Jewish World Review Jan. 8, 2002 / 24 Teves, 5762

Paul Greenberg

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Happy old year: They met the test

http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com -- BEFORE the black-eyed peas get any colder and the new year any older, let us hail some of those who not only met the test in 2001, but who set new standards in the face of harrowing challenges:

The president, vice president, secretary of state and secretary of defense of the United States, all of whom not only did their duty but went beyond and above, each in his own way, with his own distinctive talents and temperament, and all as a team. And it would be hard to imagine a better one to have had in place on Sept. 11, 2001, another date which will live in infamy.

George W. Bush's address to Congress after the terror attacks on this country seemed less a speech than an expression of the united will of a whole people. Once again we had been made one out of many by an attack upon all. That night, the president said words doubtless meant to rally us then, but, looking back, his words now sound like promises kept -- promises to ourselves, to the enemy, and to a world that now has new reason to respect American resolve:

My fellow citizens, for the last nine days, the world has seen for itself the state of the Union, and it is strong. ... Our grief has turned to anger, and anger to resolution. Whether we bring our enemies to justice, or justice to our enemies, justice will be done. ... And in our grief and anger, we have found our mission and our moment.

So had George W. Bush.

The men and women of the armed forces of the United States, officers and enlisted, the CIA and special forces, whether on land, sea or in the air, on guard at home or in harm's way abroad.

Once again all proved themselves competent in execution, stunning in result, swift and decisive in action, and in every way more than equal to this new challenge. Our pride in them and our gratitude for them has been justified on every count.

No words from political leaders can be as eloquent as the actions that make those words into facts. Today anyone who doubts American determination need only look at the travails of our enemy, which, Lord willing, have only begun, and will not conclude till every one of those responsible for the murderous attacks on our people Sept. 11 are flushed out of hiding and brought to justice, and we make certain that this form of treachery will never again threaten us, thanks to all those who protect us.

New Yorkers. This Southerner made one silent resolution long before this New Year's Day: Never again would I write, speak, or think ill of a city that has been sorely tested and shown its true character since Sept. 11.

New York's firefighters and cops are now legend. Its doctors, nurses, civil servants and volunteers came together to do whatever needed to be done and much more. Its mayor rallied not only a city but the country that was pulling for it. After Sept. 11, 2001, whatever the rest of us had ever said or thought before, the only way to look at New Yorkers was up.

The American people. We were supposed to be fat, dumb and happy, remember? An easy target. The very image of the decadent West, ripe for the killing. And the killers thought they'd get away with it: After the shock wore off, we would just bury our dead and go on about our business, which is the only thing we really care about. Oh, we might fire a missile or two in response, but to no great effect -- just as we did after the attack on our embassies in Africa. And that would be that.

Those who despise us thought they had us figured: The likelihood of any strong response was little or none; we would direct our anger at each other rather than the enemy. We would be paralyzed by the usual political bickering. We would leave matters in the hands of the police and prosecutors. The attacks would be referred to the criminal justice system, and nothing would be done for years, if then.

And we would soon sink back into our somnolence. And the stage would then be set for the next, even bigger terrorist attack. That's what happened the last time the World Trade Center was bombed. Osama bin Laden and those who sheltered him must have taken comfort in the familiar pattern that had been established since Somalia -- terrorists attack, Americans retreat.

But the terrorists miscalculated. They did not know us. Maybe we didn't fully know ourselves till the flags appeared everywhere, till Americans of every party, creed, color, race, section, persuasion and inclination came together as one, and showed that rarest of American virtues: patience. Through all the early uncertainties, the gathering of the forces, the painstaking assemblage of a worldwide coalition country by country, each with its own potential and limits, we remained steadfast, and it paid off.

Leading a strangely assorted alliance was a constant distraction, but our leaders did not let the coalition determine the mission. Instead, as Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld put it well, the mission would determine the coalition. And all the predictions of doom, of quagmire, of another Vietnam ... were blown away by the success of American arms and diplomacy.

That success could not have been achieved if we'd fallen to squabbling. Instead, united we stood. And so we stand today as the war in Afghanistan concludes and the war against terror continues. For as long as it takes.

We need to remember what the united strength of a free people can accomplish, for that united strength will surely be needed in the years ahead as much as it was needed this past year. Americans are so used to criticizing ourselves, which can be a good and useful habit in a free country, that we may forget to celebrate ourselves when we need to. Like now.

Tony Blair, who never went wobbly. Britain's prime minister and America's indefatigable friend rallied the world against terror, going everywhere and doing anything he could to help. Following his lead, the British people were at our side from the first, and are still there.

Tony Blair didn't have to do what he did. He could have played it safe, and adopted some middle course, saying the right things but not actually risking very much. He could have done what other cautious leaders around the world did, treading their way carefully between right and wrong, not wanting to risk the ire of the haters or the new, utter determination of this country to prevail.

Britain's Blair played no such diplomatic games. He spoke boldly and acted decisively. He proved more than friend and ally; he took the lead in speaking out against this new kind of enemy, who strikes from within. He appealed to the memory and essence of what Winston Churchill called the English-speaking peoples. He reminded us not only of the common treasure we share, the rich and formidable treasure that is the English tongue, but of the virtues it plants and nurtures: courage, perseverance, faith in each other and in the destiny free men share.

Thank you, Mr. Blair. Some of us can't honestly say we expected such leadership of you, but we can never forget it. A happier new year to you, a happier new year to us all as justice is done and peace pursued, the widow comforted and orphan sustained, and the world's true heroes rediscovered.

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