Enlist all Americans in fight for freedom

July 04, 2002|By Ann Egerton

IF TERRORISM is global, then are we now in World War III? If that's the case, what are we as American citizens supposed to be doing?

Our armed forces and those of other nations seem to have kicked the Taliban out of Afghanistan, we seem to be slowing down the money supply of al-Qaida and our government is succeeding somewhat at capturing people who would like to see us destroyed. Jose Padilla, aka Abdullah al Muhajir, is the latest example.

We now have thousands of forces in the Persian Gulf region, and President Bush has tried to create conditions for peace between the Israelis and Palestinians. The effectiveness of our homeland security efforts remains to be seen.

Our government is doing a lot, but what about the American people? I have a feeling that our government is doing everything and that we the people (other than those in New York City, Pennsylvania and the Pentagon who were immediately affected by Sept. 11) are doing nothing, largely because we don't know what to do.

We haven't even been asked to conserve our use of petroleum products in order to reduce our dependence on the Middle East for oil. One would think that we would be asked to car pool, to use mass transit, to pay more for gasoline (as they do in Europe) and to buy cars that get good gas mileage. I would think that buying SUVs, with their pathetic rates of miles traveled per gallon of gas, would be against the law.

After Sept. 11, the president could have asked anything of us -- save gas, save string, for Pete's sake -- and we'd have happily, proudly complied. But other than being asked to be patient in airport lines and to be vigilant, we citizens aren't asked to do much. Is this the kind of war in which there is no war effort?

The president tells us that our struggle involves the survival of democracy. But what is our part to ensure that survival? Maybe our job is to keep the economy going, to try to sustain normal business, despite the sickening behavior of WorldCom, Enron, Tyco and other greedy companies -- modern-day robber barons. Success makes us at least look calm and strong.

Of course, I'm not nostalgic for an old-fashioned war of thousands of troops being sent to their peril. I don't wish for gas rationing, much less meat rationing, and prefer butter to guns. But I'd like to see some genuine esprit de corps beyond the symbols of tattered flags (made in Taiwan) and patriotic bumper stickers.

I'd like representatives of my government to tell us what we need to do. Our nation's 226th birthday would be a good time for that. It may also be a good time to read about its unbelievably difficult beginnings, such as in David McCullough's John Adams or Joseph J. Ellis' Founding Brothers.

And let's pay attention to "America the Beautiful," especially the lines, "Confirm thy soul in self-control, thy liberty in law," which should inspire a sense of national seriousness and purpose within each of us.

We need direction and substance this year more than fireworks.

Ann Egerton is a free-lance writer who lives in Baltimore City.

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