Jewish World Review Oct. 24, 2001/ 7 Mar-Cheshvan 5762

Wesley Pruden

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America stands up for the long count -- WE'RE learning a lot about our country in the wake of September 11, beginning with the fact that some of our leaders, particularly in Congress, are better suited to be followers.

We ought to give them an extra blanket and send them home to bed. They could use the extra blanket to cover their heads.

No one begrudges Congress the necessary precautions. But it's a sobering fact that neither the newspapers and the television networks nor the Postal Service, which are the targets that have actually suffered from the anthrax attacks, shut down in the face of peril. Only Congress acted like a bag of frightened old women (and the comparison, arch as it may be, comes at the expense of frightened old women). Anyone tempted to panic because the House panicked should remember that congressmen panic easily.

The anthrax scare is a new kind of challenge. Disease is always frightening and the danger is real, but easily overstated. The risks have so far been limited to a tiny few, and the postal workers at risk are going about their jobs with a stoic maturity that terrorized congressmen should emulate. Like all good followers, they should follow their leaders.

The good news is that the rank and file American is splendid, as usual, eager to march toward the sound of the guns in the "war" on terror. This is in part because the rank and file American is a splendid specimen, tough and resilient and ever eager to sacrifice. All he needs is a leader, and George W. Bush, to the relief of his friends and the astonishment of his detractors and enemies, stood up to be that leader. No one has been more astonished than our friends and allies in Britain.

Hugo Young, a commentator in the Guardian, the voice of the mushy English left of the dowdy sweater and sensible walking shoes, calls what has happened "the quite awesome hardening of the American soul." This is especially encouraging to those who imagined that America was merely suffering hardening of the arteries.

"Before September 11 this was a mushy psychic space," he writes. "Americans felt comfortable with themselves, and wanted no distractions. They were backing away from the world. Notoriously, their leaders didn't dare challenge the complacency zone by endangering a single American soldier. A body-bag count of zero set an inflexible limit around foreign policy. Bush came to power pledged, if possible, to minus-zero. Now quite suddenly America has become a warrior nation."

We've surprised everybody, including ourselves. There was no knee-jerk demand for instant gratification after the terrorists flattened the World Trade Center and smashed into the Pentagon, and but for a single congressman there has been no demand to "nuke the bastards." The warrior nation waited patiently for President Bush and his hard men - including the elegantly feminine Condoleezza Rice - to organize the response, and when it was unleashed there was no wild celebration of bombs and missiles at last inflicting punishment on the Afghan rabble. Instead we have seen a universal regret that punishment was necessary, an ineffable sadness for what is being done most of all to the women and children whom Osama bin Laden's malignant distortion of Islam has deprived of a decent life. We've taken no pleasure in avenging September 11.

Even what's left of the left has kept a discreet silence, if not in agreement with the national mood at least for once deferential to it. If there's no measurable dissent to the mood of determination to do what must be done it is not because dissent has been muzzled and muffled, but because there is a universal understanding that when civilizations clash national survival is at stake, and prudent men act accordingly.

There can be no question that there is a furious outrage at the Muslims who repaid hospitality with murder, but rarely if ever has there been such a determination not to take it out on the innocent, even in wartime, which enables Muslims who may not be so innocent to indulge in good will they may not deserve. A visitor from Mars (or even Venus) might think that the terrorists of September 11 were Presbyterians, if not Episcopalians, so solicitous has everyone been not to notice who they are. We might yet cancel Christmas this year, or at least sing the carols sotto voce lest we give offense.

For once no one called in spin doctors to manufacture a national mood, and as rage and anger settled into quiet determination something like the spirit of Pearl Harbor is settling over the land. There's a growing recognition that the slog ahead will be a long one, and the tasks ahead won't be easy, but if any nation can defeat suicidal terrorists you can bet that this is the nation that can, and, by the grace of G-d, will.

JWR contributor Wesley Pruden is editor in chief of The Washington Times. Comment by clicking here.

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