[The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: 9.13.2001]
These monsters have messed with wrong family
BY LEONARD PITTS
It's my job to have something to say.
They pay me to provide words that help make sense of
that which troubles the American soul. But in this
moment of airless shock when hot tears sting
disbelieving eyes, the only thing I can find to say, the
only words that seem to fit, must be addressed to the
unknown author of this suffering.
You monster. You beast.
You unspeakable bastard.
What lesson did you hope to teach
us by your coward's attack on our
World Trade Center, our Pentagon, us?
What was it you hoped we would learn?
Whatever it was, please know that you failed.
Did you want us to respect your cause?
You just damned your cause.
Did you want to make us fear?
You just steeled our resolve.
Did you want to tear us apart?
You just brought us together.
Let me tell you about my people. We are a vast and
quarrelsome family, a family rent by racial, social,
political and class division, but a family nonetheless.
We're frivolous, yes, capable of expending tremendous
emotional energy on pop cultural minutiae -- a singer's
revealing dress, a ball team's misfortune, a cartoon
mouse. We're wealthy, too, spoiled by the ready
availability of trinkets and material goods, and maybe
because of that, we walk through life with a certain sense
of blithe entitlement. We are fundamentally decent,
though -- peace-loving and compassionate. We struggle
to know the right thing and to do it. And we are, the
overwhelming majority of us, people of faith, believers in a
just and loving God.
Some people -- you, perhaps -- think that any or all of
this makes us weak. You're mistaken. We are not weak.
Indeed, we are strong in ways that cannot be measured
Yes, we're in pain now. We are in mourning and we are in
shock. We're still grappling with the unreality of the awful
thing you did, still working to make ourselves understand
that this isn't a special effect from some Hollywood
blockbuster, isn't the plot development from a Tom
Clancy novel. Both in terms of the awful scope of their
ambition and the probable final death toll, your attacks
are likely to go down as the worst acts of terrorism in the
history of the United States and, probably, the history of
the world. You've bloodied us as we have never been
But there's a gulf of difference between making us bloody
and making us fall. This is the lesson Japan was taught
to its bitter sorrow the last time anyone hit us this hard,
the last time anyone brought us such abrupt and
monumental pain. When roused, we are righteous in our
outrage, terrible in our force. When provoked by this level
of barbarism, we will bear any suffering, pay any cost, go
to any length, in the pursuit of justice.
I tell you this without fear of contradiction. I know my
people, as you, I think, do not. What I know reassures
me. It also causes me to tremble with dread of the future.
In the days to come, there will be recrimination and
accusation, fingers pointing to determine whose failure
allowed this to happen and what can be done to prevent it
from happening again. There will be heightened security,
misguided talk of revoking basic freedoms. We'll go
forward from this moment sobered, chastened, sad. But
determined, too. Unimaginably determined.
You see, the steel in us is not always readily apparent.
That aspect of our character is seldom understood by
people who don't know us well. On this day, the family's
bickering is put on hold.
As Americans we will weep, as Americans we will mourn,
and as Americans, we will rise in defense of all that we
So I ask again: What was it you hoped to teach us? It
occurs to me that maybe you just wanted us to know the
depths of your hatred. If that's the case, consider the
message received. And take this message in exchange:
You don't know my people. You don't know what we're
capable of. You don't know what you just started.
But you're about to learn.
Leonard Pitts is a Miami Herald columnist.
His column appearsThursdays.