September 18, 2001
** Special Edition **
From Arlington, VA
(Most of you recall that Susan is Ryan Reynold's mother. We've followed Ryan's recent life in this Newsletter, now it's Susan's turn. She lives less than two miles from the Pentagon. Immediately after the terrorist attack Susan was kind enough to drop me an email indicating that she, her husband, and her daughter were all safe. Here's her report. - HB)
It's almost a week after the attack just down the George Washington Parkway and things still remain unreal.
For the first 4 or 5 days, I was glued in front of the TV, with kind of sleepwalking trips to the kitchen and the bathroom. Now I'm simply unable to think. As I edit this I find that it has taken over an hour to write. It's been impossible to concentrate enough to do any real work at all since Tuesday. From early Friday morning until last night I did not even retrieve my email. I guess I'm still stunned.
It remains too quiet. The people in the bagel shop, as elsewhere, are way too polite and subdued. Another thing that makes no sense at all: How can I possibly be startled by the sound of only helicopters and F-16s overhead? I've become accustomed to the much "bigger" sound passenger planes make when they power back their engines and fly down the Potomac towards National Airport, so this doesn't seem like a normal reaction to much smaller sounds.
There is clearly a threat in this area; I am less stunned but more uncomfortable. The camouflaged Humvees with machine guns on the roofs are still in evidence, but much of the changes are now more subtle. Many of the roads I normally use now bear "Road Closed" signs or are suddenly sprouting concrete barriers, police cruisers, and motorcycles. Other places are now staging areas for one operation or another.
There are overt signs as well indicating that things will never be the same. These signs are not all negative, some are good signs. People are hanging American flags from overpasses on I-66, which heads west out of Arlington. There had not been a light shining from our neighbor's house last week and since he is a ranking Army officer, we assumed the worst. As it turned out, they had left for a short vacation on Monday and did not return until Saturday. As I said, some signs are good.
The "essentials" bag in the trunk of my car has evolved a bit in the last 7 days. Maybe, for some reason, it makes me feel as if I've done something. At the time I did it, I was telling myself that it couldn't possibly be because I was thinking we might have to evacuate. But who knows what will happen next. It's still too much to keep up with the developments. I now feel a sort of long-term threat. Who wouldn't recognize that the symbols of democracy that are so close by are a very real target as this continues?
But in any case I've got my bag and know where my essentials are. I still think of the essentials as being not just prescriptions and underwear, but also my mother's wedding ring. It's scary that in the last few days such things as a spray bottle for water and latex gloves have been added. Who knows what else I'll add as time goes on.
My initial feeling was that my son Ryan being stationed with a B-1 bomber wing, rather than a fighter wing, was a good thing. As this continues I don't feel that is the case. On the other hand, I recognize that he's safer than I am. But I haven't packed my suitcase and taken off for Colorado yet. I haven't taken off the necklace Ryan gave me that says "to Mom, from your son, serving proudly" over an Air Force Crest. I told him that I need more "Air Force Mom" paraphernalia to augment my "Air Force Mom" t-shirt instead of what I was wearing.
Stay safe & keep in touch,
Proud USAF Mom
Hit the Buildings, Missed America
by Charles Brennan
(I heard this open letter read on a local radio station, which they posted on their web site. I thought it was one of the best. Charles wrote it immediately after the attacks. - HB)
An open letter to a terrorist:
Well, you hit the World Trade Center, but you missed America. You hit the Pentagon, but you missed America. You used helpless American bodies to take out other American bodies, but like a poor marksman, you STILL missed America.
Why? Because of something you guys will never understand. America isn't about a building or two, not about financial centers, not about military centers, America isn't about a place, America isn't even about a bunch of bodies. America is about an IDEA. An idea, that you can go someplace where you can earn as much as you can figure out how to, live for the most part, like you envisioned living, and pursue Happiness. (No guarantees that you'll reach it, but you can sure try!)
Go ahead and whine your terrorist whine, and chant your terrorist litany: "If you cannot see my point, then feel my pain." This concept is alien to Americans. We live in a country where we don't have to see your point. But you're free to have one. We don't have to listen to your speech. But you're free to say one. Don't know where you got the strange idea that everyone has to agree with you. We don't agree with each other in this country, almost as a matter of pride. We're a collection of guys that don't agree, called States. We united our individual states to protect ourselves from tyranny in the world. Another idea, we made up on the spot. You CAN make it up as you go, when it's your country, if you're free enough.
Yeah, we're fat, sloppy, easygoing goofs most of the time. That's an unfortunate image to project to the world, but it comes of feeling free and easy about the world you live in. It's unfortunate too, because people start to forget that when you attack Americans, they tend to fight like a cornered badger. The first we knew of the War of 1812, was when England burned Washington DC to the ground. Didn't turn out like England thought it was going to, and it's not going to turn out like you think, either. Sorry, but you're not the first bully on our shores, just the most recent.
