Sept. 11, 2001 is one of those dates our grandchildren will be made to memorize before they can graduate from elementary school. Regardless of what happens from here, that much is certain.
But for a people still shocked and confused, for a nation groping for answers and for individuals who feel powerless in the face of such a barbaric act, we must remember one simple thing: We, the American people, and not the perpetrators, control how Tuesday’s attack will be remembered.
Naturally enough, the media has been full of historical comparisons, and Pearl Harbor does seem to be the most natural fit. Like most historical analogies, it is imperfect. There is no nation against which to declare war, and this strike occurred on continental American soil — remember, Hawaii wasn’t even a state in 1941.
There is one shining feature of the analogy to Pearl Harbor. The response of the American people to the sneak attack changed tragedy into inspiration. Pearl Harbor today is not seen as a military disaster or as a tragedy that shattered the innocence of Americans, although both of these are in part true. Instead, December 7, 1941 is seen as the date of Japan’s fatal blunder and as the moment that demonstrated the true strength of the American spirit.
Now, it falls to us to create the history of Tuesday morning. We stand at a crossroads.
Americans can fall back in fear that they are vulnerable to such attacks. We can pass all sorts of laws to make us feel more secure. We can trade our freedom for peace of mind. And we can back down from the prospect of more loss of life. We can do all of this, and in the end we will only reap more of the same. Tuesday will be seen as the day the American empire fell, our version of the sacking of Rome.
We will end up living in constant fear, as modern day barbarians continue to extract whatever they want from a nation too fat and lazy to defend itself. Ultimately, we will crumble.
Instead, America must remain strong, in all senses. We must defend ourselves in two ways. First, we must find those responsible, and we must do whatever necessary to destroy them. We must demonstrate a resolve to fight and a willingness to avenge the memory of those we lost.
We must hold up the example of those hostages who, after hearing about the World Trade Center attack, overwhelmed their captors and took their plane down in an empty field in western Pennsylvania. We must ensure that nobody will dare orchestrate such a hideous, cowardly act again. And we must show that external political pressures will not stand between us and those who would strike innocent Americans on their home soil. This is the first step we must take to remain strong.
But it cannot end there. We do not have the benefit of a nation to fight, nor do we even really have a face to rally against. And if we do react with proper military force, this particular act will be avenged within a matter of weeks, at most.
So we need to remain strong internally, lacking a tangible external force to unite us. Americans need to resist the temptation to sign away our liberties so that we may feel safe. We cannot show fear, as that will only serve to encourage terrorism.
We must now, more than ever, protect our freedom, our system, our way of life. We must stand in the face of what has happened and declare that we will not disgrace the memory of those who died by falling to our knees. We should not simply try to restore life as it was.
Instead, we should stand tall and firm, reinvigorated by a new sense of purpose and inspired by the knowledge that our nation and our people can withstand even this blow.
History is not inevitable. We, as individual human beings, have the power and the duty to shape the course of events. What happened on Sept. 11 is only the beginning, and it falls to those of us still remaining to define our country and ourselves.
These are the events in history that make a people and a nation. This is America’s opportunity to stand proud and state before all the world who she is and what she is made of. This is America’s moment to prove that she is the indomitable, unchallenged leader of the free world.
And we, citizens of this great land, have a chance to make history, and in that sense we have more power than any terrorist does.
May our enemies realize, just as Yamamoto did in 1941, that they have awakened a sleeping giant.
Bill Rogel is a junior in Berkeley College.