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We may not want what was normal

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By HOWARD TROXLER

© St. Petersburg Times,
published September 13, 2001


What are we -- "we," as in we, the citizens of the United States -- supposed to do now?

Colin Powell, the secretary of state, said Wednesday we should try "to restore the society to a sense of normalcy. We've got to get back to our jobs."

The sentiment is good. The idea is to show that terrorists cannot shut down the United States.

But it's not "normalcy."

How can there be "normalcy" after jet airliners piloted by terrorists rain out of the sky, kill thousands of Americans, destroy the World Trade Center, hit the Pentagon and paralyze the nation?

What kind of normalcy, exactly, are we rank-and-file citizens supposed to be getting back to?

Is it the kind of normalcy where, after somebody kills Americans, we vow to seek "justice," and then not much else happens? Maybe we lob a few cruise missiles into some tents in the desert somewhere, and call it even?

Here is what the president of the United States said to terrorists:

"We will find you and justice will prevail."

President Clinton, that is.

Those were Bill Clinton's exact words on Oct. 18, 2000. He was talking about the sneak attack on the USS Cole, an American warship in Yemen.

photo
[Photo: AP]
Investigators examine the hole ripped in the USS Cole by a bombing in October 2000. The attack in the Yemeni port of Aden killed 17 U.S. sailors.

Or, how about this one:

"We will use all the means at our disposal to bring those responsible to justice, no matter what or how long it takes," Clinton said on Aug. 7, 1998. That was after terrorist bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.

This is not to single out Clinton. President Bush's words were almost identical. The rhetoric from Washington about "justice" for terrorists has been the standard U.S. response for a long time now. But it is an Orwellian word.

By demoting acts of international warfare against the United States to the arena of "justice," we reduce ourselves to being just another litigant, a mere party in some sort of indifferent courtroom. If you bomb us, look out -- we just might sue.

Here, for example, is what we did about Osama bin Laden's involvement in the 1998 embassy bombings:

We indicted him.

No, really. Oddly enough, he didn't rush to turn himself in.

And when the rulers of Afghanistan said, we are harboring him and we won't give him to you, that was that.

Here is some more:

Here is the first paragraph of a news article from just last month. You probably don't remember it. I sure didn't.

* * *

More than 10 months after two Arabic-speaking suicide bombers attacked the American destroyer Cole in Aden harbor, killing 17 American sailors, an FBI investigation has virtually ground to a halt because Yemen has refused to widen the inquiry to include Islamic militant groups in Yemen.

* * *

Something has gone wrong in the world. It is our fault, too. Ours. Yours and mine.

Somehow, we let presidents and Congresses think that we didn't care enough about this.

Somehow, we let them calculate that we would rather not take the trouble. That the outside world was only bothersome background noise for our happy, consumer-driven 1990s. That we were so focused on our SUVs and our cell phones and our 401(k)s that we didn't have the gumption to do anything hard.

That we were too busy with ourselves to pay much attention to mysterious figures running around in the deserts of Asia or Africa who caused an explosion somewhere in the world now and then -- even an explosion somewhere else in the world that killed Americans.

That is what we allowed to become "normal." It is not an act of warmongering or hotheadedness now to say, let's don't go back to it.

-- You can reach Howard Troxler at (727) 893-8505 or at troxler@sptimes.com.

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