911by Robert Gillis
Published in the Foxboro Reporter 9/2001.

The anger and pain resonate through our souls, cutting deeper than anything we thought we could feel. We are collectively wounded.

There are no words, nothing that can be said to make sense of any of this. There is no adjective strong enough to describe the loss, the scope of the attacks, and the horrific aftermath that will be felt for generations.

All of us have suffered an immeasurable loss. The images of terrorist destruction are burned into our souls. Symbols of our country’s strength and power — destroyed. This attack was visceral. The number of dead is unfathomable.

The scenes we have witnessed in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania will never leave us. Worse than Pearl Harbor, JFK in Dallas, even Oklahoma City. An orchestrated attack on who and what we are, our very ideology, a loss of life in the possibly tens of thousands, broadcast again and again. Every hour, more horror, more bad news, more death.

President Bush called this the first war of the 21st century, and indeed, that is exactly what this is. The horrendous images of the terrorist destruction of the World Trade Center and Pentagon are defining moments in our lives.

As a nation, we will never be the same.

Ironically, just a few weeks ago I heard a speaker on a call-in radio show talk about how relatively peaceful the times were. He was berating the current generation as having things much too easy, of never knowing sacrifice, wars, and economic hardship.

The show’s host reminded him that our parents and grandparents, the brave souls who fought the wars of the last century, who lived through the Depression, fought most of all for a better future for their children, for a world without war and oppression. They fought to protect the future, he said, and our way of life, and to make the country safe for the children. He reminded us that we must never forget how hard-won that peace and safety was. We should never take it for granted. We shouldn’t berate a generation for not knowing war.

But now things have changed, and this generation will know war, will know death, and suffering and loss.

For me, one of my scariest moments was Tuesday afternoon. I was driving around Foxboro common, when it suddenly occurred to me that my best friend David worked in Manhattan. I called his wife in Jersey; thank God, he was nowhere near the World Trade Center. Nor was our friend Martin, also in Manhattan at the time. They are both safe, but so many other families have been ripped apart; even here in Foxboro, families have been shattered by these attacks, and our prayers and thoughts are with them.

We mourn for our Nation. As frivolous and foolish as we can be, as intolerant, argumentative and cruel as we can be to each other, when something like this happens we are reminded that we are first and foremost one country, one family, one humanity.

One writer on the Internet said it so well: “[America is] a vast and quarrelsome family, a family rent by racial, social, political and class division, but a family nonetheless.”

The events of this past week have put the UNITED back into the United States of America. We’ve seen countless examples of this unity all week: The rescue workers, the unprecedented outpouring of support, the thousands of people who have lined up to give blood, money, and any relief they can.

So many others are flying our flag, wearing red white and blue, and doing what they can. There have been candlelight services large and small, memorials across the Nation, and churches have been open all days to accommodate the throngs of people who just need to pray.

The media was also very helpful and comforting. Unlike the hysteria of past disasters, it seemed to exhibit a sense of reverence and responsibility this time around.

There was no sensationalism. The families of the dead were treated with the utmost respect. The reporters did not press the military or FBI to reveal data that could be used against us, as they had so often in the Gulf War. This time, the media brought us all together. No commercials, no lurid or maudlin video segments. Just the news as it unfolded. Constant updates, valid questions, and just pictures, often with no commentary at all.

Then came tales of incredible heroism. Stories of passengers who rushed the hijackers of their plane that was seemingly targeting the White House. The heartbreaking deaths of the rescue workers who were killed when the unthinkable happened and the towers collapsed on their triage units. The brave rescuers became victims themselves. The people who made it out just in time, or the ones still searching for a loved one. Those on planes, calling loved ones and relaying everything that was happening. People in the World Trade Center, calling to say goodbye to family.

Here at home, everyone is numb, outraged, devastated, and in most cases, can’t even speak about it. There is a pall over all of us. A feeling that things have changed for the worst forever. That nothing will ever be the same.

My wife and I have been stopping each day at LaSallette shrine or Saint Mary’s to light candles and say prayers. Friday night, we walked Castle Island in South Boston. Right across the water, so close you can touch it, is Logan Airport. I used to walk the Island as a kid, but that night, the place was dead quiet — there were no planes. It was eerie. It felt wrong, not having those massive jetliners pass over every few minutes. Everything was so quiet. It was surreal.

