WASHINGTON — Outside the devastated shell of the Oklahoma City federal building six years ago, the feeling of vulnerability produced by that single act of terrorism was overwhelming. No longer were we as Americans isolated from the extreme acts others throughout the world had suffered on a regular basis, the mindless wars against civilians in the name of God knows what.
Just how vulnerable and complacent was driven home with the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Until it happened it would have been unthinkable that the White House was unsafe for the first time in nearly 200 years and that the president would be operating from a military base in Louisiana.
From a personal standpoint, it was particularly chilling. My daughter-in-law, the mother of two of my eight beautiful grandchildren, is a member of the crew that normally flies between Los Angeles and Boston — American Flight 11 that was diverted into the world's second-tallest building. She was at LAX ready to fly to Boston when the tragedy occurred. If the incident had been scheduled a day later, she would have been on the flight back.
She, of course, was familiar with the crew that lost its life and the trauma will be a long time in passing, just as it will be for others who have lost relatives and loved ones and friends in this horror and for the relatives and loved ones and friends of the 168 who lost their lives in Oklahoma City.
For the first time, those of us who are old enough to remember know how the citizens residents of London felt during the Blitz. The frightening pictures of fire and smoke obscuring the skyline of Lower Manhattan were not unlike those we saw as kids in the newsreels of 1940.
But as citizens of what we believe to be the freest land in the world we are nothing if not resilient and as we did after Oklahoma City we will handle this with the same kind of determination, using all our tremendous resources on discovering and bringing to justice those who could perpetrate such an attack on our sovereignty. President Bush said as much in his initial reaction.
The bragging rights for causing coast-to-coast panic in this most powerful nation in the world has not been evident as yet, but it will be. The achievement is too magnificent for any fanatic not to claim credit.
There undoubtedly will be a strong reaction manifested in tighter security and inconveniences at our airports and in our government buildings and probably for the first time in our commercial structures. It will be irritating and unsettling, but in the end we will tolerate the incursion as necessary. Clearly we have been lax in instituting measures, particularly at our airports, that might have headed off the attack. Merely asking someone whether their luggage has been in their possession the entire time will no longer be sufficient.
The danger we face now is that we don't pinch those freedoms too hard, that we resist the inevitable temptations to shred our basic freedoms in the name of security. That would be a major victory for those whose twisted minds thought up this evil and justified it to themselves.
We should also be careful not to fall into the trap of accusing without justification those who may be of the same nationality or ethnic origin or religion of those we suspect of engineering and sponsoring this attack.
This was an expensive wake-up call to the fact that there is globalization, whether we like it or not, and that with it comes all the maladies that have affected the rest of the globe. Most of us thought that was the case after Oklahoma City, but obviously we slipped back into enjoying, pretty much unfettered, the free movements that we so cherish. That's as it should be and this may be the price we pay for the liberty that the rest of the world so envies. If so, we will endure but we also should wreak a terrible vengeance.