In Peace at War

Article excerpt

I spent the anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks in South Bend, Indiana watching Notre Dame play football against Michigan. Before the game, a half dozen Army precision parachutists jumped into the stadium from above, all of them landing within a few yards of the precise center of the field. The bands played "America, the Beautiful" and "The Star-Spangled Banner" and 80,795 of us stood silent for a minute remembering the 2,973 innocents who were killed at the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and Shanksville, Pennsylvania, exactly three years before. Then we cheered as Notre Dame came from behind, scored 21 points in the fourth quarter and upset Michigan, 28-20.

The day was all so normal it got me thinking. Should we have been more solemn, more anxious, more vigilant on September 11, 2004? Are we taking the attacks on America seriously enough? Are we deluding ourselves in our normalcy?

In short, have the past three years been the contemporary equivalent of the "Phony War," or as the Germans called it, the Sitzkrieg--the October 1939-May 1940 lull between Hitler's conquest of Poland and his invasion of France, Belgium, and Holland?

Of course, there has been real war since 9/11; more than 1,000 American troops have died in Afghanistan and Iraq. But, as I write, there has not been another attack on U.S. soil.

There was real war as well in late 1939 and 1940, with heavy loss of life on the British and German sides at sea in the Atlantic. Still, during the Phony War, the great conflagration of World War II had not yet started, certainly not for America. And so it may be today.

After 9/11, the cliche was that nothing would be the same again. That has proven largely untrue. Except for the moment of silence, the Notre Dame Michigan game was the same on September 11, 2004, as it had been 31 other times since November 23, 1887. Notre Dame, like other American college football teams of such early vintage, played all during World War I (Knute Rockne's first season, after all, was 1918) and World War II (finishing the period 1941-1945 with a record of 32-5-3). …