The Cup of Bitterness
by Stephen Schwartz
On the second day of the horror, we began to realize, to really grasp what had happened. I would even say that words like "realize" and "grasp" assumed a new meaning.
Realizing and grasping the nature of these events meant understanding that all North Americans shared this experience, even those who, unlike we in New York and Washington, were distant from the events. The shock was so extreme it truly united us, made us all one.
Such a comment might seem a cliché. Let me therefore explain: we saw and heard that hundreds leapt from the upper floors of the World Trade towers; that the sky literally rained bodies; that people jumped 100 floors to their deaths holding hands, that bodies exploded when they hit the ground.
Having known this specific horror has happened, we drank the cup of bitterness to the dregs.
I was reminded of the valiant struggle of the residents of Mexico City after the earthquake of 1985. Yet this torment was not brought about by the gods of the earth; rather it was the play of the demons in the souls of men.
I was reminded of what remains, for me, the most terrible thing I have ever seen: rows of the graves of Albanian children in Kosovo.
Reporters who worked through Tuesday fed by adrenalin, calmly recording the ghastly happenings, cried on Wednesday; suddenly, briefly, a little desperately.
I told one of my colleagues there are times I cannot stand these sieges of grief; in the presence of the dead Albanian children of Kosovo, in the presence of photographs of humans falling from 110-storey towers.
We were devastated into distraction. We stumbled over our words, forgot things we had to do.
On the second day we also recognized that this could be only the first wave of a campaign, and that we could not be certain of the immediate future. But we continued on our path as journalists.
Ordinary Washingtonians asked each other if they knew victims at the Pentagon. Reporters simply kept our eyes on the wires and television screens. We felt less than human, deprived of our right to be normally disturbed and frightened.
One concern for myself and some of my colleagues was to prevent assaults on law abiding Muslims, our friends and neighbors. But Americans seemed too numbed to carry out such attacks on our own streets, at least in the short term.
On the other hand, it suddenly seemed impossible to imagine the U.S. ever again taking a conciliatory position toward the Palestinians. Their long support for terrorism certainly contributed to an atmosphere in which such actions as that on September 11 could take place with relative impunity.
It also seemed clear that the Powell doctrine of friendship with Arab states, symbolized by the previous week's peace proposals for Sudan, would now be revised.
I believe these events will resemble the Oklahoma City horror in that, just as that incident ended forever any political possibilities for the so-called patriot movement that stirred McVeigh, these atrocities will end forever the domination of the American mind by the mentality of the 1960s.
Many commentators sought parallels between this event and the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Those of us with a longer historical memory may recall the Haymarket bombing of 1886, which discredited anarchism and radical violence in America for eighty years, that is, for a human lifetime.
I was called by many colleagues because of my knowledge of the Taliban, some of whom I had encountered in Bosnia. Unfortunately, perhaps the worst aspect of this crisis involves the realization of how unprepared the U.S. authorities were to comprehend the real nature of bin Laden and Islamic extremism.
Nevertheless, on the second day we had every expectation of military retaliation by the Bush administration. My former colleague Donald Rumsfeld seemed the most sensitive and emotionally stricken of all the high American officials. Yet he was also defiant in his statement that the Pentagon would be open and working the next day. His is now the iron hand.
We began to ask ourselves the worst of all possible questions: if our democracy had not been too fat, too smug, too lazy. France is a democracy but nobody questions the security measures it takes to protect itself. Perhaps, then, we have lived too long in a fool's paradise, thinking that our distaste for strict security measures is more sacred than our safety.
I said to a dear Bosnian colleague: Sarajevo has come to America.
[Texto en castellano: http://www.islamicpluralism.org/1736/el-trago-amargo]