No Marquis of Queensbury rules for Americans, either. We were the FIRST and so far, only country in the world to use nuclear weapons in anger. Horrific idea, nowadays? News for you, bucko, it was back then, too, but we used it anyway. Only had two of them in the whole world and we used 'em both. Grandpa Jones worked on the Manhattan Project. Told me once, that right up until they threw the switch, the physicists were still arguing over whether the Uranium alone would fission, or whether it would start a fissioning chain reaction that would eat everything. But they threw the switch anyway, because we had a War to win. Does that tell you something about American Resolve?
So who just declared War on us? It would be nice to point to some real estate, like the good old days. Unfortunately, we're probably at war with random camps, in far-flung places. Who think they're safe. Just like the Barbary Pirates did. Better start sleeping with one eye open.
There's a spirit that tends to take over people who come to this country, looking for opportunity, looking for liberty, looking for freedom. Even if they misuse it. The Marielistas that Castro emptied out of his prisons, were overjoyed to find out how much freedom there was. First thing they did when they hit our shores, was run out and buy guns. The ones that didn't end up dead, ended up in prisons. It was a big PITA then (especially in south Florida), but you're only the newest PITA, not the first.
You guys seem to be incapable of understanding that we don't live in America, America lives in US! American Spirit is what it's called. And killing a few thousand of us, or a few million of us, won't change it. Most of the time, it's a pretty happy-go-lucky kind of Spirit. Until we're crossed in a cowardly manner, then it becomes an entirely different kind of Spirit.
Wait until you see what we do with that Spirit, this time. Sleep tight, if you can. We're coming.
About to Learn
by Leonard Pitts, Miami Herald
(This one was emailed to me by a friend in Colorado. I think it pretty well speaks for itself. - HB)
It's my job to have something to say. They pay me to provide words that help make sense of that which troubles the American soul. But in this moment of airless shock when hot tears sting disbelieving eyes, the only thing I can find to say, the only words that seem to fit, must be addressed to the unknown author of this suffering.
You monster. You beast. You unspeakable bastard.
What lesson did you hope to teach us by your coward's attack on our World Trade Center, our Pentagon, us? What was it you hoped we would learn? Whatever it was, please know that you failed.
Did you want us to respect your cause? You just damned your cause.
Did you want to make us fear? You just steeled our resolve.
Did you want to tear us apart? You just brought us together.
Let me tell you about my people. We are a vast and quarrelsome family, a family rent by racial, social, political and class division, but a family nonetheless. We're frivolous, yes, capable of expending tremendous emotional energy on pop cultural minutiae -- a singer's revealing dress, a ball team's misfortune, a cartoon mouse. We're wealthy, too, spoiled by the ready availability of trinkets and material goods, and maybe because of that, we walk through life with a certain sense of blithe entitlement. We are fundamentally decent, though -- peace-loving and compassionate. We struggle to know the right thing and to do it. And we are, the overwhelming majority of us, people of faith, believers in a just and loving God.
Some people -- you, perhaps -- think that any or all of this makes us weak. You're mistaken. We are not weak. Indeed, we are strong in ways that cannot be measured by arsenals.
Yes, we're in pain now. We are in mourning and we are in shock. We're still grappling with the unreality of the awful thing you did, still working to make ourselves understand that this isn't a special effect from some Hollywood blockbuster, isn't the plot development from a Tom Clancy novel. Both in terms of the awful scope of their ambition and the probable final death toll, your attacks are likely to go down as the worst acts of terrorism in the history of the United States and, probably, the history of the world. You've bloodied us as we have never been bloodied before.
But there's a gulf of difference between making us bloody and making us fall. This is the lesson Japan was taught to its bitter sorrow the last time anyone hit us this hard, the last time anyone brought us such abrupt and monumental pain. When roused, we are righteous in our outrage, terrible in our force. When provoked by this level of barbarism, we will bear any suffering, pay any cost, go to any length, in the pursuit of justice.
I tell you this without fear of contradiction. I know my people, as you, I think, do not. What I know reassures me. It also causes me to tremble with dread of the future.
In the days to come, there will be recrimination and accusation, fingers pointing to determine whose failure allowed this to happen and what can be done to prevent it from happening again. There will be heightened security, misguided talk of revoking basic freedoms. We'll go forward from this moment sobered, chastened, sad. But determined, too. Unimaginably determined.
THE STEEL IN US
You see, the steel in us is not always readily apparent. That aspect of our character is seldom understood by people who don't know us well. On this day, the family's bickering is put on hold.
