They pay me to tease shades of meaning from social and cultural
issues, 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
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, cultural, 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 its 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, indeed, the
history of the world. You've bloodied us as we have never been bloodied
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 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
You see, there is steel beneath this velvet. 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.
Still, I keep wondering what it was you hoped to teach us.
It occurs to me that maybe you just wanted us to know the depths of your
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 about. You don't know what you just started.