Reflections amid aftershocks: commitments to keep

President Bush is doing what he should in rallying the civilized world against terrorism. He’s assessing America’s full arsenal of carrots and sticks. Pakistan can attest to that. This is a zero-sum game and nobody draws a bye. The president effectively underscored that reality in his Thursday night speech to Congress, the American people — and the rest of the world.

While it was the U.S. that was specifically targeted on Sept. 11, all of humanity was attacked. More than 80 countries lost citizens; everyone lost a sense of civilization.

But while we ask others if they’re with us or with the terrorists, there is something else we must demand — and we must demand it of ourselves. We must be more committed to defending ourselves and our way of life than terrorists are to its destruction.

The ultimate mettle detector is in place. It already has yielded results; none more graphic than the heroism on daily display in New York. Not all are so noble.

When the House of Representatives approved the use of force by the president, the vote was 420-1. Normally that’s unheard of, de facto unanimity. Not so this time. How dare Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., vote against such a measure! Even if her Oakland constituency consisted of nothing but ethnic Afghani Quakers, Rep. Lee’s vote was an abomination. This was not the Gulf of Tonkin II; this was a morally justified, nationally necessary response to war, horrifically and despicably waged against America in our midst.

Nonetheless, the bipartisan vote was a strong signal to terrorists and civilized nations alike that as diverse as we are as a nation, we are united in our defense of ourselves and everything we value.

Now is a time for the media, which, on balance, has comported itself responsibly, professionally and even patriotically, to not yield to competitive instincts as America’s response plays out over these next weeks, months and years.

We need to know what’s going on and how we can help. We don’t, however, need to know, for instance, where Vice President Cheney is at a given time, what circuitous routes Air Force One takes out of obvious national security concerns or commando-deployment details.

More to the point, we Americans aren’t the only ones in the global village watching the network and cable news programming.

ABC anchor Peter Jennings, for one, has been a reassuring rock. And there have been others. Campbell Brown, an NBC White House reporter, however, was the antithesis with cheap-shot, smug speculation about President Bush not returning to Washington immediately after the terrorist attacks — and the implications for his “legacy.” It was beyond poor taste.

It’s now critical for Americans to finally see past the divisiveness that has long been the by-product of our politically correct infatuation with diversity and its resultant sense of separateness.

A hyphenated America, whether in the form of Irish-Americans, Jewish-Americans, African-Americans, Arab-Americans, Cuban-Americans, Disabled-Americans or Lesbian-Americans cannot be as united as it needs to be. Bring back the melting pot; hold the salad bowl.

And now is not the time for finger-pointing and scapegoating. Yes, coordination among the C.I.A., the I.N.S. and the F.B.I. would have been a good idea, and, yes, airplane and airport security could have been much better. We can fix that without rounds of recriminations.

We also need to walk that fine — but definable — line between the legitimate, prudent profiling of people at critical security links across this nation and hysterical, hateful behavior toward innocent American Muslims. Many of these people are here by choice, not just by the luck of birthright. The overwhelming majority are solid citizens with a profound sense of family and the highest regard for education and work ethic. They are loyal Americans who happen to look different. Their Islamic religion preaches peace. Its perversion is not their fault.

And speaking of religion, evangelical yahoos need to dismantle their moralizing and demoralizing pulpits that masquerade as bull horns of intolerance. Their fire-and-brimstone, “we-had-it-coming-because-of-loose-morals-and-gay-coupling” message must yield to those — across the spectrum of religious denominations — who can actually help America in its hour of need.

And we certainly don’t need to be lectured to about our corrupt culture by Islamic extremists and fatwa fanatics who treat women as chattel and mark their calendars for upcoming public beheadings.

No, America isn’t perfect, just perfectly vulnerable to the agents of evil. We may be too good for our own good. We’re going to change some things about America, and make it more secure, but we won’t change the essence of who we are and what we stand for.

Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said it best. “We can change the way we live, which is unacceptable, or change the way they live. We choose the later.”

Amen.

God bless America.

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