The true horror of Tuesday's barely believable tragedy cannot be stated in words. Its dimensions cannot be displayed in statistics.
But the terrible reality speaks for itself: American Airlines Flight 11, carrying 92 passengers and personnel, crashed into the World Trade Center shortly before 9 a.m. American Airlines Flight 77 followed, with 58 persons in its carriage. United Airlines Flight 93 crashed with its 45 occupants into the Pentagon. And 65 people on United Airlines Flight 175 crashed in a field in Shanksville, PA, 80 miles outside Pittsburgh.
The number of casualties in the buildings can only be estimated, most likely in the thousands. But undoubtedly, this is the worst attack on American soil since Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941.
A number cannot measure the devastating loss this is to the American people, and to humanity as a whole. The magnitude of this pain can only be known through the experiences of the passengers on the downed planes, the occupants of the crumbled buildings, their families and friends, and the heroic workers who tried desperately to rescue the victims.
At UB, the only way we could tap into that pain was by staring at the shocked and solemn faces of our fellow students huddled around televisions. The devastation was evident in frantic students calling their families at home in New York City, some of whom had relatives working in the World Trade Center at the time of the blasts.
For the rest of the students, recurring images of the second plane crashing into the building, the video footage of the tower tumbling into a mushroom cloud of dust and consuming the people fleeing the chaos, made their own impact. Each video only hinted at terrible visions of what was happening to the unseen victims trapped amid the chaos.
Even with images of the disaster transmitted to our eyes over the television, it remained difficult to translate them into cold fact. The United States was robbed of four commercial jet liners, three of which crashed into restricted airspace, demolishing two structures which seemed impervious to destruction.
Arising from the rubble, the first question asked was how such tremendous acts of terrorism could be committed against the United States, the foremost military power of the world.
It is specious to assign fault at this point to any particular person or group involved in the protection of our country, and we should praise the swift action of those committed to our defense.
The quick evacuation of Manhattan, undertaken by New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, saved lives, especially considering the subsequent fall of Building 7 of the World Trade Center complex later in the day. Proper action was also exercised in the unprecedented move of shutting down every single airport in the nation and halting all flights to prevent further hijackings.
What is striking is the list of terrorist attacks that precede Tuesday's events: the explosions of the U.S.S. Cole in 2000, the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998, and the U.S. base in Saudi Arabia in 1996 preceded this tragedy. But unfortunately, we must wait until the attack hits home before we change our policies.
One of the most troubling issues regarding our own security involves our airports. The sheer improbability of the hijackings is coupled with statistics that U.S. officers, in practice trials, were able to sneak weapons past airport security in 75 percent of their attempts. It is clear the Federal Aviation Administration must seriously overhaul its security system.
Needless to say, the U.S. must step up its actions to combat terrorism. Bush's address to the nation last night adopts the correct policy: "We'll make no distinction between the terrorists who commit those acts, and those who harbor them."
Since the action is a clear act of war, the U.S. has to take strong steps against the conspiring terrorists swiftly and forcefully, utilizing the full power of the military against the persons or governments responsible.
It cannot pursue this task alone. The world leaders must unite to take a powerful stand against terrorism and work together to bring severe justice to the parties involved.
Yet while we pursue the terrorists and assign blame, the people of America must keep in mind that terrorists and governments constitute only a specific number of persons. They do not represent entire groups of people, regardless of their religion or ethnicity.
Following the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, many Islamic Americans and U.S. citizens from the Middle East were targets of ignorance, prejudice, and even violence. If we base our judgments on these irrational opinions, we are guilty of possessing the same ignorance and cowardice of the terrorists.
The shock and outrage can never be forgotten. But while nothing can be done to change what happened, many actions helped to salvage the tragedy. The way we can progress from the rubble is to follow the examples of those who generously and heroically responded to the disaster, from the emergency rescuers, to the medical personnel, to the blood donors across the nation.
At UB, the quick response of the administration and service organizations helped to give direction to a dark path by posting signs that informed students of phone services and counseling, as well as setting up much-needed televisions to crowds of students.
Over the next few days, the tragedy will continue to develop as the death toll slowly becomes public. If at all possible, offer to donate blood at the local clinics, and provide empathy to students in need. When words can't express the magnificence of horror, positive actions are what we must give to help.