Published Wednesday, September 12, 2001
The Miami Herald
by Leonard Pitts

We'll go forward from this moment...

It's my job to have something to say. They pay me to provide words that help
make sense of that which
troubles the American soul. But in this moment of airless shock when hot
tears sting disbelieving eyes, the only thing I can find to say, the only
words that seem to fit, must be addressed to the unknown author of this

You monster. You beast. You unspeakable bastard.

What lesson did you hope to teach us by your coward's attack on our World
Trade Center, our Pentagon, us? What was it you hoped we would learn?
Whatever it was, please know that you failed. Did you want us to respect
your cause? You just damned your cause. Did you want to make us fear? You
just steeled our resolve. Did you want to tear us apart? You just brought us
together. Let me tell you about my people. We are a vast and quarrelsome
family, a family rent by racial, social, political and class division, but a
family nonetheless. We're frivolous, yes, capable of expending tremendous
emotional energy on pop cultural minutiae -- a singer's revealing dress, a
ball team's misfortune, a cartoon mouse. We're wealthy, too, spoiled by the
ready availability of trinkets and material goods, and maybe because of
that, we walk through life with a certain sense of blithe entitlement. We
are fundamentally decent, though -- peace-loving and compassionate. We
struggle to know the right thing and to do it. And we are, the overwhelming
majority of us, people of faith, believers in a just and loving God. Some
people -- you, perhaps -- think that any or all of this makes us weak.
You're mistaken. We are not weak. Indeed, we are strong in ways that cannot
be measured by arsenals.

In pain...

Yes, we're in pain now. We are in mourning and we are in shock. We're still
grappling with the unreality of the awful thing you did, still working to
make ourselves understand that this isn't a special effect from some
Hollywood blockbuster, isn't the plot development from a Tom Clancy novel.
Both in terms of the awful scope of their ambition and the probable final
death toll, your attacks are likely to go down as the worst acts of
terrorism in the history of the United States and probably, the history of
the world. You've bloodied us as we have never been bloodied before.

But there's a gulf of difference between making us bloody and making us
fall. This is the lesson Japan was taught to its bitter sorrow the last time
anyone hit us this hard, the last time anyone brought us such abrupt and
monumental pain. When roused, we are righteous in our outrage, terrible in
our force. When provoked by this level of barbarism, we will bear any
suffering, pay any cost, go to any length, in the
pursuit of justice. I tell you this without fear of contradiction. I know my
people, as you, I think, do not.

What I know reassures me. It also causes me to tremble with dread of the
future. In the days to come, there will be recrimination and accusation,
fingers pointing to determine whose failure allowed this to happen and what
can be done to prevent it from happening again. There will be heightened
security, misguided talk of revoking basic freedoms. We'll go forward from
this moment sobered, chastened, sad. But determined, too. Unimaginably

The steel in us...

You see, the steel in us is not always readily apparent. That aspect of our
character is seldom understood by people who don't know us well. On this
day, the family's bickering is put on hold. As Americans we will weep, as
Americans we will mourn, and as Americans, we will rise in defense of all
that we cherish.

So I ask again: What was it you hoped to teach us? It occurs to me that
maybe you just wanted us to know the depths of your hatred. If that's the
case, consider the message received. And take this message in exchange: You
don't know my people. You don't know what we're capable of. You don't know
what you just started. But you're about to learn.