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Jewish World Review Oct. 1, 2001 / 14 Tishrei 5762

Don Feder

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Americans, welcome to the real world -- A YOUNG lady I know, mid-twentysomething, is disconcerted. The crisis confronting us -- reflected in the greatest carnage on American soil since the Civil War -- has upset her equilibrium.

She asked me when the war on terrorism will be over. (Perhaps after a geological age has passed.) She has nightmares about hijackers. She longs for the days when we didn't have to worry about boarding a plane or entering a skyscraper.

Then there are our academic ostrich farms. "If we retaliate, they'll respond and more Americans will die," campus protestors plead. Imagine, after Pearl Harbor, Americans whining: "Let's not p.o. Tojo. He might bomb the mainland next."

Beautiful dreamers, awake unto -- reality. The world has always resembled a jungle more than a theme park. In the past few decades, Americans have had the illusion of safety. On Sept. 11, men from the Middle East burst that bubble.

Since 1942, a war on American soil has been unthinkable. No one expected the Viet Cong to paddle across the Pacific. In terms of its impact on the home front, Desert Storm was more of a flurry.

Suddenly, we have Fredericksburg in New York's Financial District. And, there's the realization that if terrorists could demolish the tallest building in our most vibrant city, any of us could be next.

But this is the way of the world. Except for brief, blessed interludes (like the 19th century's Pax Britannia), Huns and Cossacks have been the lot of humanity throughout history.

Those of us who grew up in postwar America were among the fortunate few. We lived in a land so unaccustomed to trauma that when tragedy struck, grief counselors had to be on hand to help us cope.

Peace, prosperity and liberty were dearly bought for us by generations of hardier Americans, from the farmers who aimed muskets at advancing redcoats along the Lexington Green, to the boys in blue who saved the Union by breaking Pickett's charge on Cemetery Ridge, to the Marines who braved banzai attacks on Guadalcanal.

Lincoln could have let the South secede and spared the nation the horrors of civil war. The Sons of Liberty could have apologized for the spoiled tea. FDR could have threatened to bring Hirohito to trial, and let it go at that. America was saved by those who bit the bullet and shouldered the burden.

But the account they established for us at the Bank of Happiness and Tranquility is almost exhausted. Now, it's our turn to make deposits.

There are millions in the Islamic world and elsewhere who hate us passionately. Their malice is composed of envy, paranoia and fanaticism.

Peaceful coexistence is impossible. Mullah Mohammed Omar, spiritual leader of the Taliban, if that isn't a contradiction, has offered us terms of surrender -- abandon Israel (the region's only democracy), withdraw from the Persian Gulf and let the jihad run its course.

In "The Gathering Storm," Winston Churchill warned, "Still, if you will not fight for the right ... when your victory will be sure and not too costly, you may come to the moment when you will have to fight with all odds against you and only a precarious chance of survival."

You say you're unhappy with the alternatives? Me too. I wish we lived in a world without schoolyard bullies, where all differences were settled amicably, over glasses of port.

Still, wishful thinking won't stay the coming storm. We can meet it like a free people, secure in our beliefs and determined to acquit ourselves well, or we can cower and whimper that we don't like unclouded vision and want our comforting illusions back.

In the past half century, many Americans have grown flaccid, like Roman patricians addicted to the gluttony of the banquet table and the spectacle of the arena, whose soft, bejeweled hands tremble at the hoofbeats of approaching barbarians.

But there was also the type of Roman celebrated by Thomas Babington Macaulay in his "Lays of Ancient Rome": "Then out spake brave Horatius, The Captain of the Gate: 'To every man upon this earth, death cometh soon or late. And how can man die better than facing fearful odds, for the ashes of his fathers, and the temples of his gods!'"

By our sacrifices, perhaps we can buy a measure of peace for our children or grandchildren.

JWR contributing columnist Don Feder's latest books are Who is afraid of the Religious Right? ($15.95) and A Jewish conservative looks at pagan America ($9.95). To receive an autographed copy, send a check or money order to: Don Feder, The Boston Herald, 1 Herald Sq., Boston, Mass. 02106. Doing so will help fund JWR, if so noted. He is also available as a guest speaker. To comment on this column please click here.

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© 2001, Creators Syndicate