In the aftermath -- 09/13/01

Each generation seems to have some defining moment of horror, the kind of even where everyone remembers vividly where they were and what they were doing when they first heard the news. For my parents it was December 7th, Pearl Harbor. For me and my contemporaries it was November 22nd, the assassination of President Kennedy. For my children it will be September 11th.

I had an journal entry planned in my head for Tuesday. My company was having a meeting in Providence, a "town meeting" for employees from the three different sites in Rhode Island. The meeting was being held at the University Club, an exclusive private club located where the Brown University and RISD campuses overlap. There would be a corporate vice president speaking, a round-table discussion, a question and answer session, lunch at the club, followed by a tour of the Rhode Island School of Design art gallery. The original email notice had said "business casual" dress, which had surprised me as I had thought that sounded out of place for the University Club... and sure enough, a follow-up email (marked "Urgent!") corrected that to be traditional business dress. I planned to write a bit of local gossip about the mayor and the club (Providence Mayor Buddy Cianci had applied for membership several years ago and had been blackballed -- about two years ago the University Club planned some renovation work and encountered considerable difficulties with various city departments, building inspectors, etc -- until the club offered a membership to the mayor -- and, as if by magic, their difficulties vanished) and I was looking forward to seeing the inside of the club and describing it in my journal.

On my way to Providence I switched from a classical music FM station to the AM dial so I could pick up local traffic reports -- Don Imus had one of his sports reporters on the telephone, describing smoke pouring from one of the World Trade Center towers -- I changed stations -- another eyewitness description of the smoke and fire, reports of an explosion, even rumors that an airplane had struck the building -- suddenly there was a cry of "Oh my God!" -- an airplane had struck the other tower. I knew immediately that this had to be a terrorist attack, although I was thinking in terms of small, private airplanes, never thinking that these could be passenger jets. As people mingled over coffee prior to the opening of the meeting the only topic was the news reports. Some one said that a plane had hit the Pentagon. The real world was turning into a Tom Clancy novel.

Our meeting barely lasted twenty minutes -- our vice president got an urgent phone call requesting that he return to corporate headquarters (in the New York suburbs) immediately. I attempted to phone Adam (my eldest, who lives in Brooklyn) from my cell phone in the parking lot but I couldn't get through. When I finally got to my office the message light was blinking on my telephone -- I was much relieved to discover it was a voice mail message from Adam saying that he and Leah were okay. (They both work in Manhattan.) I attempted many times to reach them by phone all of that day and the next, finally getting through Wednesday night.

I applaud the resolve shown by President Bush and by Secretaries Rumsfeld and Powell -- we certainly should treat this as an act of war -- and we should not allow any nation to provide a safe haven for any terrorist who has claimed American lives, nor for any of their coconspiritors and accomplices. We should declare a state of war exists between the United States of America and these terrorist groups... and proclaim an absolute blockade against any nation that aids them or hides them until they turn them over to us... an absolute no-fly zone, no railway transit zone, no highway traffic zone, and a total naval blockade of any coast line that they may have...

Consider this: Israel declared a day of mourning and offered to send experienced rescue teams to help while Palestinians danced in the street and led children in singing to celebrate the deaths of thousands of innocent people. Who should we consider to be true and loyal and deserving of our friendship and assistance?

However, I fear the actions of bigots and hate-mongers within our own population. You may have heard news reports of a man being arrested on an AmTrak train in Providence, charged with carrying a concealed weapon. He was a Sikh -- thus he was wearing a turban and a full beard and carrying a ceremonial knife, a religious object, just like a Catholic would wear a cross -- and yet not only was he arrested, there was a crowd of idiots at the station who wanted to attack him. Last night three teenagers in Massachusetts were arrested and charged with a hate crime for attempting to attack a convenience store owner -- an immigrant from India. There are similar news reports from Chicago and Detroit.

This is nothing but bigotry and ignorant hatred. These thugs must be stopped. The actions of terrorists have no more to do with Islamic Americans than the violent actions by a collection of scum in Ireland have to do with Catholic Americans and Protestant Americans. Remember the shame of the internment camps for our citizens of Japanese origin during World War II. (And there was certainly enough shame to be spread around then -- Earl Warren, the future liberal Chief Justice, justified the detention camps on the grounds that those of Japanese ancestry were "inscrutable" and the workings of their minds were different -- and all of this was allowed to happen by FDR.)

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