04 Oct On MV Starr, in the South Pacific Ocean – Thursday, 4 October 2001
I sent out an email describing our feelings of isolation from friends and family in the wake of the September 11 terrorist attack on the United States. While we were receiving almost daily CNN news reports that described WHAT was happening back home, we felt cut off from understanding HOW those horrific events were effecting the people we loved. I asked: “How have lives changed?” The following is the thoughtful response from our very special friend, Steve Leonard in San Francisco.
Original Message—– From: Steve Leonard [mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org] Sent: Thursday, October 04, 2001 2:42 AM To: Don Stabbert
Subject: That old Chinese curse
Dear Don and Sharry,
“May you live in interesting times.” Traditionally, those words were not a wish of well-being back in the old dynasties of China. I think they are not today, either. Arguably, the last eighteen months have not been just interesting times, they have been fascinating. Reversals of fortune on an immense scale with the dot com meltdown. An economic epoch, for sure. And then, three weeks ago, what was left of Norman Rockwell’s vision of America was utterly traumatized by what may have been the single greatest act of malevolence in history. The pervasive sense of vulnerability that has settled over this country is astounding. The insidiousness of it is that it isn’t so much a concern for oneself that each person feels. It is very much a fear for one’s immediate social structure: family, friends, colleagues. For Mohammad Atta and his boys made everyone living in a city of any size in this country realize that scale has come to terrorism and terror on a large scale is unnervingly indiscriminate and far-reaching. Our national psyche has been clobbered by the most fiendishly brilliant act of fanaticism on record. Steel melts at 1400 degrees. Jet fuel burns at 3400 degrees. Start a large jet fuel fire high up in a skyskraper and the steel columns will begin to soften. The weight of the floors above them will them cause them to buckle before their melting is even an issue. The weight of those floors above, falling just that one or two floors where the columns buckle, overwhelms the columns below and presto, two 110 story buildings collapse into rubble in less than 10 seconds. How do you deliver the jet fuel? Air freight. It was a stunningly brilliant plan, assuming you want to demonstrate utter contempt for human life and a hatred so unreasoning that there are simply no words to say in response. Indeed, the only thing left to do is act. Ironically, I believe it will turn out that Osama and his al-Qaeda fiends have done exactly the opposite of what they intended. I believe America has just been awakened. Terribly rudely, but awakened. I believe that we are already bucking up, the fear and vulnerability at personal levels notwithstanding. Patriotism is no longer mostly a right-wing province. Huge numbers in our generation and in the one behind us are, individually and collectively, suddenly reflecting on their priorities in life. Many are acting on those reflections. Community has become both a salve and a weapon. Someone the other day called it the re-United States of America. I believe it is that. It is remarkable. And lo and behold, in the midst of all this, Dubya has turned into a President. Overnight. In fact, most everyone I know who voted for Gore–I bet even Gore himself–is dazzled at the ascendancy of this man. He has a long way to go before he can rest on any laurels, but he’s made an incredible start. In three weeks’ time, he’s got the most unlikely phalanx of allies assembled, from General Musharref in Pakistan to President Putin in Russia to Prime Minister Blair (of course) in England, and almost every country in between. He’s got Congress acting as a one-party, unicameral legislature. He’s got nearly 90% of Americans (according to poll after poll) saying, “Right on, Mr. President!” For, despite some colorful language–“If you think I’m gonna fire a $2million missle at a $10 empty tent just to hit a camel in the butt, you’re crazy”–he and his team are acting with patience, restraint, and manifest strategic savvy. We are all inevitably more worldly for the recent efforts of the al-Qaeda, but that new perspective, alone, will make America a better citizen in the world order in the long run. You cannot extinguish terrorism with a gun (although you can make yourself feel damned good in the short run). Terrorism can only be defeated politically and economically. My guess is that even now, terrorists all over the world have stopped celebrating and have begun to wonder aloud, “bin Laden, what have you done?” It is very possible that those three monstrous acts on September 11 will dramatically realign the world order. For sure, they have caused entire populations around the world to realize over night that humanity unites most of us, regardless of our nationalist traditions. It’s a fascinating time. I just thought I’d tell you.
My high regard, Steve