the procedures are for the military tribunals, our system
will be more fair than the system of bin Laden and the Taliban.
That is for certain. The prisoners that we capture will be
given a heck of a lot better chance in court than those citizens
of ours who were in the World Trade Center or in the Pentagon
were given by Mr. bin Laden.
President George W. Bush, 12/28/2001
U.S.A., like God or something, ought to be a big enough idea
to accommodate each of our visions of it. You and I probably
don't agree about it. Nor Ralph Nader and I. Nor Ashcroft
and I. Etcetera.
the 9/11 attacks and all that's happened since hasn't kindled
a new kind of patriotism in me. I was actually pretty patriotic
already. Though my grief and anger about the
attacks continue to ache, I'm aching most as a New Yorker,
not as an American (nor as an alarmed liberal, nor as a Jew,
though those are both there).
even then, in the speechless dread when I stare at the hole
in the sky over downtown, or notice how the streets are dyed
lighter by remnants of death-dust ground into asphalt, concrete
and limestone, even then I'm not interested in the pins and
the ribbons and the hats and the new uses of the word "hero."
I've nodded appreciatively at a few firemen, and even softened
my wariness toward a couple of cops, but I don't have a lot
to say to those guys. It would feel too much like a performance.
this happened to me a few weeks ago... I was leaving work
and walking east. I passed the fire station a block from my
office just as the red door was sliding up and the engine
was edging out over the sidewalk, partway into 18th Street.
A couple of the guys were up front in the cab. The rest paced
behind, waiting for the firetruck to clear the doors so they
could climb aboard. The rear of the engine made it halfway
along the sidewalk toward the curball of this happened
right as I was coming alongside the stationand the guys
hustled onto the running boards and into the back of the cab.
Yellow jackets, the big boots, one or two bringing axes onto
hustled in and as the last fireman pulled a back door shut,
another leaned up in his seat and rapped the inside ceiling
with his fist, telling the driver they were ready to pull
out. It all happened in less than 15 seconds, and the fire
engine honked once, wheeled to the right, and rode away. And
seeing them head out to do it again, for the next and next
time, with all the wilted flowers and wrinkled pictures from
schoolkids still pasted to the bricks of the firehouse I got
a chill. Not a chill of dread. More like a thrill, of recognition
that I was witnessing serious business that felt more fateful
after so many guys have died than it would have before. And
a chill of admiration, I think. Honestly I did feel a little
like a sapbut also like I was participating in something,
even as a 10-second bystander.
the 7th, we started bombing in Afghanistan. I think most practical
people felt this was inevitable. But I also think the military
acted too soon. In the week leading up to the bombing, Taliban
leaders in Afghanistan had been shifting their position, I
assume in response to growing diplomatic pressures and the
increased military presence. It may not have needed to go
this far. Then the president made a "second chance"
offer, which I think confirmed that the U.S. was still hoping
to use force as a persuader, not as a long-term strategy.
Of course, the problem with pressuring a group as hard-line
as the Taliban leaders is that they can't appear to capitulate.
So by beginning action, we in effect commited to decimating
the U.S. may have overplayed its hand, Osama bin Laden really
messed up. Did you see his
video message? He sounded like a psychopath, like
a villain in a Bond movie. (My Dad's actually made the comparison
on 9/11 that bin Laden really is like an Ian Fleming arch-villain,
a murderous rogue billionaire.) If he wanted to keep the mystique
of a cause-driven rebel, he shouldn't have come out with such
a blatantly murderous message. Who's going to support that
except the people who already agreed? Stupid.
a Frank Rich skeptic, I have been impressed with most of what
he's said since the president took office. This week he wrote
about the troubling call by Condoleezza Rice asking TV executives
to limit the exposure of Osama bin Laden video, saying:
is much we don't know about what [the] admini-stration is
up to, and its determination to keep us in the dark and
to stifle any criticism makes the minimal amount of dissent
more alarming than reassuring. (NYT,
friends of mine have expressed alarm at how circumspect and
cooperative the left has been as the rhetoric of war and the
extension of the government's war powers have escalated. I
was hopeful that the relative compliance of people like Tom
Daschle and Dick Gephardt was temporary, founded in calculated
global diplomacy and shrewd political prudence. But when the
White House starts enlisting the TV networks in "patriotic"
limitations to their reporting, I think things have gone too
far and we all need to speak up. You can help, simply by reminding
anyone who uses unity-talk as an excuse for silence that the
last stop on that train is Taliban headquarters.
days ago I took a taxi across the Brooklyn Bridge, which would
have been jarring enough on its own, and my driver was Arabic.
I looked over for the license posted on the partition and
saw that it wasn't there. "Where's your license?"
I asked. He reached behind his head and fiddled with the slot
mounted in the partition. He slid the license out and replaced
it, facing front. He had turned it around and hidden his name
and picture. His first name was Hussain. This was less than
two weeks after the attacks, so I figured he was trying to
keep people from giving him a hard time.
do not understand, I've been in this country eleven years,"
he said. When we stopped, I asked his name as he handed me
the change. "Oh, no, no ...!" he demurred, waving
Hussain?" I asked again, not sure he'd understood what
I'd meant. I grabbed his hand, shook it, and introduced myself.
okay," he said, understanding and dismissing me with
a nervous smile.
related this story from the 11th that she heard secondhand:
guy who worked in the south tower was having an affair with
his secretary. They got together somewhere before work that
morning. He had turned off his cell phone and knew nothing
about the attacks until after 10, when they got up and got
ready to go in late.
were about eight messages, mostly from his wife. Frantic
pleas to call her immediately. He called right then and
reached her. "Thank God you're alright!" she shouted.
"Do you have any idea what's going on!?!"
I'm fine ..." he said.
okay, really," he continued. "I'm sitting right
here at my desk."
things didn't go well from there.
colleague from France wrote a few days ago:
french people are very choked by the outrage and feel very
close to the american people. A lot of courage for you.
a reporter I know who's been down at the site of the destruction
it is, without question, the worst thing i've ever seen.
the bank the other day, the teller gave me my receipt and,
instead of "nice," said "Have a safe day."
night I was watching CNN and a woman calling in suggested
that Muslim Americans be set up in "safehouses"
for their own protection. "They'll be safer," she
said, "and so will we." The anchorwoman pointed
out that this was what the U.S. did with Japanese Americans
in the 40s and it hadn't worked out so well. She added "You
can't just round up everybody."