09.13.01 War, day two. Random notes:

The men on the plane decided to attack the hijackers. They learned what had happened in New York with the other hijacked planes; they figured their lives were lost already. They fought back. What it’s like to swallow your terror and act is beyond the imagination of most ordinary folks - but the point is, they were ordinary folks.

We’re all on that plane now.

Driving to work, I saw a pickup truck with two gigantic American flags tied to the cab. The driver had his hand out the window and his thumb pointed up. I sped up, pulled along side, rolled down the window, honked hard, and returned the gesture. He saw me - honked - stabbed his thumb in the air again. The air between our vehicles felt full of lightning and fire. The day is full of these moments - there’s an Old Navy shirt with a faded American flag on it, and I swear everyone who bought it wore it today. You look at the flag, you meet their eyes, you nod. That nod stands in for a range of emotions - sorrow, support, resolution. It’s good to show the flag again. It’s necessary to show the flag. It has only entered the national consciousness sporadically in recent years; at Target, for example, it’s a Seasonal Item. Politically, it’s news when we debate the legalites of burning it. Socially, we’ve been reminded that smart people roll their eyes when people get emotional about the flag. Oh, we’ll let the old VFW boys tear up when the flag passes by, but that’s it. Anyone under fifty who seems inordinately proud of the thing is, well, uninformed and misguidedly nostaglic at best, and a jingoistic nutcase at worst.

Think I’m kidding? A friend put up three flags last Fourth. A neighbor called him up and complained: "too many flags." The flags bothered him. Three flags. On the Fourth.

Those days, I think, are done.

The pictures on the left are horrifying and heartening - when I saw that video, I knew instantly the building in the left-hand corner. My old friend the Whitehall Building. Ninety years of active duty. I put the New York postcard site back up today - damn the bandwidth. I’m not linking to it yet, but Google image searches on New York skyscrapers turn up my site, so I want this resource to be there if needed. God forbid.

Friends from New York just called. They’re fine. Went downstairs to pass phone to wife; saw TV. Lower Manhattan glows like a furnace where something terrible is being forged.

At work today someone told a joke about this. A mild one. A stupid one. Gary Condit was the punchline.

I don’t think he’ll tell me a joke like that again.

Do people realize j
ust what is ahead? If, indeed, we’re serious about this. We’ve wasted ten years on “calibrated” responses “designed” to have a “measured” impact; for God’s sake, even the last time we had a ground war the Allied forces barely suffered a hangnail. I don’t fall into that trap about Americans being soft and squishy when it comes to war, that we shrink when we see the body bags - not true in 91, and damn sure not true today. I’ve never sensed this level of resolve. But we’re talking about large-scale multinational operations against nations, plural. Syria. Iraq. Iran. Afghanistan. I’ve heard a few people suggest that we shouldn’t stoop to retribution, that this somehow brings us down to their level. I’ve heard the Ghandi quote a dozen times: “an eye for an eye leaves everyone blind.”

With all due respect to Ben Kingsley, this is moral imbecility. Self-defense is not retribution. The day we impose a dictatorial theocracy, strip women of the most basic human rights, dynamite the art of other religions, train our children to hate Jews, and give aid, comfort and money to a man who exults in the deaths of innocent people, then we’re down at the Taliban’s level.

Some friends have described their day as a series of numb rote gestures, as if drugged by the news; I’ve talked to some people whose voices betray an indescribable sadness that consumes every breath and the space in between. Reasonable responses. Normal. There’s a third: fury. I am furious - clench-jawed white-knuckle wide staring anger. I was putting up a picture tonight, and I heard my daughter laughing in the bathtub, a simple joyful baby giggle - I stopped, spun the hammer around in my hand, felt its heft, and knew without question that if I had before me a man who had blown her to atoms, I would be able to beat him to death without a second thought.

I hold on to the anger; I turn it on the lathe, hold it up to the light, test its point. Because the moment I put it down I will lose all composure, and there will be no end to the tears.

Later for them. Time for that when we've brought the plane down safe.

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