Those were the words used by President Franklin D. Roosevelt to describe the Japanese attack upon Pearl Harbor. However, it could equally be applied to the horrors of September 11, 2001.
On this day, terrorists siezed control of four jetliners full of innocent civilians. Two were crashed into New York City's World Trade Center, while a third dived into the Pentagon. A fourth never reached its deadly re-destination, for a group of brave passengers, hearing news of the first attacks via their cell phones, determined to rush the hijackers and overpower them. Although everyone aboard that plane died when it crashed near Pittsburgh, it reached no ground target and caused no other deaths.
The twin towers of the World Trade Center stood as the great jewel of Manhattan's financial district. In the right light they seemed to float above the famous New York skyline, a beautiful monument to the positive power of free-market capitalism. This was enormous wealth, not just for a tiny skin of elite as had been such ancient monumental architcture as the Pyramids or Versailes, but for ordinary middle-class people: brokers, secretaries, even sight-seers.
It seemed inconceivable that a terrorist could bring it down. It had, after all, survived the 1993 truck-bombing with no loss of structural integrity. Even with blazing holes torn through both towers, most people were confident that it would stand, although it might later have to be demolished. Thus horror was mixed with disbelief when first one, then the second tower collapsed upon itself like an obscene parody of the controlled implosions performed by demolitions teams.
But the horror wasn't finished. Fires spread through the wreckage, leading to the collapse of one of the other buildings in the WTC complex. At 47 floors it was small only in comparison to the giants which had once stood over it. Fortunately it had been safely evacuated earlier, but its fall further hampered relief efforts.
The following day, two other nearby buildings teetered on the edge of collapse. More than once the rescue workers were ordered out of the area when collapse appeared imminent. Other buildings in the area suffered massive damage, to the point that they will probably have to be demolished.
The human cost is enormous, even if it is much less than many feared when they first saw the towers go down. Whole brokerage firms have been wiped out. A body blow has been struck to our nation's economic infrastructure. These were not people associated with military endeavor, like the servicepeople and civilian contractors of the Pentagon. These people were engaged in trade, the peacable exchange of goods and services.
This unprecedented attack upon unarmed businessfolk must not go unanswered. It is time to declare war upon the perpetrators of this obscenity. Not the publicity-stunt executive proclamation like the War on Poverty or the War on (some) Drugs, but a formal Congressional declaration of war, the way the Congress of 1941 declared war on Japan.
Then we go in and eliminate the perpetrators, root and branch. When they have been excised from the body politic of humanity, we give the necessary aid to the countries formerly infested by them, to rebuild their lives and economies, as we did with the Marshall Plan after World War II.
Updated September 14, 2001
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