by Joyce Marcel
American Reporter Correspondent
October 11, 2001
THE RECURRING NIGHTMARE OF SEPTEMBER 11
DUMMERSTON, Vt., Oct. 11, 2001 -- It's been exactly a month since the Sept. 11 attacks, 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 the severed 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've become. I happened to spend last week visiting my mother at her retirement condominium in Florida. While I was packing, I identified with the passengers on the hijacked flights. Had they been in their bedrooms on the morning of that fateful day, fretting like me over which clothes to pack? Folded a sweater? Tucked toothpaste into the corner of a suitcase? On the mini-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 bomb."
I racially profiled everyone in the check-in line. A middle-aged couple speaking a language I couldn't identify made me nervous. So did a raw-boned young man. Over the loudspeaker came the startling warning, "It's a federal offense to make jokes about hijackers, bombs or concealed weapons."
In Florida, I wasn't surprised to learn that 14 people in the condominium complex had, like violinist Isaac Stern at 81, died in the two weeks following 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 through 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 potential nuclear holocaust, and then were thoroughly upended by the Sixties - a different kind of chaos caused by their very own children. I could understand some of them looking at the crater that used to be the World Trade Center and saying, "Been there. Done that. I'm checking out."
In south Florida, the television stations were having a field day with the anthrax story. I tried to count the times in one hour that I heard the word and lost track at 32. Of course, the newscasters prefaced their comments with statements like, "This does not necessarily relate to terrorism," but it was that unusual and sinister word -- anthrax, anthrax, anthrax - that 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 record numbers. Many are wearing "God Bless America" t-shirts, but I wonder how many are expressing nationalistic fervor and how many are simply afraid that they will be attacked by their fellow Americans if they don't display the flag.
Mr. Osama bin Laden is happy about how fearful we are. In his little videotaped address to the nation Sunday night, he crowed: "America has been filled 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 everything, and the way babies are buckled and padded to within an inch of their lives. 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 demand safe cars, toys, clothing, music and entertainment, and we sue when accidents happen - as they always do.
But why am I personally afraid, when I know that the chances are small that 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 civilization. As much as I criticize the United States for its many flaws, I cherish our civilization and its great achievements in art, literature, medicine, and technology. I can't help thinking about the many other storied civilizations 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 and the Vietnam War, where American arrogance went in to a foreign country to fight against entrenched, battle-hardened, patriotic zealots who had already beaten back one large and powerful nation.
I worry about the similarities between Mr. bin Laden, who appeared robotic and oddly emotionless on television, and who lives in caves and worships a deranged ideology, and another violent leader, Mr. Mao Tse-tung, and I remember the damage that particular dictator heaped on his ancient - but also 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 personal safety depends on my country continuing to support foul dictatorships that 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 i>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 fundamentalist adherents," he wrote. "These are steps to gain weapons of mass destruction 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 Cockburn song, and the last lines are: "But nothing worth having comes without some kind of fight. You've got to kick at the darkness 'til it bleeds daylight." With so much darkness, where do I start to kick?
Joyce Marcel is a freelance journalist who writes about culture, politics, economics and travel.