If September 11 was your wake-up call that bad things happen in this world, that there are people out there who want to kill you for your ideals and beliefs, then you've overslept. In the last fifty years, incidents of violence have plagued this country seemingly non-stop, ranging from terrorist attacks in a campaign against America's foreign policy, to rioting and looting over a court decision, to children gunning each other down because of teen angst, to terrorism in a campaign against America's domestic policy. While America has not been violently attacked as Israel by Palestinians or even the United Kingdom by Irish separatists, the violence has always been there. Pretending it wasn't there is dangerous self-imposed ignorance.
At approximately 12 noon on February 26, 1993, the World Trade Center was hit by a massive explosion that killed six people, injured over a thousand others and trapped people in a smoky elevator for hours. The explosion cut power to both towers and the broadcast antennae atop tower 1. New York was left with only one operational television station. It took twelve hours to get everyone out of the buildings. Fortunately, no damage was done to the structure of the buildings and normal operations resumed quickly. Not surprising to us now, the people who were eventually charged with performing this act of terrorism were, in fact, linked with Al-Qaeda.
At approximately 9am on April 19, 1995, a rental truck exploded at the Murrah Federal Building in downtown Oklahoma City. The bombing was timed to coincide with parents dropping children off at a daycare center inside the building. All told, 168 people died in that explosion. The convicted mastermind of this bombing was sentenced to death, and executed in what must be record time. The bombing was allegedly linked to the 1993 Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms assault on the Branch Davidian complex in Waco, Texas that ended in the deaths of more than 80 men and women.
On April 20, 1999, two Colorado students entered their high school armed with guns and explosives. Their rampage left thirteen people dead, plus themselves. The incident became newsworthy not because of the horror, or the body count, or about what really happened, but because it took long enough to determine what was going on that news cameras could be there all day. Broadcast across the nation, this story struck into the hearts of people everywhere, even though Columbine was neither the first nor the last in a series of school shootings that have happened in the last twenty years.
In 1992, four police officers were acquitted on charges of assault after they were caught on tape brutalizing a black man during an arrest. This acquittal sparked a series of riots in Los Angeles that resulted in looting, burning, and even murder. Unlike the previous events, this wasn't planned or otherwise premeditated-it was spontaneous, violent and destructive.
All of this material is gruesome on its own, and the amount of devastation caused by the World Trade Center disaster is several orders of magnitude beyond what was seen in any of these examples. Moreover, a quick run through of news and history resources will show other examples as well: LA Freeway shootings in the 80s, the Unabomber, Branch Davidians, child abductions�just to name a few. In his essay, "Yes, America has changed" Andrew Sullivan says, "The illusion of isolationism has been ripped apart". He goes on to say, "that it (America) was a place where you could safely leave the old world and its resentments behind-was ended that day". And, "For the first time in history, the American homeland is actually vulnerable to a deadly foreign enemy" (2). With all of these examples, which are but a scratch on the surface of what has been happening, is this kind of naivete really believable?
Sullivan wants us to believe that, "The appropriate response is rage" (2). Rage is what causes batterers to beat their wives. Rage is what causes a maniac in a truck to pull out a .45 and shoot the guy who just cut him off. Rage is what causes a jilted lover to unleash a pit bull on an unsuspecting neighbor. Rage is the primary reason for being on the losing side of a court battle wherein your opponents are looking at the judge and jury through tear-stained faces, seeking some kind of justice. Or vengeance. Or maybe just closure. Responding to anything with rage just gets you in trouble, and can cause an escalation of violence far out of proportion to the original acts. All of the above examples show what rage can accomplish.
In the essay, "No, America Has Not Changed (Thank God)" Michael Elliott tells us, "radical Islam has been unable to proselytize outside a very limited core of religious fanatics". He says that, "Islamic terrorists are a raggle-taggle army on the run" (2). While Islamic Fundamentalism may not have quite reached the proportions of Catholicism, there are large groups in several nations, such as Indonesia, the Philippines and Algeria currently in heated battles with their governments. That does not suggest it is merely a limited core. The evidence suggests that the terrorists have been around for a long time and are deeply entrenched.
The World Trade Center demolition was a terrible tragedy for this country. The civilian death toll was staggering, and the response from the United States was extraordinary. Unfortunately, the useful portion of that response has been brief. Shortly after the towers fell, so many people went to give blood that the blood banks had to turn away all but those with the rarest blood type. Now there is a critical blood shortage, because there hasn't been another disaster to call people to arms. The Red Cross tried to set aside half the money donated to the World Trade Center fund for future disaster relief; disbelieving donors sued and made certain the entire amount would be earmarked for survivors. While the survivors certainly deserve of the help of charitable donation, what about the next time? A hundred dollar donation made the day after a disaster will not get food and blankets to someone stuck on the street, but a well-stocked emergency supply with an active support network can.
Maybe America has changed since September 11. Maybe it hasn't. But the point is, it shouldn't have changed people. The terrorist threat facing our country has been there since the creation of Israel, and will remain there as long as the strife in Israel continues. People in hospitals have always needed blood, and always will. It should not take three thousand people dying to convince people who are essentially caring, concerned citizens to get off their couches and out to the blood banks to give a pint or two as often as possible. People should give a great deal of thought to existing government policy, and think about who they will vote for in the next elections, if they will vote at all. If you don't vote, then you implicitly voted for whomever got elected.
Don't let a national disaster open your eyes to global situations that affect everything and everyone around you. Don't let reactionaries lead your thinking with strong words with little actual meaning behind them. Think about what is happening, at all times. Don't let rage control your life and your country's politics. Ask yourself why these disasters happen. Ask yourself what can you do to stop them.