AFTER ALL, WE ARE FORTUNATE
BY ROGER E. HERNANDEZ
I was going to write today about Mexican President Vicente Fox's visit to Washington, about the growth of Hispanic political power, about the inevitability of coming immigration reform.
I had 37 single-spaced pages of notes. Interviews, newspaper articles downloaded from the Web, the text of Fox's speech before Congress. A turning point in Hispanic America, I was going to say. That's my job in this column: To write about the way Hispanics are changing America, and the way America is changing Hispanics.
It all seems so irrelevant now.
How does one describe the feeling of looking at downtown New York City and not seeing the twin towers of the World Trade Center? I saw them being built when I was a kid, watched them go up floor by floor until they became what everyone thought was a permanent part of the Manhattan skyline. They are gone. Unbelievable? Shocking? A monstrosity? Words do not suffice. And I say that from a safe place, 15 miles away from the carnage. What it must have been like for the people there and in the shattered Pentagon, for relatives desperately searching for loved ones.
We fret about ethnic tensions, about bilingual education, about the meaning of Jennifer Lopez's dÈcolletage. Put it all aside. More Americans might have been killed on domestic soil Tuesday than have died in any single day since Antietam, the bloodiest battle of the Civil War.
That's a sentence that, before Tuesday morning, could have only appeared in a work of fiction. Our country had been spared the terrors that much of the world knew. There are people alive in Europe and Asia who saw cities reduced to rubble 50 years ago. There are people in Latin America who know what it is like to be jailed by totalitarian regimes. There are people in Africa who have witnessed genocide. Citizens of the former Yugoslavia are familiar with war and destruction. In the Middle East, fear is a way of life. Now Americans know we too are not immune to attack on a massive scale.
It has already been said, yet it must be said again here: This is not a matter for the criminal-justice system, like the first World Trade Center bombing in 1993, like the bombing in Oklahoma City. This is war. Not for lawyers. For soldiers.
America must put all its resources to finding the animals who planned this. And that is a difficult task. When Pearl Harbor was bombed, we knew exactly who the enemy was and where to find him. When it comes to Tuesday's subhumans, we cannot answer either question yet, and the first one is likely to turn out easier to answer than the second.
But when we do find them, we have to hit them hard. No more restrained, surgical airstrikes. These people must be utterly destroyed, because it is the only way to reassure a nervous nation that at least one group of terrorists with the fanaticism and expertise to carry out an act as catastrophic as the one we witnessed has been wiped off the face of the earth.
Until that day ? well, after that day, too, and for the foreseeable future ? we are going to live in a country different from the one in which we lived before Tuesday morning. Everyday life is going to be more inconvenient. Get ready to put up with unprecedented levels of security at airports, in public buildings. It will be a challenge to balance the new need for security with the freedoms we all take for granted.
The annoyances that come with heightened security are a price we must pay if we are ever going to gain back some sense of relative safety. Yet we have to remember that the attacks on the Pentagon and the World Trade Center involved no homemade bombs, no van full of explosives that an alert cop walking his beat could have spotted even if intelligence had failed as cataclysmically as it did Tuesday. Men apparently armed with nothing more than knives and box cutters sufficed to turn three civilian airliners into the deadliest weapons ever used against Americans at home.
What is next? It is impossible to guarantee absolute safety from terrorists. But it is possible to greatly reduce their chances of success if we toughen domestic security, and if we find and destroy them before they strike again.
In the midst of this stunning tragedy, it is well to remember that we are fortunate. If one country in the world has the technical know-how, intelligence apparatus, military power and sheer resolve needed for the tasks so urgently needed today, it is the United States of America that awakened September 11.
Roger Hernandez is a syndicated columnist and writer-in-residence at New Jersey Institute of Technology. Write to him in care of this newspaper or send e-mail to email@example.com
© 2001 King Features Syndicate Inc.