As Americans we will weep, as Americans we will mourn, and as Americans, we will rise in defense of all that we cherish.
So I ask again: What was it you hoped to teach us? It occurs to me that maybe you just wanted us to know the depths of your hatred. If that's the case, consider the message received. And take this message in exchange: You don't know my people. You don't know what we're capable of. You don't know what you just started.
But you're about to learn.
by Mir Tamim Ansary
(I wanted to close with this piece written by Mir Tamim Ansary, an Afghani-American and considered by his friends and colleagues to be brilliant. Mr. Ansary is a prolific writer of children's books. I'll bet that if you check the reading list at your local elementary school you'll find his works. I did. There will be a lot of saber rattling and calls for revenge in the days, weeks, and months ahead. I pray that those in charge know Mr. Ansary's words. - HB)
I've been hearing a lot of talk about "bombing Afghanistan back to the Stone Age." Ronn Owens, on KGO Talk Radio today, allowed that this would mean killing innocent people, people who had nothing to do with this atrocity, but "we're at war, we have to accept collateral damage. What else can we do?" Minutes later I heard some TV pundit discussing whether we "have the belly to do what must be done."
And I thought about the issues being raised especially hard because I am from Afghanistan, and even though I've lived here in the U.S. for 35 years I've never lost track of what's going on there. So I want to tell anyone who will listen how it all looks from where I'm standing.
I speak as one who hates the Taliban and Osama Bin Laden. There is no doubt in my mind that these people were responsible for the atrocity in New York. I agree that something must be done about those monsters.
But the Taliban and Bin Laden are not Afghanistan. They're not even the government of Afghanistan. The Taliban are a cult of ignorant psychotics who took over Afghanistan in 1997. Bin Laden is a political criminal with a plan. When you think Taliban, think Nazis. When you think Bin Laden, think Hitler. And when you think "the people of Afghanistan" think "the Jews in the concentration camps." It's not only that the Afghan people had nothing to do with this atrocity. They were the first victims of the perpetrators. They would exult if someone would come in there, take out the Taliban and clear out the rats nest of international thugs holed up in their country.
Some say, why don't the Afghans rise up and overthrow the Taliban? The answer is, they're starved, exhausted, hurt, incapacitated, suffering. A few years ago, the United Nations estimated that there are 500,000 disabled orphans in Afghanistan , a country with no economy, no food. There are millions of widows. And the Taliban has been burying these widows alive in mass graves. The soil is littered with land mines, the farms were all destroyed by the Soviets. These are a few of the reasons why the Afghan people have not overthrown the Taliban.
We come now to the question of bombing Afghanistan back to the Stone Age. Trouble is, that's been done. The Soviets took care of it already. Make the Afghans suffer? They're already suffering. Level their houses? Done. Turn their schools into piles of rubble? Done. Eradicate their hospitals? Done. Destroy their infrastructure? Cut them off from medicine and health care? Too late. Someone already did all that.
New bombs would only stir the rubble of earlier bombs. Would they at least get the Taliban? Not likely. In today's Afghanistan, only the Taliban eat, only they have the means to move around. They'd slip away and hide. Maybe the bombs would get some of those disabled orphans, they don't move too fast, they don't even have wheelchairs. But flying over Kabul and dropping bombs wouldn't really be a strike against the criminals who did this horrific thing. Actually it would only be making common cause with the Taliban -- by raping once again the people they've been raping all this time
So what else is there? What can be done, then? Let me now speak with true fear and trembling. The only way to get Bin Laden is to go in there with ground troops. When people speak of "having the belly to do what needs to be done" they're thinking in terms of having the belly to kill as many as needed. Having the belly to overcome any moral qualms about killing innocent people. Let's pull our heads out of the sand. What's actually on the table is Americans dying. And not just because some Americans would die fighting their way through Afghanistan to Bin Laden's hideout. It's much bigger than that folks. Because to get any troops to Afghanistan, we'd have to go through Pakistan. Would they let us? Not likely. The conquest of Pakistan would have to be first. Will other Muslim nations just stand by? You see where I'm going. We're flirting with a world war between Islam and the West.
And guess what: that's Bin Laden's program. That's exactly what he wants. That's why he did this. Read his speeches and statements. It's all right there. He really believes Islam would beat the west. It might seem ridiculous, but he figures if he can polarize the world into Islam and the West, he's got a billion soldiers. If the west wreaks a holocaust in those lands, that's a billion people with nothing left to lose, that's even better from Bin Laden's point of view. He's probably wrong, in the end the west would win, whatever that would mean, but the war would last for years and millions would die, not just theirs but ours. Who has the belly for that? Bin Laden does. Anyone else?
Copyright Howard E. Burdick 2018. All Rights Reserved.