I have a friend. He’s a coffee salesman. On September 11, he drove around doing his job while the New York skyline changed by the hour. I actually drove around with him towards the end of that day for a bit, tried to buy a monitor that day.
There were people he knew who died that Tuesday. He saw the father of a fireman reduced to staring at the TV set, day-in, day-out, reduced to forlorn hope.
That following Saturday, he was due to go on vacation out West. This involved getting on a plane.
He got on the plane. Never occurred to him to do otherwise. He said, “No terrorist is going to stop me from living my life.”
Flying out was crowded and full of delays, but that didn’t bother him too much. What bothered him more was what he didn’t find on the flight back a week later: people.
After he got back, he went back to work, and part of his job is delivering coffee to shops at LaGuardia Airport. He said the place was a relative ghost town.
That says more about America and Americans than a zillion flags.
The Yellow-Bellied American
If I were a terrorist, I would have to be absolutely delighted by this country’s reaction to September 11 and encouraged to do more.
I’ll tell you what the terrorists are seeing. They’re seeing Americans so afraid to fly that the airlines need a multibillion dollar bailout. They’re seeing Americans afraid to go out to public arenas. They’re seeing Americans afraid to even go shopping. They’re seeing the stock market drop and America dipping into deep recession.
Pretty damn good payoff for just nineteen terrorist lives, wouldn’t you say? And guess who did most of the terrorists’ work for them? Your fellow Americans.
The terrorists are seeing just what they wanted to get in the first place: fear, and that fear is hurting America more than any actual damage. All the flag-waving in the world doesn’t change that.
This is exactly what Mr. bin Laden expected. He’s said in the past that he thought Americans were soft and weak, and, on the whole, he’s got to be thinking he was right.
These guys have to be laughing at all these touchy-feely spectacles going on. Why the hell does the President of easily the most powerful country in the world have to say things like “America is strong”? Doesn’t the average American know that?
Why do we need national group therapy? Have we become a nation of Stuart Smalleys?
All this flag-waving and candle-lighting and cap-wearing is completely empty symbolism when you don’t back it up with courage. Not just the courage of our military, the courage of our people.
Now if you get on that plane, or go to that baseball game or movie, or go out shopping, if you don’t let fear rule you and go back to living like an American, wave Old Glory all you like. You’re worthy of it.
However, if you wave the American flag as a fad, but your life has turned into nervously shaking a white flag, put down that flag until you get yourself some guts.
Don’t shame the flag. Don’t disgrace it. The flag is meant to display what you really are, not hide it.
Don’t mouth some empty words to the flag if your fear pledges allegiance not to Uncle Sam but Osama.
The High School Gym Is Pretty Low On the Terrorist List
That Tuesday morning, while WTC was burning and collapsing, I was heading to a store.
I guess for a moment I wondered if that was the smartest idea in the world. Then I said to myself “if terrorists can attack everything in NYC down to Best Buys, it doesn’t matter where I am.” Since I really doubted they were being that thorough, I went about my business.
It was also pretty obvious these guys wanted bang-for-the-buck; they went after places with the highest symbolic value. Now I’m sorry, but the high school basketball game or local movie theatre just isn’t up there with the WTC or Pentagon. Being afraid to go to something like that is just blind, irrational fear.
By the way, how many attacks have there been since then? Don’t you think now is the time for those folks to lay low? You don’t attack when vigilance is at an absolute max; you wait until it slackens off.
Ironically, the nature of these attacks show terrorist weakness, not strength. If you’ve got suiciders and resources to burn, you attack all the time, not years apart.
But if this is how we react to what in wartime would be a couple minor whacks, what are we going to do if something really bad happens?
This Isn’t Going To Go Away
In all probability, for the next few decades, if not longer, we’re going to have a relative handful of people who every once in a while will try to do us great harm. Sometimes they’ll succeed.
With all due respect to our military and intelligence forces, this is not a species that can be driven to extinction next month or next year or even next decade. They can certainly quiet these folks down for a while and foil more attempts, but they won’t be able to stop them all.
This doesn’t end anytime soon. Unfortunately, I’m afraid our reaction to this event has probably guaranteed that a larger percentage of such attacks will occur in the United States. At least so long as we react this way.
So stop reacting that way.
This Isn’t National Survival, Either
Let’s get a little perspective on this, folks. Less than two dozen people grabbed a few planes and crashed them. This is not global thermonuclear war. This is not D-Day. Strategically, it isn’t even Pearl Harbor.
It certainly was a terrible, horrifying event for those involved, but it was not a national disaster. It didn’t cripple us; it didn’t paralyze us as a nation. Only our fear can do that.
This isn’t happening every week, and if you’re worried about the Big One down the road, grabbing a few planes is a whole lot easier than a biological or nuclear attack.
But even assuming something this bad happens every year, you legitimately should be a whole lot more afraid of your car than any terrorist. Even if we got one of these attacks every year, your car is still at least five times as likely to kill you.
If you’re an airline passenger, I grant you flying full speed into skyscrapers can really ruin your day, but even if you just assumed a September 11 once a year, air travel would still be safer per mile than driving a car.
Even assuming something this bad happens every year, it’s three times as likely that an American will kill you than any foreign terrorist.
I believe Samuel Johnson once said something like, “Sir, a flea may bite an elephant and sting him, but the elephant is still an elephant, and the flea is still a flea.”
Always remember, we are the elephant and these terrorists are the fleas. I’ve been doing a lot of reading about these groups, and frankly, the more I read, the less scared I am. Not that they shouldn’t be taken a lot more seriously than they have been, and I’m not disagreeing with the President and what he’s doing. However, they just aren’t a major threat to the United States. Deadly PITAs, yes. Just about as rough to get rid of as real fleas, and will probably keep cropping up here and there for a long, long time.
Doesn’t mean we shouldn’t take care of the fleas; they’re very nasty fleas, but they’re still just fleas unless we engorge them by our fear.
If FDR were alive today, he would repeat what he said almost seventy years ago, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”