By now we've all mapped our whereabouts in the city of memory -- where we stood, what we saw, who we knew or lost, how close we came, how far away we felt. We've learned to calibrate our anxiety. (The federal government yesterday for the first time raised its terror alert to code orange, the second-highest level.) We've told the stories again and again, to friends and strangers. The stories have become part of the currency of our lives. We exchange them with one another, and like all stories, true or false, they suffer a kind of attrition in the telling and retelling. Stories that seemed unbearable a year ago are no more bearable now -- words caught on the fly from witnesses shrouded in ash, from family members drenched in anxiety and grief, even the sound of our own thoughts sifting through our minds. But what those words gain in familiarity they lose in immediacy. The truth within the stories doesn't subside, but it becomes somehow less accessible. Because, at root, it is an emotional truth we are still reaching for, and the emotions of that day lay somewhere beyond language. They still do a year later. ...
Although America was bound together by emotion on Sept. 11, 2001, America isn't bound together by emotions. It's bound together by things that transcend emotion, by principles and laws, by ideals of freedom and justice that need constant articulation, perhaps especially when America's virtues seem most self-evident. What we suffered on that day will be an important part of the story of this country. But in the long run it will not be as important a part of the story as what we choose to do in response to what we suffered. It is possible to confuse temperateness with indifference and democracy with indecision, just as it was possible on 9/11 to feel terribly weak in the midst of our undiminished strength. But time will help us make those distinctions, if we continue to seek them out.
As we pause to assess the state of the nation one year after the attacks of September 11, it is worth considering the role of dissent and national unity in our war-fighting efforts. America's motto, E Pluribus Unum -- out of many, one -- has always been more of a goal or prayer than an objective description of reality. We fought a Civil War to bring the many states back into the one union. All our wars have been fought with violent dissent on the home front. Even the act of interning thousands of Americans of Japanese ancestry during World War II -- whether it was a reasonable and necessary defensive action or not -- was an act by our own government of "manyness," not "oneness." Either by government decision or personal choice, there have always been many who were not part of the one.
How could it be otherwise? As a nation born in revolution, the right -- even the obligation -- of dissent is inherent in the meaning of the word America. No American of courage and conviction will fail to resist what he or she opposes. Even violent and illegal dissent has sometimes been admired in our remembered history. ...
The vigor of our patriotism is not lessened by the failure of some amongst us to practice it -- whether it is Arlington County's decision to encourage its residents to display flags other than the Stars and Stripes, or UC Berkeley's initial refusal to issue red, white and blue ribbons (for fear of seeming too patriotic). The public discussion of these oddities undoubtedly has only reinforced most of us in our patriotic instincts. We have established a central unity of purpose in this first year -- without imposing an unrealistic uniformity.
It is particularly incumbent on those of us who support the president's war efforts to not let our advocacy cross over into intimidation of others who wish to exercise the sacred right of free speech and press.
One year ago the historical metaphor that crashed into public consciousness was Pearl Harbor. Like many others, we drew the comparison that day: "Not since Dec. 7, 1941, has the U.S. homeland sustained such an aggression," we wrote in this space. But we also predicted that the challenge of 9/11 would be different and in some ways more complex than that of 60 years before. A year later the nation is still feeling its way toward a proper response to its newly recognized enemies and challenges. The threat is as grave as it seemed on that sickening morning, but the complexities have proven if anything more confounding. The Bush administration has risen to the occasion in many ways; the armed services have responded with courage and skill; many Americans have shown patriotism and tolerance as well as understandable anxiety. But the government and country also, in coping with this unconventional war, have underreacted in some areas, and overreacted in others. ...
Fifty-one American service members and at least one CIA officer (the agency does not reveal its casualties) have died in the war on terrorism, in hostilities or battle-related accidents. Thousands more remain in dangerous circumstances in and near Afghanistan, chasing al Qaeda terrorists. Along with the direct victims of 9/11 and their still-grieving survivors, those service members deserve to be in our thoughts today. So does their mission. On Sept. 12, 2001, 66 percent of Americans believed that the previous day's attacks were more serious than Pearl Harbor. By last month only 37 percent believed so. Until the next attack, and as long as the fighting is distant, the percentage may continue to slip. But as a lesson of 9/11, and as a memorial to the dead, nothing can matter more than defeating the terrorists who would attack the nation and holding accountable the regimes that harbor them. "Overconfidence and complacency are among our deadliest of all enemies," Franklin Roosevelt said. That is one lesson from the Pearl Harbor days that has lost no relevance.
