THE RECURRING NIGHTMARE OF SEPTEMBER 11 =
by Joyce Marcel
American Reporter Correspondent
Dummerston, Vt. -- It's been exactly a month since the Sept. 11attacks, = and I still return to the World Trade Center every night in my dreams.
In one dream, I'm rooting through the rubble and hold up thesevered head= of either a baby or a doll. I can't tell which one it is, but the neck is = ragged and stained with blood. In another, I'm in one of the buildings, but= instead of escaping, I'm waiting for the elevator to take me up. There are= other dreams, but you don't want to know about them.
I'm a relatively adventurous person, so I'm surprised at how fearful I'v= e become. I happened to spend last week visiting my mother at her retiremen= t condominium in Florida. While I was packing, I identified with the passen= gers on the hijacked flights. Had they been in their bedrooms on the mornin= g of that fateful day, fretting like me over which clothes to pack?
Fol= ded a sweater? Tucked toothpaste into the corner of a suitcase?
On the mi= ni-van from the parking lot to Bradley Airport, I thought, "I'm like a lamb= being led to slaughter." When I saw a plane take off, I thought, "flying b= omb."
I racially profiled everyone in the check-in line. A middle-aged coupl= e speaking a language I couldn't identify made me nervous. So did a raw-bon= ed young man. Over the loudspeaker came the startling warning, "It's a fede= ral offense to make jokes about hijackers, bombs or concealed weapons."
In Florida, I wasn't surprised to learn that 14 people in the condominiu= m complex had, like violinist Isaac Stern at 81, died in the two weeks foll= owing the attack. One of them was my mother's best friend.
It made a crazy kind of sense to me. In their 70s and 80s, the children = of immigrants, these people had managed to assimilate only in time to go th= rough a fierce Depression and then into the chaos and loss of a world war. =
Next they enjoyed a little peace and prosperity in the shadow of a poten= tial nuclear holocaust, and then were thoroughly upended by the Sixties -- = a different kind of chaos caused by their very own children. I could unders= tand some of them looking at the crater that used to be the World Trade Cen= ter and saying, "Been there. Done that. I'm checking out."
In south Florida, the television stations were having a field day with t= he anthrax story. I tried to count the times in one hour that I heard the w= ord and lost track at 32. Of course, the newscasters prefaced their commen= ts with statements like, "This does not necessarily relate to terrorism," b= ut it was that unusual and sinister word -- anthrax, anthrax, anthrax -- th= at came through the commercial din. That story continues.
I am not alone in my fear. The country has gone mad with it. People are = buying gas masks and stocking up on antibiotics. They're buying guns in rec= ord numbers. Many are wearing "God Bless America" t-shirts, but I wonder ho= w many are expressing nationalistic fervor and how many are simply afraid t= hat they will be attacked by their fellow Americans if they don't display t= he flag.
Mr. Osama bin Laden is happy about how fearful we are. In his little vid= eotaped address to the nation Sunday night, he crowed: "America has been f= illed with horror... ."
For decades, we have been a nation of fearful people who demand security= in everything we say or do. Look at the warning labels we put on everythin= g, and the way babies are buckled and padded to within an inch of their liv= es. Our mothers drank highballs and martinis, but woe to the pregnant woman= who drinks in public today; she might as well put an Uzi to her head. We d= emand safe cars, toys, clothing, music and entertainment, and we sue when a= ccidents happen -- as they always do.
But why am I personally afraid, when I know that the chances are small t= hat Mr. bin Laden will be leading an army of Islamic fundamentalists up the= dirt road to my mountaintop home any time soon?
First -- and this might sound melodramatic -- I'm afraid for Western civ= ilization. As much as I criticize the United States for its many flaws, I = cherish our civilization and its great achievements in art, literature, med= icine, and technology. I can't help thinking about the many other storied c= ivilizations that fell apart -- Greece, Rome, Alexandria. I can't help but= wonder if ours won't be next.
If we plunge ourselves into a third world war we run that risk.
I worry about the similarities between the Afghanistan bombings andthe V= ietnam War, where American arrogance went in to a foreign country tofight a= gainst entrenched, battle-hardened, patriotic zealots who hadalready beaten= back one large and powerful nation.
I worry about the similarities between Mr. bin Laden, who appeared robo= tic and oddly emotionless on television, and who lives in caves and worship= s a deranged ideology, and another violent leader, Mr. Mao Tse-tung, and I = remember the damage that particular dictator heaped on his ancient -- but a= lso corrupt -- civilization.
I worry that even though I long for peace and write columns calling for = a sharing of American prosperity throughout the world, in the end my person= al safety depends on my country continuing to support foul dictatorships th= at deprive their own people of any vestiges of liberty or prosperity.
I worry, but perhaps not as much as Mr. William Safire, who said, in the= New York Times on Oct. 8, that the terrorists' goals were to drive Israel = out of the Middle East and remove the sanctions against Saddam Hussein.
"These are not mere street-acclaimed goals adopted to gain fundamental= ist adherents," he wrote. "These are steps to gain weapons of mass destruct= ion by which to intimidate and dominate the world. Crazy? Hitler was crazy,= too, but he almost won."
When the attacks were finally over on Sept. 11, my husband whispered to = me, "We're lovers in a dangerous time." That's the title of a Bruce Cockbur= n song, and the last lines are: "But nothing worth having comes without som= e kind of fight. You've got to kick at the darkness 'til it bleeds dayligh= t."
With so much darkness, where do I start to kick?
Joyce Marcel is a freelance journalist who writes aboutculture, politics= , economics and travel.