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ralph robert moore


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Copyright © 2001 by Ralph Robert Moore.

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"the orphan, the widow, and the slain of america"
september 15, 2001

This past Tuesday, September 11, I started the day by weeding for an hour or so before beginning work (no matter how often you pull weeds, they always come back.)

It was a beautiful morning, bugs spinning in the air, birds imitating other sounds, the soil of our garden beds still loose with rain so that the roots came up easily, like limp lightning.

A little after eight o'clock, I headed inside, going over in my mind the work I wanted to accomplish that day.

My office is in our bedroom (I work from home).

As I walked into the room, pants muddy-kneed, our home phone started ringing. Picking it up, I noticed the blinking red light on the front of the phone, indicating someone had left a message.

"Did you get my message?" It was Mary.

"I haven't listened to it yet. I just came in." I sat down in the swivel chair, lighting a cigarette.

"The World Trade Center's been hit by two airplanes. The Pentagon's been hit by another. They're terrorist attacks."

I turned on the TV. Two tall towers, one with smoke funneling up, the other pristine. As I watched, a plane swooped directly at the untouched tower, seeming to pass behind it, but then red and orange flames bubbled out the other side, and it was obvious the plane had plowed directly into the building.

Later that morning, separately, each tower collapsed massively down, debris and dust rushing like tidal waves down the streets.

In the television cameras' askew angles, business papers swirled everywhere, gray people wandering aimlessly about.

A fourth plane that had been hijacked crashed in rural Pennsylvania before it ever reached its intended target. From the information that has been gathered so far, passengers on the plane, reportedly told by the hijackers of the other American targets that had been successfully hit, realizing the scope and gravity of what was happening, overpowered the terrorists long enough to cause the plane, with everyone on board, to instead fly into the rushing ground, at full speed.

God rest their souls. Tired businessmen, kids on their way to college, newlyweds traveling to their honeymoon-- whoever you were, God rest your souls.

God rest the souls of the firemen and police officers of New York City, who without any thought for their own safety went into a burning building one hundred and ten stories high, and never came out. Over half of the firemen who entered the building died inside that building, alone in the smoke, flames, confusion, and collapsing ceilings.

Those who did come out carried on their skulls the faces of the dead.

Thousands of beds throughout the greater New York area were empty or half-empty that night, and will be forever after. In thousands of homes, empty chairs now around the breakfast table, rods of clothes that fit only ghosts, now.

None of this horror stopped firemen, police officers and other emergency technicians from continuing to go into the twisted metal hell of the collapsed buildings, only now they wrote their names and Social Security numbers on their forearms in Magic Marker, so that if they, too, didn't come out, their bodies could be easily identified.

Oversea feeds from Palestine showed people cheering in the streets, shaking hands with people in cars, passing out candy once they heard about the death and destruction in America. A Palestinian spokeswoman later said this exuberance occurred only in a few areas, and was short-lived. But other reports confirmed the celebrations in Palestine were widespread, and heartfelt, but that cameramen had been physically prevented from showing further examples of the dancing in the streets, for fear of how the rest of the world would react to such displays of joy.

They hate America.

In large part, because America supports Israel.

The purpose of terrorist attacks over the years, including the one this past week, has been to force America to lose its resolve in its defense of Israel. America has been Israel's strongest defender over the decades, even though our two countries sometimes disagree. Radical Islamic followers involved in the acts of terrorism know that if America abandons Israel, it will be very difficult for Israel to survive on its own. As brave as Israelites have been, any nation, attacked often enough, can be eventually overwhelmed.

So this week, these factions showed us what the term 'collateral damage' really means. How it looks, how it feels, how it smells and sounds. How it tastes.

As a consequence, we're about to go to war.

Despite the terrible wars that were fought in the just-recently concluded century, for the first time, during that century, we as a world began coming together, not just with our technology, but with the establishment of multi-national institutions such as the League of Nations and the United Nations, our business and cultural alliances, and improved travel. If we are able to get away from the distractions of conflict, this trend is certain to grow even stronger in this, our new century. For the first time, we have most of our nations, and certainly all of our most powerful nations, living in harmony. But we need yet another effort to rid ourselves of what will hopefully be this last vestige. In this new war, I hope we are thorough.

And I hope we are just.

Since the attacks Tuesday, there have been a number of incidents of violence against Americans of Arabic descent. Several mosques within the United States have had bullets shot through their windows. We as Americans shame ourselves when we take such actions. We were not attacked by our own citizens, and indeed we were not attacked by Arabs, Muslims, or fundamental Islamics. We were attacked by fanatics who are so supremely selfish they will bring pain to as many innocents as they can, to force their beliefs on others, as opposed to the vast majority of us around the world, who are tolerant of different beliefs. I've known Arabs all my life. They are among the kindest, gentlest, most noble people on earth. If we continue to attack our fellow Americans, who happen to be Arab, we are no better than the people who prompted us to so behave.

This week also saw seemingly endless speculation among some in the media as to whether or not our President was cowardly in not immediately returning from Florida to Washington, D.C. after the attacks began. I have absolutely no doubt President Bush did want to immediately return to Washington, but that he deferred to the better judgement of the Secret Service, who knew that it was not safe for him to return to a city that had so recently been the target of a terrorist attack, until they had some assurance the area was secure. We have to remember that George Bush is not just a man, he's our President. Imagine how much more infinitely devastating these attacks would have been if they had also succeeded in killing our President, which apparently was one of the aims of the attacks. Remember also that the President's wife, Laura Bush, was in Washington at the time of the attacks. Can anyone doubt her husband did not want to rush to be by her side at this time of extreme danger, and that he resisted doing so only because of his responsibilities as our leader?

It appears as of this writing that nearly five thousand people may have died in the Twin Tower attacks. Nearly all of them are still unrecovered from the rubble. Chances of their survival at this point are unlikely, although spouses, lovers, parents, children, friends, cousins, co-workers continue to walk the streets of lower Manhattan, holding up pictures of the missing. It's in this refusal in the midst of hopelessness that we see the true face of war: the face of a small child, a face red from crying, tears streaming, bent by the side of the bed, small hands clasped so tightly together, begging God that the one they love is somehow miraculously still alive. That child is bent at beds all over our nation, whether they be five or thirty or fifty or eighty years old, and all we can say to them, as we've said for thousands of years, is pray as hard as you can, wing your prayer up past the ceiling, up into the sky, but as heartfelt as you pray, as hard as you cry, as intensely as you squeeze your hands together, this time, child, your prayer will not be answered.

"These are the times that try men's souls...Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives everything its value. Heaven knows how to put a proper price upon its goods; and it would be strange indeed if so celestial an article as Freedom should not be highly rated...though the flame of liberty may sometimes cease to shine, the coal can never expire...I should suffer the misery of devils, were I to make a whore of my soul by swearing allegiance to one whose character is that of a sottish, stupid, stubborn, worthless, brutish man. I conceive likewise a horrid idea in receiving mercy from a being, who at the last day shall be shrieking to the rocks and mountains to cover him, and fleeing with terror from the orphan, the widow, and the slain of America."

-- Thomas Paine, The American Crisis, December 23, 1776

(Ordered by General George Washington to be read to his troops Christmas Eve, 1776, before crossing the Delaware).