Facing the new reality of a war against terror

A long march: Americans' resolve, patriotism will be put to the test in the difficult days ahead.

October 10, 2001

NOW COMES the test.

We've bought every U.S. flag. We've hailed heroes and mourned victims and rallied behind our president, watching him grow stronger and more sure of himself.

What he called a war surely has begun. We cannot know its shape, its reach or its duration. Victory will demand a new stoicism that goes to the heart of our resolve as a nation.

Terrorism by its nature imposes a new mental configuration and demands even a new language. We must learn to live in the brutal uncertainty that faces much of the world already: suicide bombs, car bombs and the other tools of classic terrorism. The bombs kill - and paralyze.

We have joined that global community of fear and anxiety. Terrorists united our country - and brought us simultaneously closer to those countries where terrorism awaits at almost every subway and outdoor stadium or market. Of course, we still hope this is not possible here. But, after the crumbling trade towers, inconceivable may no longer be in our vocabulary.

But words and history can guide us. During the Great Depression, Franklin Roosevelt made us believe that fear itself was all we had to fret. We knew this was not entirely true, but we took his point.

There would be casualties. Hunger and heartache, poverty and sacrifice would claim many. But we knew that fear itself could overwhelm us. We prevailed - and then willingly fought in World War II - and proved to the world that courage and resilience were characteristics of our nation.

The reaction to Sept. 11 suggests that we are still a proud and resourceful nation, though the challenge remains ahead of us.

We will be hard-pressed in the days to come: to resume our lives, to avoid panic in the face of many threats, to defend free speech.

If it is true that many nations harbor and encourage cells of terrorists, giving them the support they needed to kill thousands in New York and Washington, then something like a war surely must be waged.

The flag remains comforting and uplifting, but in the days and months ahead we will be called upon to prove that the red, white and blue really are colors that don't run from diabolical enemies - or our values.

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