Answer terror with resolution

Attacks on U.S.: Nation needs unity, clarity, purpose to thwart terrorists' objectives.

September 12, 2001

THE AMERICAN people will rise to the challenge of the most depraved terrorist atrocity in history. We were all attacked. We are all in it together, sharing shock, fear and grief.

Acts of heroism and altruism amid the carnage in New York and Washington were too many to be noticed, honored and rewarded.

The nation's heart goes out to the victims, the pawns, the innocent chosen at random and their loved ones.

Terrorism is war. It is also publicity stunt. Its purpose is to be noticed, to spread fear, to undermine confidence and to provoke the wrong responses so as to alienate more people. Terrorism has little function if the cause is not known. Usually the perpetrators seek recognition, as well.

This plot showed extreme sophistication in coordinating four plane hijackings, apparently inserting suicide pilots, and going for targets that could be hit with weapons that were not the ones against which the United States was conspicuously guarding.

All that suggests a large and well-funded operation, not a lone wolf. A great deal of thought went into the terrorism. A great deal of cool rational thought should go into the responses.

A civil and open society is vulnerable. But this attack brought the nation and much of the world's business to a standstill. Clearly, airport security for all its nuisance to passengers is not as good as U.S. experts thought, and the terrorists must have experimented and known how to penetrate it.

The president has vowed to find and punish the terrorists, as indeed he should. Virtually all Americans must want that. In this kind of war, it is important to get the identities right. To hit the wrong ones, to make people suffer who did not do it or even help those who did, only achieves what the terrorists want.

Most suspicion points to Osama bin Laden and the network of affinity groups linked to him. The Saudi-born, Yemenite-descended exile in Afghanistan has orchestrated a great deal of terrorism, including the bombings of the New York World Trade Center in 1993, of two U.S. embassies in Africa in 1998, for which he has been indicted, and of the USS Cole in port in Yemen last October.

Vows to get bin Laden have only fueled his mystique. Yet knee-jerk assumptions he was behind the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing were made foolish by the home-grown terrorist Timothy McVeigh.

Attacks at wrong targets would only help him. The notion of a war between Islam and the United States of America is his. The United States has no quarrel with Islam. Most of the world's Muslims have no quarrel with the United States.

The attacks produced all sorts of precautions across Maryland and the nation. A review must examine which were sensible and which were not. Certainly transportation was needed to get school children and commuters home, whether from Washington or the Baltimore suburbs.

Panic, chaos, confusion and unnecessary shutdown all reward the terrorist.

Terrorism must be fought with steely resolve, but also with common sense and precision.

The United States is supposed to be the only superpower, in an era of peace. Clearly the very good things about American society make it vulnerable. But we are not the first people to endure terrorism.

Now Americans understand better what Israelis have been living through, what British people lived through before the IRA cease-fire, what ordinary law-abiding Colombians are living through from FARC.

Life, the nation's business and civil society go on. Otherwise, the terrorists win.

The policies of the nation, including the search for a just peace in the Middle East, go on. Otherwise, the terrorists win.

Courage and steadfastness, of an unremarkable, everyday persevering kind, are required. A well-directed and effective response from government is required. Resolve is required to continue on our path, to do what is right. These are the ways the terrorists lose.

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