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HUNTIN' DAYLIGHT -- THE CROSSROADS

by: Wes Ishmael

“We've been attacked.”

Outside of some cheesy movie, the first time I ever heard those words was in 9th grade Civics class when some idiot for a teacher thought having that proclamation announced over the school's PA system would be the most effective way for us to truly consider the possibilities of nuclear attack. She was a whining snail of a woman whose liberal views clashed so completely with our rural upbringing that we never put much store in anything she said. One look at her as the hushed words came across the intercom and we knew it was a hoax, so we never took it seriously.

“We've been attacked.”

The next time I heard these words was September 11. They were delivered to me from an ashen-faced fellow traveler climbing on to an elevator, a total stranger I had never met before and suspect will never meet again.

“We've been attacked.”

Even now as brave rescue workers continue to pick through the rubble of what used to be one side of the Pentagon and the demolished twin towers of what was the World Trade Center, it all seems too surreal to even imagine. The first American lives taken by an act of war on U.S. soil since the Civil War; the first foreign attack within the Continental United States.

So far, several hundred are confirmed dead and thousands more are expected to join the confirmation list sooner or later. All innocent victims, civilians mostly, either trapped inside one of the four planes hijacked by terrorists, or caught unaware when these jetliners-turned-missiles hit their targets.

Of course, that's not counting several hundred more firemen, policeman and rescue workers who gave their lives dashing into the fray to help others trying to escape the carnage, scrambling to do the jobs they'd sworn to do, hurrying to be the people that God designed them to be: courageous, selfless, compassionate, optimistic and hopeful.

Make no mistake, as victims' families and eyewitnesses come to grips with the emotional devastation of America's Blackest Tuesday, as the nation and the world struggle with the aftermath, as the U.S. and her allies plan and carry out a response aimed at justice, this most recent X-rated page of global history places America squarely in the center of a culture-defining crossroads.

Where do we go from here?

Picking a Path

Obviously, this isn't the first time U.S. citizens have grappled with this question since the nation was founded upon the ideals of freedom and democracy in 1776. Military engagements alone include the Spanish American War, Civil War, World War I, World War II, Korea, Vietnam, the Gulf War, and countless other “police actions.” Each had its own impetus, and history tells us some of them commanded almost unanimous support from the American public, while others received passive support at best. In some—typically the most supported—the goals, enemy and necessity were crystalline. In others, these barometers turned murky somewhere along the way.

Where to from here?

Do we lash out blindly in our pain, retreat down the dark hole of hatred, lay blame en mass, raise the walls of protectionism and blockade the borders with isolationism, keep to ourselves, suspect everyone and die from the inside out?

Or, do we do just the opposite, start talking to neighbors again rather than some TV or computer screen, embrace the world, make God our living instead of the other way around and stand united to fight for justice and what's right?

Happily, so far at least, according to public opinion polls, America is showing that its spots never changed much since General George W. sent the Redcoats packing. In fact, with our own President George W. at the helm, the American people have confounded cynics. In this multi-cultural melting pot called America, at the pinnacle of an epoch defined by shameless selfishness and rampant denial of personal responsibility, better than 90 percent of folks polled are singing off the same page for the first time in decades.

When was the last time you saw so many people so proud to wave the American Flag in so many places and in so many ways? Did you ever believe that you would again see the day when debate about public prayer has been replaced by public prayer?

Americans want justice. They want liberty. They want America to stand proud. And so does much of the rest of the world. If America ever wondered how brightly she shines as a beacon of hope, all she had to do was look at the faces of other folks just like us in other countries, grieving just as hard, mourning just as much. If freedom can't live here, it can't live anywhere.

Presumably, this is exactly the opposite of what the terrorists hoped for. Rather than pulling us apart, their evil is gluing us closer together.

New Beginnings

Where to from here?

Perhaps at no time since the Civil War, has this question demanded so much of the American people. This time around, choosing the path is not merely a matter of picking between right and wrong, weighing moral and economic assets or simply figuring out how America fits into the ever-changing global patchwork of humanity. This is a question of what America was and will be in the future.

After all, the United States is still the grandest experiment ever concocted. It is the oldest democracy in the world. That's sometimes hard to imagine, given all of the bluster and fuss we raise with one another about issues and elected officials, about what we believe to be right or wrong, or who we believe to be right or wrong based on the fact that they don't look the same as us or come from the same places we do.

Where to from here?

Way back when this nation was taking land away from Native Americans, the Northwest's Suquamish Indians struggled with the same question as they were running out of real estate. Their leader, Chief Seattle, pointed out to his people that everything has a beginning, middle and an end. If encroachment by the White Man signaled an end to his tribe's way of life, he suggested that their way of life, too, would face an end at some point in history.

That's hard logic to dispute.

Maybe history will remember September 11 as the end to a way of life, too.

If Americans back their early promises and acts of enhanced unity with resolve strong enough to withstand the challenges of the coming days, perhaps September 11 will stand as the hallmark of new, a new brand of liberty and democracy: responsibility accepted with the freedom offered, tolerance of all people but not blind acceptance of every ideal pedaled in the name of tolerance, opportunities reveled in rather than taken for granted, a zest for working to enjoy life instead of living to work, sharing more and taking less.

If not, we go down a road much like before except that the path is steeper and it's downhill. Sit idly by, just waiting for things to get back to normal, business as usual, and the cowards who murdered so many innocent people will know they can take whatever they want.

The scenery of the roads taken could certainly be different than what's offered here, but the reality isn't. We can never again go back to life, as it existed before September 11. We can make it better or we can let it get worse, but the opportunity to maintain things as they were has been stolen from us.

We are at a crossroads. The days of fence sitting are over. It's up to each one of us to scrap, claw and fight for the freedom our relatives died for, the freedom these terrorists killed for.

Personally, I've always cherished the opportunity to be an American, to be free to try to tackle whatever I thought I was big enough to do. Given the response of my American brothers and sisters to this tragedy thus far, I have to say that I've never been prouder to say: God Bless America!

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