DeFlip Side #3: A New Kind of War

DS03.mp3

Welcome everybody. This is DeFlip Side.

A new kind of war. That’s what President Bush is calling it. A new kind of war that requires a new kind of thinking.

I wonder what my pop was thinking, as he stood in Grand Central Terminal on the day of the hijackings and murders, catching one of the last trains out of the city before everything shut down. I wonder what he was thinking the next day, as he and a busload of other Iron Workers arrived at ground zero, surrounded by death. He says that it was unimaginable, overwhelming. Nothing you see on TV can do justice to the sheer magnitude of the disaster. I wonder what he was thinking, as he helped clear away the rubble, bucket by bucket, of buildings he’d helped build almost 30 years ago. I wonder what he saw in that rubble that he’s not telling us about.

A new kind of war that requires a new kind of thinking.

It doesn’t seem like I did much thinking at all in the days that followed the terrorist attack. Everything that had seemed pressing in my life was suddenly unimportant. I felt like I was standing somewhere outside myself, in a fog of shock, on the edge of tears. And from that vantage point I saw with detached clarity how we waste our lives on trivial pursuits, trivial concerns, trivial worries, consumed with meaningless BS. What’s even scarier, that BS is already reasserting itself, taking center stage once again as the shock fades.

A new kind of war, that requires a new kind of thinking.

I don’t know what I was thinking, as my wife Laura and I drove into the city last weekend. I had been up to my eyeballs in the tragedy all week, producing television segments about it, immersed, like the rest of the world, in images of exploding planes and smoking ruins. Maybe I just needed to see things for myself, get a hint of what my dad was talking about. Maybe I was just sick of feeling useless.

Of course, the first thing that struck me on the approach to the Midtown Tunnel was the absence of the Towers from the skyline and the gray smoke on the horizon. I felt a pang of anger, quickly followed by a laugh, of all things. A scene from Ghostbusters started playing my head, where the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man steps on a church and Bill Murray blasts the crap out of him, yelling, “Nobody steps on a church in my town!” Only Stay Puft was now Osama Bin Laden.

Then I thought how this whole terrorist plot might have played out if we really had superheroes like Green Lantern. Maybe the first tower still would’ve gotten hit, but Lantern certainly would have stopped the rest of it from happening…

I hate myself for these thoughts, for the sick, stunted portion in my brain that sees fit to trivialize the deaths of thousands by recasting them in some twisted Sci-Fi fantasy. But I don’t suppose it’s any worse than the mass e-mails circulating about a phony prophecy of Nostraudomus predicting this disaster. It’s certainly it’s not as abominable as some recent slanders of our own so-called religious leaders who blame the gay community and the ACLU for what happened, as if it were some kind of divine retribution.

Once in the city, we never got further south than Canal Street. We didn’t need to. Everywhere I looked were fliers of those still missing, people gathered around makeshift curbside memorials. I felt more useless than ever.

A new kind of war, that requires a new kind of thinking.

If anything, I think this new kind of war has caused me to discover an old kind of thinking. Suddenly, phrases like “God Bless America” and “Proud to be an American” don’t sound like clichés anymore. It’s like some veil of cynicism has been lifted and I’ve found the romanticized America that I thought never existed outside of newsreels and Bing Crosby songs.

It was the Friday night after the attack, and I was on my own. Laura had gone into the city with some other nurses to help out with the relief efforts. It had been another late day at work, so I bypassed home and went into my town to grab dinner. It had been raining all day, but now the clouds had started breaking along the horizon. As the setting sun slid beneath them, two rainbows formed in front of me. Here, on this day of mourning, double rainbows were arching over Main Street.

As I sat in the diner eating, people began to line up along the sidewalk, carrying candles and coming together in front of the drug store. Further down, some kids were in front of the Starbucks, waving their candles and chanting “U-S-A!” and getting all the cars to honk as they went by. I wandered out into the middle of it all, feeling the first twinges of cold in the air.

As it always does, the cold made me think of Christmas—of past Christmases spent shopping along this street, listening to carols… belonging. And I thought of Christmases to come, knowing that I wanted to continue spending them right here in this town that I’d grown to love so much. A few tears came then; not many, but the first I had been able to cry since that horrible Tuesday morning.

I was suddenly able to conceive of fighting for my country, even dying for it, for the sake of a greater good, for the sake of my little Main Street and the million others just like it, for the sake of a way of life I’ve always taken for granted. And for the sake of the more than 5,600 people who were senselessly murdered.

President Bush is calling it a new kind of war, that requires a new kind of thinking. For the first time, I agree with him. The war has already begun at home, and in some ways the terrorists are already winning. Everywhere you go you see beefed-up security, people required to show identification just to get into their offices and go about their lives. There’s a tension in the air, like we’re all waiting for the other shoe to drop.  It’s an atmosphere that goes against every principle of general freedom this country is built on.

But there’s also more unity than ever before. American flags are everywhere. Response to relief efforts has been too successful, the blood banks full and the Salvation Army turning donations away. For those of my post-Baby Boomer generation, the unity that we’ve witnessed in the past week, this great coming together as Americans, is strange, almost an anachronism. But it’s also been a pleasant surprise.

We’ll need it to last, because if we’re serious about taking the fight to the terrorists, it’s going to be a long struggle.  Bin Laden is a good target for now to help focus our anger, turn it into determination. But if he were gone tomorrow, the terrorist threat would remain. We all have to stay on alert, to do something that we haven’t been asked to do in my lifetime: we need to take active responsibility for our freedom.

Because this is a new kind of war, and it requires a new kind of thinking.

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