NEW YORK -- Think of the largest picture you've ever seen. A giant screen television? Not big enough. The Jumbotron in Times Square? Not large enough. An IMax screen that stretches from floor to ceiling and wall to wall in a movie house? Still too small.
I've seen fire and I've seen rain. I've seen devastation from earthquakes and victims of mass murder. I have not seen anything approaching the concentrated devastation in lower Manhattan where the World Trade Center once stood. Television does not, indeed could not, convey the magnitude of the disaster.
While the cleanup is proceeding magnificently, a light gray film clings to every building. Some windows are unbroken, others shattered. At street level, messages have been traced in the soot. "New York will survive," says one. "This will make us stronger," says another.
A New York City police officer gestures at the ruins and says, "Look at this. Here is the result of years of illegal immigration, softness on crime, cutting the defense budget and a lack of attention to right and wrong in this country." None of the colleagues standing with him disagrees. He asks that his name not be used. "I'm not politically correct," he says with a laugh.
Parking lots near "ground zero" resemble junkyards. Wrecked cars await, not their owners but the scrap heap. The metal is twisted, like the minds that did this. A delivery truck looks like it was involved in a multi-car pileup. An emergency vehicle is sandwiched in a heap of totaled cars, the words "Paramedics Long Island College Hospital" still visible.
It's as if someone pushed the "pause" button on the VCR, freezing the action while ash was poured on the city. The windows of some parked vehicles are rolled up but soot has found a way inside; it covers the seats and dashboards.
What once might have been considered litter is now debris. I pick up a piece of Sheetrock formerly part of an office wall. An unopened bottle of soda lies next to a nearly empty sports health beverage. There are forms and other evidence of business, which, on Sept. 11, was anything but usual. The face of the Millennium Hotel has been torn off. Is this the other side of that "bridge to the 21st century"?
Then there are the notices. We have seen them on television: the names of the missing, their pictures, dates of birth, physical characteristics and numbers to call. When you see them block after block, covering entire walls and storefront windows; when you lose count of their number and are overwhelmed by the pleas for information, that's when the horror and the ache for your fellow countrymen, the injustice and even the discouragement and depression kick in.
Another generation fought World War II to defeat one form of evil. Now a mutant strain has re-emerged in the form of religious fanaticism. It must be defeated by this generation if the next is to enjoy the liberty passed on to us.
Today's evil does not fight fair. We would happily take on the "evildoers," as President Bush calls them, in a boxing ring or on a battlefield, but our foes this time are self-centered fanatics. Not one of them has the moral strength of a New York City firefighter or police officer.
Those who hide behind their religion to do evil are worse than infidels. It is for such people that Hell was created. The New Yorker magazine said of those behind the attacks: "The metaphor of war -- and it is more metaphor then description -- ascribes to the perpetrators a dignity they do not merit, a status they cannot claim, and a strength they do not possess." They are terrorists, not warriors. They are thugs, not theologians.
The "peace groups" in Union Square may now be singing, "All we are saying is give peace a chance," but the majority of Americans believe we have had enough of that attitude and it's time to give war a chance so the next generation might enjoy the peace we have just lost.
Cal Thomas writes for Tribune Media Services.
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