Anchorage Daily News No gap in our resolve

Posted: Thursday, September 13, 2001

There is today a gaping hole in the Manhattan skyline -- as there is a gaping hole in the American heart. The nation has been stunned, as surely as it was three generations ago with the attack on Pearl Harbor. That attack ''awakened a sleeping giant,'' in the words of the admiral commanding the Japanese task force. This one will too.

The giant is awakening again.

The nation is under attack and very nearly at war. Americans are stricken by the deaths of thousands of fellow citizens in our two major cities. We are haunted by the image -- indelibly implanted by televised video -- of the two World Trade Center towers imploding into an astonishing pile of rubble and debris. We are shocked at the targeting of innocent civilians and the unprecedented terrorism directed against the heart of American society. As Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens said Tuesday: ''Who would ever have thought that commercial airliners would be commandeered and used against the major symbols of our country?''

And as the nation awoke after Pearl Harbor, there will be a reckoning for the perpetrators of this evil attack.

First there are bodies to find and bury, grief to live through, security arrangements to review. The most urgent demand is to return the nation, indeed the world, to normal commerce -- lest we hand the terrorists the victory they sought through chaos, confusion and closure of our open society. A balance must be found that protects the nation -- indeed the world -- from further attack yet honors the open and democratic conditions that make our country great. President Bush began that difficult process Tuesday with statements of assurance and determination. Tuesday's terrorism, he said, ''cannot dent the steel of our resolve.''

But America's sense of invulnerability will not, and should not, return. The world is increasingly interconnected, and American institutions are increasingly involved everywhere in whatever growth and development may occur. The United States is not only the single remaining superpower but also the biggest symbol of both hope and opposition around the world. The times ahead will test us as we seek a balance of engagement and restraint abroad. The United States must both carry the burdens of global security cooperation and steel itself against a variety of international adversaries.

So must our allies and friends. Tuesday's mass terrorism cost the lives of thousands of innocent citizens -- almost certainly several multiples of the roughly 2,400 lives lost at Pearl Harbor. The enemy is harder to identify, harder to find, perhaps harder to wage war against. But all the civilized world has a stake in seeing that mass terror will not pay in the 21st century. The president will need the assistance of the whole civilized world and will face a test of leadership more profound than that of his father in assembling a unified front in the Persian Gulf War.

There is a hole in the Manhattan skyline where the World Trade Towers stood. But there is no hole in the American will. If anything, Americans will emerge from the fear and grief of Tuesday's terrorist attack ever more unified, determined both to meet the challenges of international terrorism and to maintain the open democratic society that is America's strength. That is how America ultimately will overcome Tuesday's terror.

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