This past week my mind has turned, along with most Americans, to the tragedy of a year ago. A lot has changed in our country since then and we as individuals have also changed greatly as well.
As we approach that now infamous day, the television, magazines, radio and newspapers have all put together special programs and sections dealing with some aspect of the events that sent us into a full scale war against terrorism. Some of these are just rehashing what we already know; others spend a lot of time looking at the different aspects of the affects of the events of that day. Some of the best I have seen on television and heard on radio have been on PBS.
Starting last Friday, I began to really listen in earnest to some of these connected stories. Friday morning KUED had on an interview with Pete Hamill, former editor of two New York papers, a columnist and a novelist as well. His home is 11 blocks from ground zero and in the dark days after the tragedy, he had to have identification of who he was and even carry around utility bills to prove where he lived to get onto the block so he could get home in the evening after working all day. The interview was extremely interesting, but one thing he said about New Yorkers struck me, something I have also noticed about other Americans as well.
"New Yorkers are a little kinder than before," he said. "I don't mean that they go out of their way in numbers to commit large acts of tenderness, but the little ones I have noticed are amazing. People say excuse me when they bump into someone or will assist a person who needs some help getting on the subway. There is a difference."
I have noticed the same thing about the people I run into, whether it be here or in the big city. Americans as a whole are compassionate people and I think after Sept. 11 that propensity has emerged even more, especially on a daily basis. I think in some way, that has been the basis for the large searches that have gone on for Elizabeth Smart and others who have come up missing this last year. All reports say volunteer hours in our country are up greatly, even though people are struggling financially because of the economy.
Saturday I read an article in the Smithsonian Magazine about Jimmy Dolittle's raiders during World War II. Although I have always been a real history buff about that conflict, I often find new insights by reading different accounts about the war. The article was about the reunion of the 14 living veterans of that raid. Their strike against Japan just a few months after Pearl Harbor was not only a wave of good news amongst a sea of bad at the time in the U.S. but also made the Japanese reconsider their homeland defense options, thereby drawing off valuable resources from their offensive war effort and was probably one of the keys to the empire of the sun's hasty advance into the battle that became known as Midway in which the American Navy soundly defeated a superior Japanese force. From then on the Japanese continued to lose ground and never did recover. The raiders did little material damage in the raid as they dropped their bombs from medium range B-25 bombers that had taken off from the Hornet only 750 miles from Japans home islands. But these 14 men, still alive with the American spirit, all of them in their 80's, are heroes and always will be.
Pearl Harbor was a devastating blow to our military and the American perception of being isolated by two huge oceans. The Raiders gave us confidence that America knows how and courage could defeat anyone, no matter how strong they came on.
The 9-11 tragedy was similar in the fact it was a surprise; however in many ways much more devastating; to our economy and our belief that we could keep our homeland untouched by outside terrorists hands. But in the compressed time of the 21st century, where actions and reactions happen much more quickly than they did 60 years ago, our heroes came in the form of citizens taking measures into their own hands, sacrificing their lives to keep Flight 93 from hitting a target (presumably the White House) and giving us some "raiders" of our own. I doubt after what they did, and what happened in New York, anyone will ever be able to take over a commercial airliner in this country again and successfully crash it into a target. Many of the Japanese thought before World War II that Americans were soft and lacked courage. Terrorists probably thought the same of us before Sept. 11. Sure they bashed us and hurt us, just like the Japanese did, but they have also found that that same spirit of American strength is still there, and it's not just in the military might they are facing. It is in the American people; all of them.
Finally, Sunday night my wife and I sat down and watched the Jim Carey movie "The Majestic." The story, of a Hollywood movie writer who is accused by the Joseph McCarthy witch hunt of the early fifties of being a communist, and who consequently disappears as the result of a car accident and subsequent loss of memory struck a nerve in me. In the end he regains his memory and realizes that in his whole life he has taken the easy way out of everything. For the first time he stands up for himself and others. In the hearings he is finally forced to testify in, he tells them they have no right to go after anyone for their beliefs; he points out the first amendment of the constitution, while the whole time they are trying to silence him and coerce him into admitting something he didn't do. One of the darkest periods in our history, the American people were misled by a bunch of bullies in congress into the belief that communists were infiltrating every aspect of American life and that they needed to be purged from our society. The fact is that the strength of our country comes from the diversity of ethnic backgrounds, religious faiths and political thought. These men were political terrorists, cut from much the same cloth as the ones who threaten to destroy our country today, only they were trying to do it from within and all in the name of Americanism.
The Carey movie was pure fiction, but it set a tone for me and there was a line in it that really stood out. It was a line from a dead American serviceman.
"There will always be bullies and Americans will always stand up to them."
All these things, and many more are a part of the American pie. We are a kinder and gentler nation because of the attacks, but we are also a much more determined group of people as well. While a few violent actions have been noted on Muslims and Arabs living in this country, we as a people are not reacting as we did in World War II toward ethnic groups that were associated with our enemies. We have taken the lessons learned and have used them to our advantage. Our adversaries have failed to understand us, even though they have lived amongst us. They also underestimated us as Americans.
They confess they were shocked by the destruction their attacks wrought; but our citizen reaction and our quick response to their acts, I believe, has even shocked them more.
It will be our resolve, and how we are committed to it that will send the permanent message. Only time will tell if we live up to our tradition of facing the bullies.