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Friday, September 14, 2001

Get up and turn on the television. Learn that a lot of what was reported yesterday was wrong. No one tried to board a plane with a fake pilot's license. No co-conspirators were arrested. It was a whole day of misinformation and overreaction. What else is untrue and overblown?

One thing that is never overstated is the grief of the families and friends of those thousands of human beings lost in this disaster. We will never forget the sacrifices of the police officers and firefighters and other rescue workers, some of them volunteers. We will forever relive the moments of impact, and forever imagine the horrors that ended so many lives.

Now I'm weaning myself off the wall-to-wall coverage, and I kind of wish the networks would do the same. Peter Jennings is looking awfully wrung out and starting to fumble his words. We can't afford to lose him to nervous exhaustion.

Just for variety, I turned to the Fox news coverage and couldn't believe what I was seeing. How many people with plastic hair can one network possibly employ? These people sit there and shout at the camera, when they're not shouting at each other. That's not the kind of healing we need right now.

At least they're not showing that video over and over, the way they did the first two days. The focus yesterday was more on the rescue efforts, and the attempts to identify the perpetrators. Every newly uncovered survivor was a cause to rejoice, and every newly arrested conspirator created a little more fear. How many more can still be buried alive? Not many, I'm afraid. How many more terrorists can still be at large? Too many. I'm afraid.

The prayer service this morning should have been more soothing than I found it. At least it was an hour that slowed slightly the frenetic pace of information, misinformation, preaching and saber-rattling. Amid the solemn remembrances we heard hard promises of more and greater violence to come.

If I exercise my right to say that I don't think the president should be given unlimited powers, does that make me un-American? What if I let it be known that every time Bush speaks I get more frightened? If I feel as if we're being led into war not by prudent judgment, but by poorly informed public opinion, am I unpatriotic?

Right now I'm as fearful of what my government might do as I am of what the next wave of terrorism might bring. I hope that our friends in Europe will forgive the cold shoulder the Bush administration has given them since it took office, and the way these people have sneered at any kind of a global community. I don't think our president commands much respect around the world. That can't make it easier for him to build the coalition he needs.

If we're going to put civilians on the other side of the world at risk, we need to have an attainable objective, and we should be sure to have the agreement of as many other countries (and individuals, for that matter) as possible. We're not in this alone, and we can't do this alone. I hope we haven't burned too many bridges by our words and actions. (And I'm sorry for the injudicious metaphor.)

I'd feel better, I think, if Rudy Giuliani were president. Or Peter Jennings (who I believe is ineligible). Or ... ? It's a pretty short list, given the dearth of leadership and statesmanship we've had in recent times. This is, however, a chance for someone to step up and fill the vacuum. The best-case possibility is for that person to be the man in the White House.

walnut tree

The walnut tree at the edge of my back yard.

I fear we're embarking on a war we can't win. Beyond that, it's a war that cannot end, because eliminating all potential terrorist threats is impossible. And "impossible" isn't even a strong enough word for how impossible it is. The only way to be perfectly safe is to give up all our freedom. I'm not ready to sign over my rights in the name of a security that can't be guaranteed anyway.

Am I angry? Of course. Do I want to punish the people who invaded our country and killed our people? Absolutely. Do I want to turn the United States into an armed camp, where the government can stop us from speaking and moving about freely? What would be the point of that? Isn't that how people live in Afghanistan? A perfectly safe society is a society sanitized of all dissent, where everyone is a suspect before a crime is even committed. That's not America.

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