Attacks bring out everyone's inner expert

September 24, 2001|By Kevin Cowherd

One of the more predictable results of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11 is that so many ordinary, everyday people in this country have suddenly become military and intelligence experts.

People who couldn't have found Afghanistan on a map two weeks ago if you highlighted it in Magic Marker suddenly know exactly how a ground assault by U.S. troops should be conducted in that hostile, mountainous country.

People who couldn't tell Osama bin Laden from Col. Sanders now know precisely what the master terrorist is thinking, and what immediate moves he's planning to make.

During their day jobs, these people doing all the spouting off are stockbrokers and office workers and counter men at Mr. Tire.

But at night, they must study tomes on modern warfare strategy and pore over classified CIA manuals and covert guerrilla transmissions picked up by NSA satellites, for their apparent knowledge of anti-terrorism techniques is astonishing.

At the gym the other day, a man on the stomach crunch machine loudly regaled everyone around him with his theories of a limited strategic war against the Al-Qaeda terrorist cell.

Listening to this, it was possible to close your eyes and imagine for a moment that a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff was working out next to you.

But when you opened your eyes again, you discovered the speaker was a chubby guy with stringy hair in a Ravens T-shirt, an insurance salesman who had once pinned you to the weight rack for 20 minutes with an eye-glazing summation of the benefits of a whole-life vs. term policy ...

But I don't want to talk just about the blowhards today, not with the way this country has pulled together the past two weeks, not with the countless displays of caring and selflessness we've seen since that horrible Tuesday morning.

This past weekend, for instance, on a number of different network and cable channels, we watched a moving two-hour tribute and telethon put on by some of the biggest names in the music business.

Heavy hitters like Bruce Springsteen and Billy Joel and Faith Hill, U2 and Celine Dion and Sting, performed in New York and Los Angeles and London to honor those who lost their lives at the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, as well as those heroes, living and dead, who tried to save them.

The heavy-hitters of Hollywood staffed the phone lines, too, with Jack Nicholson, Goldie Hawn, Al Pacino, Whoopi Goldberg and Adam Sandler just some of the celebs we saw taking pledges. And between songs, Julia Roberts, Robert DeNiro and Jimmy Smits were among the movie and TV personalities who told stirring stories of heroism and terror rising out of the attacks in New York and Washington.

All in all, the commercial-free tribute was tastefully done and spiritually uplifting. (Though I didn't care for all the glowing candles in the background as the artists performed; it was kind of creepy, reminding me of that scene from Rosemary's Baby where Mia Farrow stumbles upon a satanic ritual.(And the sight of Clint Eastwood was truly scary; pale and glowering, he squinted menacingly as he tried to read the teleprompter and was dressed in the sort of rumpled, mismatched outfit you'd find on a guy who lives under a highway overpass.)

Still, if Celine Dion's rendition of "God Bless America" didn't bring tears to your eyes, if Willie Nelson and all the other celebrities singing "America the Beautiful" didn't bring a lump to your throat, then, brother, you have been way less affected by this whole tragedy than you think.

Things have not returned to normal in this country -- it will be many months, if not years, before we can say they have.

But it was good to see college and pro football return this weekend, on the heels of major league baseball's return last week.

The University of Maryland won, marking the first time the Terps have opened the season 3-0 since ... When? The advent of the polio vaccine?

Yeah, the Ravens lost, to a Cincinnati team that had been the home office for futility. But the NFL returned with dignity and class, and so did its fans. In Cincinnati, the crowd observed a moment of silence and waved American flags and held up signs that made clear their thoughts were still with all those who have suffered so horribly in the past two weeks.

Even the beered-up yahoos in the stands seemed to tone down their acts when the TV cameras were trained on them. Guzzling a Bud Light and waving a beefy forefinger and screaming "We`re No. 1!" with the veins on your neck standing out would have seemed so out of place yesterday.

What's still curious, at least for me, is seeing all these talking heads on TV pressing Bush administration officials for details on when and where the U.S. will launch retaliatory strikes against terrorists.

Look, I am not exactly Gen. George S. Patton here, OK? But shouldn't those kinds of details be, you know, secret? Shouldn't we sort of keep this stuff to ourselves?

So as not to -- oh, I don't know -- tip off the enemy?

If Osama bin Laden is holed up in a dank cave somewhere in the mountains of Afghanistan, do we want him picking up a CNN broadcast on his satellite dish and hearing: "That's right, Britt, we've confirmed that U.S. forces will be pushing into Afghanistan Thursday at 10 a.m. There'll be an airborne assault to the north and ground troops coming through the Khyber Pass?"

Call me a worrywart. But that doesn't seem like the way to go.

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