A Not So Sentimental Journey Into the Past

The Ol' Bloviator scrawled out this piece within a couple of hours of the attack in order to meet the deadline for the next day's paper. The biggest change he can see since then is that our most pressing need as a people today is freedom from fear of each other. 

Atlanta Journal-Constitution, September 12, 2001

James C. Cobb

"Americans Left to Fear Unseen Enemy"

On January 6, 1941, President Franklin D. Roosevelt promised to forge "a world founded upon four essential freedoms." In addition to freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and freedom from want, there was "freedom from fear," which in Roosevelt's view meant "a worldwide reduction of armaments" so that "no nation will be in a position to commit an act of aggression against any neighbor--anywhere in the world." Rather than securing freedom from fear, however, our victory in World War II soon dissolved into a nuclear arms race fueled by the Cold War.

The generation that spent portions of their childhoods practicing for direct nuclear hits on their elementary schools by putting their heads under their desks or had its adolescence punctuated by the sheer terror of the Cuban Missile Crisis can hardly look back with much nostalgia on that era. Yet, even as the Cold War ended and we breathed a collective sigh of relief at the diminished likelihood of a global nuclear holocaust, we were already slipping into a new era of fear and uncertainty, one in which the enemy could be internal, as well as external, and essentially invisible to boot, one in which extravagant defense budgets and massive missile stockpiles count for less than the ruthless and calculated fanaticism of relatively small numbers of unseen and often unknown enemies.

Regardless of whether Tuesday's death total exceeds that of Pearl Harbor, one of these terrifying new enemies made September 11, 2001, a day that would live not only in infamy, but in irony as well. As president, George Bush, Sr., sought to take credit for the end of the Cold War and promised to create a new world order. Yesterday, he saw another president named Bush forced into hiding in an underground bunker. Our inability to protect even the Pentagon and perhaps even the White House or the Capitol served chilling notice that, when all is said and done, Osama Bin Laden can get closer to George W. Bush, Jr., than the latter, for all his resources, can get to him.

The hysterical reporters and the scenes of genuine public panic in New York seemed more the stuff of B-movies or a TV mini-series than that of live "as-we-speak" reality. Obviously, we are stunned by the apparent ease with which planes at major airports could be hijacked and used to demolish what should have been a tightly secured potential terrorist target. Yet, neither our shock or our dismay at the paralyzing fallout of this atrocity at all the nation's airports and in its major cities defines the true significance of yesterday's horrors. That significance lies in the capacity of an unseen enemy to make not just the residents of New York or Washington, D.C., afraid, but to implant that fear into the hearts of millions of Americans who have never been (and probably never intend to be) near either New York City or a major airport.

This reality came through to me in a number of ways, including the cancellation of classes at the University of Georgia and the anxious investigation of a "suspicious" van parked near the federal building in Athens. However, it was local reaction here in Hart County to yesterday's horrors that I found most enlightening however. Our local radio station, WKLY, "The Voice of the Upper Savannah River," largely suspended its regular programming (save, of course, for the obituaries and mid-day devotional) and broadcast the programming of WGST and the Georgia News Network. The mayor of Hartwell, a woman of Lebanese extraction and Episcopal faith, urged citizens to offer their prayers for the victims and their families "in their own tradition." To that end, churches in town and throughout the county opened their doors to the prayerful. Yet, for all the sincere expressions of grief and compassion for the victims and their families that were uttered in Hart County yesterday, I feel certain that explicitly or not, those prayers also embodied a personal plea for the freedom from fear that, despite our victories in World War II and the Cold War, seems more elusive now than it did when Roosevelt promised to pursue it sixty years ago.

Monthly Archives

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Jim Cobb published on September 10, 2021 9:50 AM.

Into the Blue out of the Blue: Who's Responsible for the Democratic "Surprise" in Georgia, and What Does It Mean? was the previous entry in this blog.

A Not So Sentimental Journey Into the Past is the next entry in this blog.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.