Today, the Empire State Building is the tallest structure in New York City. Until the morning of Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2001, such a statement would have been false.
The continental United States has not been the target of a large-scale attack by a foreign enemy since the British invaded during the War of 1812. Until two days ago, that statement would have been true.
American Airlines Flight 11 eviscerated the North Tower of the World Trade Center. United Airlines Flight 175 exploded against the side of the South Tower 18 minutes later. American Airlines Flight 77 slammed into the Pentagon 37 minutes after havoc was wreaked on New York City, killing an estimated 190 defense department personnel. Officials in New York have requested more than 6,000 body bags to handle the remains of those burned and crushed after both towers of the World Trade Center collapsed. Reports indicate that the plane that hit the Pentagon and a fourth plane that crashed in southern Pennsylvania were originally intended for the White House. Over two hundred Americans died on the four hijacked planes evil men transformed into unwilling instruments of war.
The U.S. Congress, taking into account the unprecedented nature of the attack against American institutions, commerce and unarmed civilians, should declare war against those responsible for Tuesday's assault and any government that harbors or protects them.
However, when war is made against the responsible party, it must be made against the guilty. If a nation is hiding or sheltering the responsible parties, the United States and our allies must make war against the government of that nation, not its innocent citizens, many of whom are victims of their regime as much as we are.
No American should be left to harbor false notions of what war will mean. It does not mean bombing indiscriminately from miles above the earth. It means ground troops; it means occupying foreign capitals; it means American men and women dying. But war is the only resort for a nation so grievously wounded as ours is today.
It is clear a state of de facto war already exists in the United States. On Wednesday, NATO invoked Article 5 of the Washington Treaty for the first time in its history. According to the language of the treaty, "an armed attack" against any member "shall be considered an attack against them all." The treaty's language - originally designed to respond to an attack by another nation-state, primarily the former Soviet Union - can be interpreted to consider acts of terrorism as acts of war. Aircraft carriers have taken up positions in New York Harbor. Warplanes are not just circling over New York City and Washington, D.C., but other areas of vital national interest, such as power plants in Texas.
Perhaps not since Pearl Harbor has Congress been so cleanly united, reflecting the general mood of the country. Partisan concerns and bickering have dissolved. Senator Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., said those who aid the perpetrators "will now face the wrath of our country." Senator Rick Santorum, R-Pa., warned the world, "Countries who have supported these cowardly acts of terrorism should be dealt with accordingly." Once the immediate effect of this scourge passes from our land, it would be a refreshing aftertaste if such unifying attitudes remain, both in Congress and its constituents.
For his part, President Bush has called the current situation the first war of the 21st century. Some commentators referred to his speech Tuesday night from the Oval Office as his first act as a war president. He spent Wednesday and Thursday visiting the damaged Pentagon and the wounded in local hospitals, and is eager to travel to Manhattan to visit the remains of the Trade Center.
Certainly, Bush grieves along with the rest of us, but as president he needs to do more. The president should take a page from his recent predecessors Bill Clinton and Ronald Reagan and learn to speak from his heart, not just a script. A president, in addition to being a strong and competent leader, must also demonstrate compassion. If President Bush can let America see those qualities unfiltered, he will be performing the greatest feat of his presidency thus far.