Magazine article USA TODAY

The End of the Silly Season. (State of the Nation)

Magazine article USA TODAY

The End of the Silly Season. (State of the Nation)

Article excerpt

A SEA CHANGE in the habits and culture of nation occurs not from speeches and sermons, but from events that shake the earth beneath us. On Sept. 11, we felt such a cataclysmic tremor, and we should understand its message without faltering.

American life must change in ways that are far more fundamental than we may initially realize. The obvious comes first: U.S. forces have been sent into combat; anti-terrorist laws strengthened and more rigorously enforced; arduous and time-consuming airline safety rules and procedures instituted; a new homeland defense strategy unveiled; and plans to prevent and defend us from all forms of unconventional warfare (nuclear, chemical, and biological) developed and implemented.

As far-reaching as these decisions may be, they are just the beginning, not the end of things. We are against an enemy as fanatical as the most dedicated Japanese kamikaze pilots. They can not be identified by their planes or their uniforms. They act as ordinary citizens going about their business, and only at the last minute, when it may be too late, do they reveal themselves.

We are in a back-alley fight with those who hate our nation and everything we stand for and cherish--human liberty, religious tolerance, and economic progress. They have used our hospitality, openness, civil liberties, and technology and turned them against us. The clash will not end in one climactic battle or in bombing attacks that involve no casualties. This will not be a repeat of the Gulf War or the bombing of Belgrade. This is not a battle 10,000 miles away. We are not coming to the rescue of another country. We are coming to our own, and we cannot lose a minute or drop our guard. This will be a long, protracted struggle.

Whatever seemed so important before Sept. 11 will disappear into the dustbin of history. The Gary Condits and Monica Lewinskys will slink away into the obscurity they richly deserve. It will be our everlasting shame that the nation focused so much time on these people, while others were diabolically planning for the deaths of thousands.

Sacrifices on the horizon

War means sacrifice for us all. The elderly may have to wait for their subsidized drug prescription benefits, if their children and grandchildren are fighting and dying. The defense budget will have to rid itself of its pork and waste. Social Security benefits for wealthy seniors may have to be reduced. If the Middle East cuts off oil supplies, we will just have to make do--traveling less, paying more, and exploring on our own continent. Airline travel may be more expensive and far more inconvenient. This battle will not be played out just in the mountains of Afghanistan, Bekka Valley of Lebanon, or back streets of Damascus. It will be fought here at home, where the first deadly blow has already been struck.

Those of us old enough to have lived through World War II know people are capable of enormous self-sacrifice, and that it puts steel into the spine of a nation. A culture that has so long elevated self-gratification over self-control must be forever abandoned. …

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