As we passed by the Korean War memorial, four women and their children were lighting candles. We asked to join them, and they kindly shared some candles. These strangers — people we probably would have never met — talked about the extraordinary events of the past few days, and the fear of more attacks, of biological weapons, and about how our lives had changed. Sue talked about running the gamut of emotions — shock, anger, and fear. There’s a fear in all of us — of new attacks, of security being shattered, of just not being safe anymore. Everyone seems to feel this way.

I looked at their children and realized they were too young to understand that their world was completely different.

Standing there with these people, our little candles burning in the silent evening, I realized this was a moment I would remember for the rest of my life.

It began to get dark and for some reason the lampposts didn’t come on, so only our little candlelight shined. We thanked the people and they offered to let us keep the candles. We walked the rest of the Island, passing others, solemnly walking with lit candles. On the highway, a group of trucks had a large American flag lit with spotlights. Everyone beeped as they drove by.

As we arrived back here in Foxboro, there were little candles on every doorstep, and we added our own to the front yard. The sight of all those little candles was very moving. Everywhere people
were remembering. We were united in our mourning.

The tragedy isn’t just the destruction of the World Trade Center, Pentagon, and the tremendous loss of life. The tragedy is also an attack on our ideology, our open society, and our freedom.

In the aftermath of the disaster, it is our way of life that has become the new target, and there are some things to consider.

First, while it is very important that security is upgraded at airports, and we must improve security here on the home front, we must not let our zealousness for security compromise our rights or the rights of others. We must not lose what we have fought for centuries to obtain.

None of us will mind delays at airports for security, but we wouldn’t want to see photo-ID checks at the mall, or random police stops of ordinary citizens walking the street. It will so easy in the times ahead to want to pass all kinds of new laws and ordinances that on the surface will make us seem safer, but in actuality will chip away at the freedom and open society that we have fought to achieve.

We can become too suspicious, too paranoid, and too eager to pounce. We must be vigilant to enact security that is absolutely necessary, and not inadvertently begin to create a totalitarian society like the ones so many of our forebears died fighting. Yes, our open society makes us more vulnerable, but it is one of America’s greatest strengths. If we lose too many of our rights or freedoms, then the terrorist really have won, because they took away what makes America unique.

Second, after Pearl Harbor was attacked by the Japanese in 1941, mass-hysteria and racism swept our country, and thousands of innocent Japanese-Americans, most who were US born citizens, were rounded up and placed in internment camps for years by the US government. They lost everything — their homes, their possessions, their way of life. However, no Japanese-American was ever charged with treason during or after World War II. No Germans were rounded up. No Italians. Just the Japanese. Why? Because they looked like the enemy.

While it is critical that we bring to justice those responsible for these attacks, we must not yield to the xenophobia we already seeing forming around us. Already we have seen Moslem mosques and individuals threatened or attacked. We have watched reports of broken windows and threatening phone messages.

We must not succumb to racial hysteria. We are all Americans, no matter what we look like of how our last named is spelled. The Arabic and Muslim citizens of this country are people of our nation, part of the family. We must never allow ourselves to be swept away by hatred again. When that happens, the terrorists win.

President Bush, the FBI and other organizations are taking great strides to identify the responsible individuals. We trust and pray that once those responsible have been identified, they will be dealt with. I hope they are destroyed, I hope the terrorist network and training camps are obliterated.

But even as I write those last words, so echoed across the nation, I realize that a desire for revenge is so easy in these circumstances, and yet we must be committed for the long haul. Everywhere you look, people speak of retaliation. I’ve seen a dozen emails from different people saying some variation of “We must not let this stand” or “You got our attention, we are coming for you.”

This feeling of unity cannot be a passing fad. The support we feel right now must stand when our young sons and daughters are called upon to go and fight these unimaginable bastards. We have already seen the reserves called up; we may see activation of a military draft again. This retribution will probably not be a single air strike. It may well be a retaliation and campaign that will last years.

It’s going to be a war. There are hard times ahead; times we never imagined we would ever see again. Our support for our country must not waiver over the next few weeks, months, or even years.

We pray that as those who did this are punished, as we mourn and bury the dead, and the memorials stand in silent tribute to our fallen bothers and sisters, that we remember the brotherhood we felt this week.

We must never forget the events of September 11, 2001.

We pray for the United States of America and the world. May God protect us and help us heal.

 

 

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