By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
Although the pundits kept claiming that America lost its innocence on Tuesday morning, I’ve been hearing that all my life. It’s an American vice to keep re-creating our sense of innocence so that we can keep losing it. That happened again when Bush told us, “We’re a target for attack because we’re the brightest beacon of freedom for the world.” If only the world were so simple. The truth is, America has done enough violent things over the years to create many enemies; today, we embody a vision of a globalized future that threatens to radically transform the lives of millions, perhaps billions of people, in ways they may not want.
Of course, after Tuesday, that future no longer looks as radiant. At the humblest level, the roar of a passenger jet flying overhead will never sound quite the same to many of us. The age of carefree air travel has ended, along with the feeling of invulnerability that gives American life its alluring buoyancy but also makes us clueless about the wider world and how we’re perceived there. Over the next months, our various ministries of fear will use the threat of “evil” — a word that’s just made a big comeback — to justify massive increases in our military and intelligence budgets, and whittle away our civil liberties.
But Tuesday didn’t just change things in America. They also changed things in the Middle East, where the Palestinians pulled a disastrous PR blunder. Although the PLO’s Yasser Arafat instantly disavowed the attacks, what most Americans will remember is the sight of kids on the West Bank dancing in the streets to cries of “God is great!” And they’ll compare it to the sober Ariel Sharon declaring Wednesday a national day of mourning in Israel. Over the years, the Palestinians have won more and more sympathy for their cause from ordinary Americans; all that may have vanished in one day.
I could go on speculating about how these kamikaze bombings have transformed the larger world — just as the Oklahoma City bombing sucked the energy from the anti-government ideas of Gingrich and Limbaugh, so the attacks on New York and Washington may well change how the left will be able to confront the elite groups that make global decisions.
Still, all these abstractions leave me feeling a bit heartless. I spent much of the day thinking about the unknown thousands who died, a dispiriting process because the images on television all seemed terribly impersonal. That’s why so many people were haunted by Barbara Olson, who on this ghastly Tuesday became the surrogate for all those thousands, not because her life was special, but because she, of all those killed, had a story and a face we could hold on to. She had planned to fly to L.A. on Monday, but stayed in D.C. overnight so that she could have a breakfast celebrating the birthday of her husband, Theodore, the U.S. solicitor general. She wound up on the hijacked flight from Dulles to LAX, and spent her final minutes on her cell phone to her husband asking if there was anything she could do to control the situation. “Vintage Barbara,” said a friend, “always wanting to take charge.” But there was nothing she could do.