Who are you, America?

The terrorist attacks of September 11th and our response create a defining moment for America.The ensuing surge of fear and rage - understandable given a hideous act of wanton destruction - leaves little room for careful consideration of the consequence of actions taken under the influence.

Grieving needs time to reconcile the new reality. In that space, police, firemen and women, survivors, neighbors and others who so inspired on the awful day - reconfiguring the image of American hero - responded appropriately. When bleeding occurs, tend to the wound, as both a physical and metaphorical act of healing.

But care must be taken with grief. The impulse to immediately strike back at one's antagonist, despite common belief, has no part in healing and creates unintended consequences, often to the injured.

Leadership's pause before launch was a moment of hope. Had the opportunity been seized, the world's greatest power could have enlisted the United Nations, inspired the civilized community to condemn a crime against humanity and demand an appropriate international response. In a single stroke we would have established the UN's proper role, demonstrated the United States' commitment to international law and garnered the undying respect of the world.

But simplistic nationalism trumped thoughtful leadership and declared crusade. Six-gun justice -- wanted dead or alive -- with us or with the terrorists. Thus the din of bombs and wounded shrieks of defenseless people become white noise muted by flapping flags and blaring horns as thousands die because thousands died.

The world will never be the same, it's said, the implied arrogance suggesting that nothing matters to us but us. The destitute, the shamed, the hopeless - victims of terrorism for generations - look up, then back to a world always the same.

Abroad, brutes replace brutes. At home, fear congeals, rights die. Jingo redefines patriot. Speech becomes dangerous: "Watch what you say." The cliché that a chance to vote on it means Americans would repeal the Bill of Rights is tested; fearful, we fail.

Muted protests rise, are stifled, rise again. Collateral damage, tiger cages, lip service to values, addiction to violence, allegiance to oil, death to the innocent. Is this what we fight to preserve? Who are you, America?

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