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Jewish World Review Sept. 13, 2003/ 16 Elul, 5763

Kathleen Parker

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Let's roll the Sept. 11 tapes again and again | Color me a September 11 American. That is, one for whom life changed two years ago.

As opposed to a September 10 American, described by Lawrence F. Kaplan in The Wall Street Journal as one who has returned more or less to life and issues as they were before the terrorist attacks.

It's hard to imagine how anyone younger than 2 could be a September 10 American, but apparently they are plentiful. Kaplan based his definitions on polls and data collected since 9-11, which show, for example, that fewer Americans are flying flags and praying than immediately after 9-11.

Fewer Americans also profess a willingness to fight and die for their country.

Most important, fewer Americans name terrorism as their greatest concern, as more lean toward domestic issues such as employment, health care and prescription drugs.

Suddenly, getting back to normal doesn't seem such a prudent idea. Meanwhile, it's hard not to notice that this shift in attitudes feels mostly political.

Consider a Pew study cited by Kaplan that asked whether Bush should focus on terrorism or the economy. Those expressing greatest concern with the continuing war against terror included whites, evangelical Christians, rural residents, Southerners and conservatives.

Those expressing less concern were secular Americans, African-Americans, urban dwellers, non-Southerners or liberals. All of which sounds like Election 2000 all over again. Those same demographics might as easily have been identified as supporting Bush or Gore.

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In other words, it's politics as usual - when life is anything but usual.

So we have been reminded the past several days by reruns of Sept. 11 footage and memorial services at Ground Zero and Arlington Cemetery.

Of all who spoke Thursday, none was more poignant, statesmanlike or appropriately muted than Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. Clinching his jaw and sniffling (a cold, perhaps, or not), Rumsfeld spoke with world-weary sadness.

He reminded us that America is the "light of liberty and the hope of the world."

He quoted Thomas Paine, who said that America will "make a stand not for itself alone, but for the world." All of it true.

By stark comparison to Rumsfeld, the cacophony of naysayers sound like trivializing children. The hecklers who unfurled a protest banner and shrieked, "You're fired" at Rumsfeld as he spoke at the National Press Club Wednesday put me in mind of less attractive versions of Wormtongue in "The Two Towers," hissing "warmongers."

Oh, where is a roll of duct tape when you need it. Or better yet, Gandalf's staff.

What happened on Sept. 11 two years ago - however much we may prefer the comfort of collective amnesia and the white noise of politics - changed the world for our lifetimes.

Sept. 11 was not just a singular attack on a particular parcel of real estate at a specific moment in time. It was a declaration of lasting war against the United States by an ideological faction of nihilist fanatics with time - and hate - on their side.

While we've got Democratic candidates naming their favorite tunes and hurling criticism at the current administration - but never a constructive alternative plan - the Islamists are breeding more infidel-hating Orcs to plot the next suicide attack.

While we're counting down to the next flag-waving, ribbon-wearing, victim-baiting, tear-streaking, baby-kissing election, our enemies are counting down to the next decade, or the next century, or however long it takes to bring us down.

We had no choice but to act. We have no choice but to stay the course in Iraq until that country is on its feet. As Bush has noted, "Terrorist attacks are not caused by the use of strength; they are invited by the perception of weakness."

At the press club, Rumsfeld recounted a conversation he had shortly after 9-11 with the sultan of Oman, who proposed that the attacks, though horrible, might have been a blessing in disguise. They would be a blessing, he said, if the result were an awakening and if our response prevented a worse attack.

Two years later, we have not had another attack on our soil. We have salvaged Afghanistan from the Taliban, toppled Saddam Hussein, begun a reconstruction in Iraq that shows promise, suffered less human loss than expected, and captured, killed or thwarted many of our enemies.

That we have ticked off a few Europeans in the process falls squarely into the category of "Things could be worse." Which, without the commitment of September 11 Americans, they might well have been.

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