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The Aftermath

By Greg Cahill

"THIS IS THE DAY that America's luck ran out," CNN commentator Jeff Greenfield told a saddened colleague while contemplating the carnage and chaos unfolding in the streets of New York and Washington, D.C., in the wake of Tuesday's terrorist attacks. Greenfield, recalling the 1993 car bombing of the World Trade Center, noted the uncanny resemblance between Tuesday's events and the plot of the 1996 Tom Clancy novel Executive Orders, in which a Japanese terrorist crashes a hijacked jetliner into the U.S. Capitol. Greenfield also reminded viewers that other, similar plots had been uncovered by law enforcement officials.

"The warnings were there," Greenfield concluded.

At press time, the extent of the death toll, the impact of this horrendous tragedy on the national psyche, and the implications of these despicable acts on the international stage are uncertain. Yet, clearly the attacks were well planned in their rich symbolism. In the coming weeks, the TV news programs will replay over and again the almost unfathomable images of the lofty twin towers of the World Trade Center--an emblem of American financial might--crumbling into dust and debris.

Already the airwaves are filled with politicians and pundits comparing the attacks this week to the 1941 assault on the U.S. Pacific fleet anchored at Pearl Harbor: a sneak attack aimed at a mighty symbol of American power. Indeed, the attacks this week do recall Pearl Harbor, but not for the reason most pundits think. In the years before the United States entered World War II, isolationist fervor gripped the nation. High-profile figures, including aviator Charles Lindbergh, pushed a strong America First movement, arguing that the United States should not enter the war in Europe. Similarly, the Bush administration has taken a huge step back from America's previously intense diplomatic efforts to seek a peaceful solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The president has alienated world leaders by rejecting the global-warming treaty and continues to promote his controversial missile defense system, despite warnings from the world community that the system will weaken international treaties. And last week, the United States failed even to send a high-level delegation to the U.N. Conference on Racism in Durban, South Africa, missing the opportunity to win credibility with African nations.

But America can't be a player if it stands against the world.

After all, half of life is just showing up, as the old adage goes. In the aftermath of this week's attacks, we must ask ourselves: Can the United States afford to squander its influence as the world's only superpower instead of using its position to defuse political tensions that foster further acts of terrorism?

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From the September 13-19, 2001 issue of the Northern California Bohemian.

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