Skip to comments.Peggy Noonan: From Sept. 11 to Eternity
Posted on 12/06/2001 8:08:51 PM PST by Pokey78Edited on 04/23/2004 12:03:58 AM PDT by Jim Robinson. [history]
It's time to get to work remembering that horrible day.
For America for Christmas this year there's only one gift, a history book. And we should all get busy writing it.
Today is the 60th anniversary of "the day that will live in infamy," the sneak attack on the American fleet at Pearl Harbor. We know a lot about what happened on Dec. 7, 1941, but not enough. Some of the best of what we know came from a work of fiction, James Jones's great classic novel, "From Here to Eternity." Jones had been there that day, a young enlisted man at Hawaii's Scofield barracks, a nascent novelist looking for experience. He got it. He wrote the great novel of World War II. It is amazing to realize that unlike the great novels of World War I, "From Here to Eternity" hinges on the day the war began, at least for America, and never touches upon the war's execution or ending--and it was published near the end of the era in which novels really, truly mattered, when they were seen not as a tributary off the great river of American literature but the river itself.
(Excerpt) Read more at opinionjournal.com ...
Do you know what it was like for the desk assistants at CNN who spent that morning at their posts doing live TV while, for at least part of the time, they had reason to believe the next suicide bomber was coming for them?
I don't know what it was like to be there on 9/11, but I sure know what it was like to be there in general. It's an utterly nondescript building in midtown Manhattan, only 22 stories high. You'd have to have been a little on the paranoid side to begin with to think the Al Qaida crowd would even know what building they were in, much less how to hit it with all those other much bigger buildings nearby. So I don't think the desk assistants were having coronaries or anything.
ObLittleKnownCoincidentalTidbit: When Ted Turner first launched CNN, their New York bureau was indeed on the ground floor of one of the WTC towers for the first few years. I'm pretty sure they were gone by 1985.
One week ago today, I woke up with a start at 5:48 a.m. San Diego time. It was still dark, and I decided to try to get another 1/2 hour of sleep. I put on a pair of headphones and set the radio to a talk radio station, as the droning prattle is always guaranteed to get me back to sleep.
As soon as I put the headphones on, at about 5:50 (8:50 New York time), I heard a live report from CBS radio, with a person screaming into a microphone about the World Trade Center being on fire. It sounded almost the same as those old radio reports of the crash of the Hindenburg--the same quality of desperation in the voice. I perked up, thinking that a small plane had flown into the WTC by accident. The reporter said that some bystanders were reporting that the plane that hit the building appeared to do it on purpose, and when I heard that, I sat upright in bed, searched for the remote, and flipped on the TV.
There I saw the image that we all have seared on our eyeballs. One tower of the WTC was smoking, black, acrid smoke that instantly told a story without words, of choking, of hysteria that would confront the people in the upper floors of the building, and of death. While it seemed surreal, it was grossly, horribly real. My wife slept beside me, and, realizing that whether it was intentional or accidental, we were witnessing history, I woke her up. "Honey, you might want to see this." She stirred, opened one eye, and then, like I had a minute earlier, she sat bolt upright.
Not long after, the second plane hit. I didn't see it hit, but all of a sudden, the second tower was on fire. It looked like Manhattan had become a birthday cake and the WTC towers were the candles. The TV news replayed the footage of the second plane hitting the tower, with the awful flames bursting out the other side, and then, we knew, without question, the awful truth: the United States was under attack.
Transfixed, we, and the rest of the nation, watched as the events of the day unfolded, events that I don't need to repeat for anyone here. I remember, after the second tower fell, and the realization of all the deaths that would accompany the collapses, that I turned to my wife and told her, "We are at war." I was surprised that it took official Washington another day or so to make that statement. These were not terrorist acts, they were acts of war, and war crimes at that.
I felt some twinge of guilt, for not a week earlier, in a discussion with my cousin, who lives in Manhattan, she had mentioned several times the attitudes of people in New York regarding several issues which are no longer of much consequence, to which I had replied that New York is not really part of the United States. I did not mean it literally, of course, but as a commentary on the widespread belief, perhaps no longer true, that political views within New York City are so far removed from the American mainstream as to be alien.
I saw clearly, watching what transpired, that what I had said was utterly false. For when I saw New York on fire, and then that hole in its skyline that I still refuse to believe is there, my reaction was that they have attacked "us", not New York, but all of us, and they have attacked a symbol of the civilization that our ancestors created, and that all of us have inherited and embellished. Those were OUR buildings they destroyed. Those were OUR citizens they were killing. Those were MY friends in the buildings.
They might as well have lit my own house on fire, it would have had the same effect. From what I can see, that reaction has been repeated about 270 million times throughout the country. All of us became New Yorkers one week ago, and all of us came together as Americans, to grieve for now and to win this war later. Not as liberals or conservatives or easterners or southerners or young or old or environmentalists or businessmen, but Americans. The resolve and the unity are tremendous, and if we can keep it, and we see this war through to its necessary conclusion, our country will be safe again for future generations of New Yorkers and San Diegans, and the world will be rid of a scourge that threatens global prosperity and the physical security of BILLIONS of people. The world will be a far better place if we succeed in this mission; if we fail, it will be far more dangerous. This is a titanic struggle, and it is our best and last chance to destroy the vandals before they acquire nuclear weapons.
Someday, we will again have the luxury of arguing over the petty things, like whether to protect a minnow, or the fed funds rate, or whether a $300 tax cut is too much. In the meantime, I relish this lesson that, 60 years after Pearl Harbor, in an America that is much different from the America of 1941, we can still come together as a nation to meet this threat.
God bless all of you and your families, and GOD BLESS AMERICA.
That's a line worth remembering!
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