Jun 23, 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

You monster. You beast. You unspeakable *******.

What lesson did you hope to teach us by your coward's attack on our
World Trade 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.


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.
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