I was a government and political reporter for The Paducah Sun for 39 years and wrote extensively about the Sept. 11, 2001, attack on New York and Washington. While there was anger, heartache and devastation, there was something positive that arose out of the ashes that I wrote about in a column a few days after the attack. It unified Americans of all political persuasions to understand the cost of freedom, accept responsibility and renew love of country. We need to renew those memories and that unity in today’s divisive toxic political environment. The following is the column that was published Sept. 23, 2001.
It is like being suspended in the midst of a Hollywood movie. I keep waiting for some star to emerge from the ruins to the tune of patriotic music, followed by thousands of survivors.
Roll the credits. Such drama and suspense will surely rate Academy Award nominations.
But this is no movie.
It is reality. Real life. The 21st century. The new millennium.
The end of the Cold War?
Most of us, if not all of us, are still shaking our heads in disbelief. There, on live television, were the huge commercial jets crashing into the tall towers in New York. Flames. Smoke. Police. Firefighters. Ambulances.
Then, the unthinkable. The towers — the symbol of architectural accomplishment, the symbol of financial vitality, the symbol of a strong nation — crumble like a house of cards.
Smoke. Dust. Dirt. Panic. Fear. Running. Screaming. Injury. Death. Destruction.
The foundation of the Statute of Liberty shakes as the dust and smoke roll across the Hudson River.
Then, a blast in the Pentagon. Another hijacked airliner. More flames and smoke. More death and destruction. More panic and fear.
Still, another hijacked airline is headed for Washington, but crashes near Pittsburgh after passengers put up resistance. More flames. More death. More fear.
The Capitol is evacuated and so is the White House. Government workers flee the city. The president is taken to a secure bunker out west.
Questions are difficult to answer. What does it all mean? Why do such things happen? Is this the end of the world?
The incident is a wake-up call to a younger generation that has been free of military conflict. It is a message to its members — and a reminder to others — of the cost of freedom that was first etched in the minds of Americans during the Revolutionary War and followed by reminders in other wars.
World War I. World War II. The Korean War. The Vietnam War. To a lesser extent, the Persian Gulf War.
It is a test of the strength and commitment of our government leaders and a reminder to them that they are in office to represent people, not political parties or personal interests.
It demonstrates the pettiness of partisan politics that for too many years has held our government hostage. If Republicans say yes, Democrats say no. If liberals say it’s white, conservatives say it’s black.
It is a reminder we’ve spent too much time on the tabloid antics of ex-President Clinton and U.S. Rep. Gary Condit’s lack of morality and self-control.
It is a reminder that we’ve allowed minority groups to control whether or not we pray in schools, at football games, at graduation ceremonies and public events.
It is testing the resolve of Americans to restore pride in being an American.
We are facing unprecedented times in our war to protect our freedom. Our enemy isn’t the military of a communist country. Our target isn’t a government headquarters or a government leader.
We are after a known, but undefined enemy. A band of terrors led by someone who hides in the hills of a barren country filled with poor citizens who mortgage their souls for a meal and a place to sleep.
It will take time and patience and the ultimate sacrifice by some of our soldiers and their families.
But we will prevail. We were founded as “One Nation Under God.” Our motto is still “In God We Trust.” And, even in light of all of our failures in recent years, God still blesses America.
Bill Bartleman is a member of Reidland Baptist Church and a former trustee for the Western Recorder.