Why We Care
No one who was in Manhattan on September the 11th, 2001, will ever forget the day. My five year old boarded her school bus before 8 on a clear blue late summer morning. My three year old then had an early haircut appointment scheduled, as she was for my three year old, who was starting nursery school the following day.
A little before 9 a.m. the phone rang. It was my husband, calling from the car on his way to work, telling me to turn on the TV. Sarah, unused to hearing the TV in the morning, came to see what was going on. The two of us sat watching the footage of a small plane flying into the World Trade Center over and over. As any three year old would, she asked me if it was “an accident.” I knew it wasn’t an accident; my husband had been at work, on the 102nd floor of that same building in 1993 when it was attacked the first time.
I knew it wasn’t an accident.
But because of that experience, I expected a lot of smoke and a few injuries and a long tense day, but nothing more. I turned off the TV.
Meanwhile, sunlight streamed into my bedroom. I could feel the crisp air. I got ready. I got Sarah ready. I got the baby ready. We went down in the elevator and walked out of the building. A neighbor was walking toward us. She was wearing a suit, and had a dazed expression on her face. She told us that she had just been emerging from the subway at the WTC when she saw the plane hit. She saw stuff start flying, and flames. She fled back into the subway and came home.
I walked a block to the haircut place. The girls who worked there looked at me as if I were from Mars. Two were crying and most were pumping their cell phones, getting no response. Someone’s boyfriend was in the building. Someone else’s sister worked next door. No contact. As it happened, the first building had already collapsed. But our stylist, in need of distraction, went ahead with Sarah’s haircut.
Because I had thoroughly misgauged the situation, I remained entirely calm. Shortly I found myself in a circle of salon employees who were panicked about the attack it was now clear we were under. Having worked in the Pentagon on terrorism issues, I felt it was my duty to reassure them that there was nothing the United States of America could not handle, and no force it could not defeat. On our way home, both girls pointed up to the sky at the loud and reassuring noise of F-14 fighter jets flying overhead.
Because of our personal involvement with the 1993 bombing, I had unconsciously expected that the buildings would be attacked again. Only when I learned that the Pentagon had been hit, and that another plane had been hijacked, did I comprehend the magnitude of the threat. And I got scared.
My oldest daughter was at school across town. I couldn't not reach the school by phone. Public transportation had shut down. How would I get her? My husband had the car, and bridges and tunnels were closed down. He could not return until they opened. A friend brought my daughter home, I got cash and milk and bread, and waited for the next shoe to drop through a long, tense night. Los Angeles? Chicago? Or would they come back here with a dirty bomb? What if it was already in place?
In the ensuing weeks we all speculated about what was to come. Car bombs. Schools or school buses. Synagogues. But it is three years later now, and the next shoe never dropped. And that was no accident.
President Bush rose to the task. The men and women he had chosen to fill his peacetime administration -- Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Condoleezza Rice and others, were up to the job.
U.S. actions in Afghanistan showed the world resolve and also demonstrated that we knew the difference between the people there and the culprits who had hijacked their land. People differ on Iraq, and clearly it has been a messier and more complicated project than the administration anticipated. But if your goal is to make sure that this never happens again -- that the United States is never again attacked by Islamofascists, then you are obligated to transform the culture that spawns them.
The Bush administration is not perfect. But when it comes to keeping my children and my community safe, I think they have done as good a job as could have humanly been done. The proof of the pudding is that we are leading relatively normal lives, even if we have to all too frequently consider escape plans, shelter plans, and what we would feel like if we lived in Beslan and our children’s school were captured and our children slaughtered. By contrast, other issues seem trivial. Certainly they are not voting issues.
Taking the war to the terrorists beats the alternative. And giving the people of the Arab world control over their governments and their lives, so that they are less attracted to a culture of death that they will use to harm us, is a noble and selfless job. And it turns out, it is the best way to keep us safe at home. It is the work of a leader more concerned with doing the right thing than with poll numbers. And for that I have deep respect and gratitude for George W. Bush.