.

He's right. Generally, Americans are a complacent lot, treating danger like fire fighters as opposed to police officers - reacting to crisis rather than patrolling for danger.

But when you attack us, when you threaten, injure, maim, kill our friends and families, when you disrupt our lives in the name of your petty, unthinking hatred, when you dare, you DARE to tear down our cities and violate our borders - well, start measuring your life in minutes and seconds.

The guilty will be found. There is no doubt about that. In our quest for justice, however, we must remember to punish only the guilty. Our war - and this was an act of war - is with the evil men responsible.

If, when the truth is revealed, those responsible are Arab, we must be cautious. Our war is not with the Arab people or the Islamic religion. Any true follower of a religion that holds charity as one of its founding tenets finds these attacks just as abominable as any Christian or Jew. However, while Arabs as a whole are innocent, I would not begrudge any American currently harboring bitter feelings and throwing harsh words at the Palestinians dancing in the streets and celebrating our darkest moment since World War II.

If a small organization is responsible, they must be, they will be, eradicated from this earthly plane. Those guilty of this crime will be found and must be executed as terrorists and enemies of not only the United States of America, but of something higher - freedom, liberty.

More than anything else, yesterday's attack illuminated the depth of the cultural chasm between those responsible and us. They actually believed their attack would succeed.

Oh, to be certain, the results were terribly spectacular, yet they still failed. Undoubtedly these villains hoped to "strike a mortal blow against the great Satan" or some other such nonsense. With that regard they failed.

They believed we are merely buildings and people - wipe them out and you win. Yet we still have our liberty. I can travel from state to state right now without having to run through National Guard roadblocks. You are holding this paper in your hand, meaning freedom of speech and the press is still valid. They have taken lives, but not our freedom. As long as we have that, America will never die. They don't understand that, and judging by their actions they never will.

Today the sun rose, as it will tomorrow. We will count the dead; we will mourn. We shall seek and find justice. We will go on.

May God bless the victims, their families and the United States of America.