Free speech is never at its most popular in times of war and national emergency, and you might expect that it would inspire less devotion among the American people after Sept. 11 than before. A new poll by the First Amendment Center, based in Arlington, Va., finds that respect for 1st Amendment rights has indeed declined. "Many Americans view these fundamental freedoms as possible obstacles in the war on terrorism," laments executive director Ken Paulson.
No one puts greater value on the right to express opinions than those of us who comment on important events in the news media. But the full story of free speech in the past year is more encouraging than dismal.
The First Amendment Center notes with dismay that 49 percent of Americans say the 1st Amendment protects too much freedom -- up from 39 percent in 2001. Some 42 percent think the press has too much freedom.
At the same time, there are plenty of reassuring numbers.
No less than 94 percent of those polled agree that people should be free to express unpopular opinions -- and two out of every three Americans say they "strongly support" that right. Three out of four think the right to speak one's mind is "essential," and 83 percent feel that way about religious freedom. ...
Americans may not be universally enthusiastic about all the liberties that flourish in our cacophonous democracy. But anyone waiting for a wave of political repression will be waiting a long time.
Dallas Morning News
Some dates are like cleavers: they sharply and powerfully divide history between everything that happened before and everything after. Dec. 7, 1941, is such a date. For it marks Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor and the United States' entry into World War II. June 28, 1914, is another. For it marks the assassination of Austria-Hungary's Archduke Franz Ferdinand and the beginning of the cataclysmic chain of events that led to World War I and the radical remaking of the world's political maps. Sept. 11, 2001, is another. For then the world changed utterly. Nineteen Islamic terrorists hijacked four commercial airplanes and used them as gigantic fuel bombs to murder more than 3,000 innocent people in New York, Northern Virginia and Pennsylvania. ...
On this first anniversary of the attacks, Americans should pause to commemorate the victims, to honor the heroes and the country's strength. At the same time, they should gird themselves for what promises to be a long and unorthodox conflict. They should resolve to keep the awareness that they obtained at so great a cost. To do otherwise could invite disaster. For their enemies are clever, poised to exploit weakness and negligence and absolutely willing to kill as many of them as possible for the sake of their twisted cause. The path ahead will be trying, but Americans should take heart. As President Ronald Reagan said, "No arsenal or no weapon in the arsenals of the world is so formidable as the will and moral courage of free men and women."
Meaning will accrue to the victims' deaths if the United States and its allies use the tragedy of Sept. 11, 2001, to prevent more grisly cleavages of history.
Los Angeles Times
In June, a headline in an Egyptian newspaper read: "Arafat accepts Clinton peace plan." Memo to Arafat: You're nearly two years too late; Clinton isn't president any more.
The Palestinian leader was at it again this week, condemning terror attacks on Israeli civilians but backing down from a call on the Palestinian legislature to ban suicide attacks--two weeks after his interior minister, Abdel Razak Yehiyeh, displayed more courage and urged just that.
Arafat's address to the Palestinian legislative council was his first to that group in 18 months. It wasn't worth the wait. ...
Sharon has labeled Arafat "irrelevant" and President Bush has called for new leaders as a condition for establishing a Palestinian state in three years. Arafat is not helping the Palestinian cause by continually missing opportunities for peace and a homeland for his people.
New York Newsday
Within the New York metropolitan region, the cataclysm of last Sept. 11 has revealed an astonishingly deep reservoir of strength -- not only when it comes to our residents but also when it comes to our public institutions.
Today -- one full year after the murderous destruction of the World Trade Center -- the challenge is to acknowledge this strength, to nurture it carefully and to keep it alive. ...
We have learned something profound about ourselves in the last year. We have learned that we are one people after all - more than we ever knew. And we have learned that, when we work together, we can do anything.
The task now is to keep the spirit going.
(Compiled by United Press International)
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