Leonard Pitts Jr.
Published Wednesday, September 12, 2001
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 suffering.
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
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 determined.
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
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
But you're about to learn.
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