We'll go forward from this moment
from Leonard Pitts, Jr. in the MiamiHerald
Published Wednesday, September 12, 2001
It's my job to have something to say.
They pay me 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
WorldTrade 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 cause.
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, social, 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 their 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, probably, the history of
the world. You've bloodied us as we have never been bloodied before.
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 the 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 determined.
THE STEEL IN US
You see, the steel in us is not always readily apparent. 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.
So I ask again: What was it you hoped to teach us? It occurs to me that
maybe you just wanted us to know the depths of your hatred. 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 capable of. You don't
know what you just started.
But you're about to learn.