Dec 31

The year everything changed

It was the year of fire.
The year of destruction.
The year we took back what was ours.
It was the year of rebirth.
The year of great sadness.
The year of pain.
And the year of joy.
It was a new age.
It was the end of history.
It was the year everything changed.

— Voice-over from Babylon 5 fourth-season titles

Nov 30


Newsweek has reconstructed, as best they can, the events that took place on board United Airlines Flight 93 on September 11. There are still some unanswered questions, but by inteviewing the people who received phone calls from the passengers, reviewing the tape from the Cockpit Voice Recorder, and researching the backgrounds of the people known to have been on the plane, the magazine has put together a fairly complete account of what happened. Amazingly, the passengers very nearly regained control of the plane (and had among them a pilot who probably could have landed it). It’s now clear that Flight 93’s hijackers had no chance — there were some very tough, smart, competent people on board, and once they learned what the terrorists were trying to do, they were determined to stop it at any cost. And they did.

Nov 14


Let’s hear it for Al Gore, who showed true statesmanship this week when he urged Americans to stop rehashing last year’s election. “The presidential election of 2000 is over,” Gore is quoted as saying. “And of course, right now our country faces a great challenge as we seek to successfully combat terrorism. I fully support President Bush’s efforts to achieve that goal.” This statement was in response to study of the election that suggested Bush probably did win. Gore didn’t have to say what he did; he could easily have either denouced the study or simply ignored it, making no public statement at all. Instead, he chose to not only say it’s time to move on, but also to express support and solidarity for the president he ran against. Whether you voted for Gore or not, you have to admit that this is a classy thing to do.
And while I’m cheering, hooray for Vladimir Putin, who is going well beyond the call of duty, at considerable political risk to himself, to cooperate with the U.S. on issues like nuclear arms reduction and the fight against terrorism. Like Gore, Putin didn’t have to do this. But he seems genuinely determined to make Russia a partner of the U.S. in these worthy endeavors. If he keeps on like this, he may end up rivaling Gorbachev in the history books as a leader committed to moving beyond the Cold War and building trust between Russia and the West.

Nov 07


But everything has an upside, even an apocalyptic war against the forces of darkness. Such a war tends to put everything else in perspective. Conflicts that once loomed large suddenly seem petty and insignificant, and it actually becomes possible to talk about ending them.
In Northern Ireland, the IRA is laying down its weapons, and the first steps toward reestablishing the failed power-sharing government are being taken. And with the Cold War a distant memory, the U.S. and Russia are growing more friendly by the day. Where the Russia of a decade ago bitterly opposed the U.S. military action in the Persian Gulf, today’s Russia has pledged cooperation with the United States in its war on al-Qaeda and the Taliban. The U.S. and Russia are hammering out a plan to slash their remaining arsenals of nuclear warheads by two thirds. And the two nations are even making progress toward renegotiation of the 1972 ABM treaty, an issue over which they were deadlocked just months ago.
Even in the Islamic world, there are signs of hope. In Indonesia (the most populous Muslim nation), a militant fundamentalist who tried to organize anti-American protests on the island of Lombok was chased out by the local officials, who told him that his message of hate and violence wasn’t wanted. And in Iran, demonstrations against the fundamentalist, anti-American government and in favor of the U.S. are increasing, while government-organized demonstrations to commemorate the 1979 seizure of the U.S. embassy were a complete failure — almost no one showed up.
The winds of change are blowing, and some of the changes are very good indeed. We shouldn’t overlook that.

Nov 04


Anger for me has always been a temporary thing, something I could never sustain. No matter how angry I was at someone, no matter what the reason, after a day or so the tide would ebb and I would find myself ready to talk out the problem. Even if I didn’t really want to stop being angry, I just couldn’t keep it up.
September 11 changed that. Over the last two months, I have discovered that I am capable of sustained rage. Oh, it begins to ease off after a while, but then I encounter something like this memorial video that reminds me of exactly what it is that I’m enraged about. Or I read a report like this one, describing the numerous Muslims living in Britain who support bin Laden and even think the World Trade Center attacks were justified. And suddenly I’m redlining the rage meter again.
My father was born in 1932, so he grew up during the Great Depression and World War II. He doesn’t tend to talk much about that part of his life, but at one point he recalled a memory from his youth that has stayed with me ever since. He was mowing the lawn, he said, and as he did so he imagined that the stalks of grass that he was cutting down were Japanese soldiers. When I first heard that, it seemed sad and quaint, like a remnant of a different age. It was certainly understandable that a child growing up during wartime could fantasize about something so violent, but I could never imagine myself doing that.
Today I took advantage of the unseasonably warm weather to mow my lawn. As I pushed the mower, I thought back on the poll of British Muslims . . and before my eyes, the grass turned into Taliban soldiers and Islamic fundamentalists. I don’t know which is more depressing — that I’m back in the same place where my father was six decades ago, or that at the age of 41, I’m feeling what he felt when he was ten years old.
This isn’t going to go away, is it? The war against terrorism will last for years, perhaps even decades. And this emotion, this white-hot, chest-constricting, blinding sensation of impotent fury, is going to be with me for all that time. For the duration, as people used to say when my father was a kid. It’s just something I’m going to have to learn to live with . . . tucked away in a corner of my mind, but never forgotten.
The person I was on September 10 could never have conceived of this emotion. But he’s gone. And that, too, is something to be angry about.