- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 10, 2001

This country has been at war since Sept. 11, 2001 not by its own choice but by an act of terror unmatched in our history. The peace was broken not by Allied missiles and aircraft over the mountains and valleys of distant Afghanistan, but by the searing images of great towers aflame and crumbling in a great city weeks before.

Since the morning of Sept. 11, a state of war has existed between the United States of America and a shadowy network of terrorists with roots in their host countries. Now the war has come to them.

This is not the end. This is not even the beginning of the end. It is not even the end of the beginning. It is only the start, the first hours, of what will be a long, often hidden struggle to rid the world of those who thought they could frighten and divide us.

They may have hoped we would bury our dead and go on about our business, open to the next attack and the next. They miscalculated. A great array of nations now has been assembled and has only begun to pursue them to the ends of the Earth, and to the end of their wretched lives.

During the weeks since Sept. 11 and a crime so awful no word has proven adequate to capture it, we have buried our dead, succored the survivors, sent help and lined up to give our blood, and most of all waited. We have been waiting for the beginning. And now it has come.

During all these weeks, what may have been most impressive has been the patience of a notoriously impatient people. The immediate rage after Sept. 11 has been tempered into resolve.

A frontier people raised with the ethos of frontier justice quick and brutal has waited patiently while allies and even erstwhile adversaries were consulted and recruited, and all the chess pieces put in place for the opening. There were remarkably few demands heard for action now, no matter how imprecise and ineffective. The maturity of the American people has seldom been so impressive.

Americans soon grasped that this was a different kind of war against a different kind of enemy, and that our retribution would best be served stone cold.

These first raids against the enemy's central nervous system are but a foretaste of what is to come. Thanks to the patience of a people not known for that quality, our response will come at times and places of our choosing, not the enemy's.

War is a natural nursery of illusions, both ecstatic and despairing. The first reports of success against the enemy will be matched and raised by stories planted in the media to discourage and dismay us.

The crucial battlefield in this struggle, as it has been in so many American wars, will be the battle for public opinion.

If the great advantage of Americans in this conflict is a technical and human competence, this hidden enemy is counting on our national reputation for impatience and the divisions and defeatism it may prompt.

Even now, somewhere in their holes, our enemies must speculate about how long it will take to crack the American will or to divert it into the usual, divisive quarrels.

In this, too, they will have miscalculated. For Sept. 11 has united us as seldom before.

If the Taliban and their terrorist allies are to be bombarded by missiles and smart bombs, and assaulted by Afghans at home and special forces flown in from the rest of the world, Americans may soon be attacked around the clock, too by speculation, rumor and propaganda designed to divide us.

Information true and false, reliable and unreliable, speculative and solid, is now about to rain down on the American public like so much chaff, and it will not be easy to carefully, patiently find the wheat.

The public consciousness will be saturated, the political circuits overloaded, and a surfeit of reports may undermine confidence in all reports, even useful ones. The fog of war is about to descend, and patience, judgment and forbearance will be needed more than ever.

This is Osama bin Laden's secret weapon not his suicide bombers or his insane hopes of staging a biological or nuclear attack but the fickleness of American public opinion.

Those who hate us for our freedom will do whatever they can to use it against us, and turn us against one another. They will fail. Because they have mistaken our freedom for disunity, our great strength for weakness. As they are about to discover.

Paul Greenberg is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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