It had been a late night at work – that place with the printing press where I earned a living – and I remained groggy as I shuffled from the bedroom to our upstairs den to click on the TV. The Today Show’s gang seemed tense, all huddled around the coffee table on the set, talking about a plane hitting one of the towers at the World Trade Center.
As they chatted, live footage of the scene was being aired, a huge plume of billowing gray smoke spilling from a gaping hole in the North Tower into a cloudless blue sky. People stood about gawking, eyewitnesses offering up contradictory reports and on-the-spot analysts mostly agreeing that a small plane had veered off course and accidentally smashed into the tower. And then a second plane came into view.
I don’t recall who pointed out the second missile, but it only took a moment to realize that it was headed directly for the South Tower and only another few seconds before United Airlines Flight 175 crashed into the building. In that instant it became clear that the United States was under attack and our lives would never be quite the same.
It’s been nearly a decade since the attacks on the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001 and finally the terrorist responsible for the death and destruction that day, Osama bin Ladin, has been killed. There was never any doubt in my mind that he would be taken out; little doubt in my mind that the U.S. will prevail in the war against terrorism.
Just as the Axis powers learned during World War II, it only appears that Americans are happily hunkered down in fortress America. It’s a huge error to mistake the country’s sense of laissez faire and goodwill as indifference or, heaven forbid, fear. Apparently Osama was asleep at Terrorist High on the day his instructor was detailing the thoughts of Isoroku Yamamoto, the Japanese admiral and mastermind behind his country’s attack on Pearl Harbor.
Even as the first reports of success were filtering in, Yamamoto remained pensive, unwilling to celebrate what seemed like a mighty blow to the United States. “I fear all we have done,” the admiral told a few subordinates nearby, “is to awaken a sleeping giant and fill him with a terrible resolve.”
Of course the admiral’s fear proved true. Osama has also learned something about the tenacious spirit and resolve of a country and people filled with good cheer, willing to stand aside for awhile as bullies, tyrants and terrorists wail about in the dark. But a time almost always comes when the darkness fills the planet and the lumbering giant is once again awakened.
I like to think that the Special Forces commandoes in Pakistan, just an instant before unleashing their fiery hell, shouted out a hearty hello and announced they were the striking avengers for the thousands murdered and injured on 9/11 and the millions living under the tyrannical heal of Islamofascists. And perhaps for a moment, Osama understood what it means to be on the right side of history and regretted pushing his people down the path of darkness.
A footnote. Moments after the second plane hit the World Trade Center, I received a call from my boss telling me everyone was being called in early. I quickly showered and dressed and was just about out the door when the phone rang again.
It was Lauren, a little shaken and calling just to check in. I told her I needed to get to work and I’d be back in touch later. We said our goodbyes and then she added, “I love you … and be careful.”
So the world really had changed. It was now a little bit scarier, the sort of place you needed to let those you care about know they were loved and the sort of place where you really needed to tell family and friends to be “careful”.
The world, I fear, remains a scary place and the war against terror remains unfinished. But I like to think that with the death of Osama, the scales of justice have been righted once again and we’re all just a bit safer, at least for the moment.