- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 30, 2001

We lost something precious that day. Some lost a loved family member. Others lost a best friend. Some left a friend in the ruin of the World Trade Center. Others left a buddy in the wreck at the Pentagon.

We will never forget where we were that day. We will never forget what we did as disaster after disaster struck. Some rushed to rescue a friend from the burning ruins. Others were rushed out of targeted buildings. Some flew to hospitals or to blood banks. Others were aboard airplanes suddenly grounded. Some stood helpless, transfixed by the horrible, incessant replays. Others simply wept, unable to raise their bloodshot eyes to the unfolding catastrophe.

They hurt us and they horrified us. That's what they wanted. They wanted the eyes of the world on their terrifying actions. They wanted us to see the World Trade Center fall. They wanted us to see flames licking through the Pentagon. They wanted us to fear their ruthlessness, their cunning, their burning hatred. They wanted our hearts to leap at the next shriek of a siren, our hopes to sink at the blaze of the next special news bulletin.

They attacked the nerve center of our defense system, the heart of our financial network. They killed themselves to take our treasure. They destroyed themselves to draw our blood.

They won something precious that day. They won it when we changed our behavior. When we chose to cancel our airline reservations, when we decided to move away from New York. They won it when we looked upon a fellow citizen with suspicion or hatred, simply because of the color of his skin or the look of his clothing. When we were too terrified to enjoy the freedoms that our fathers died to give us. They won it in a thousand hesitancies. They won it in a thousand fears.

Yet we found something precious that day.

We found it in a million patriotic gestures, a million heartfelt gifts. We found it at prayerful vigils and tearful memorials. When we unfurled the biggest flag we could find from a building or a freeway overpass. When we pierced the darkness with a candle. When we made a donation for the first time in weeks; when we gave blood for the first time in months; when we were polite in traffic for the first time in our lives.

We found it when we put our grief aside because we had a job to do. When we kept our vacation plans. When we decided to stay in Washington. When we realized that some things are simply more important than a sensational entertainment or a gigantic profit margin. We found it when we kept faith in the market; when we kept hope in the future; when we simply refused to consider the thought that freedom could not win.

Yet we may see many dark days before the cloud of terror is lifted. They may lash out again. Their black deeds may again eclipse the light of our freedoms. We may again lose our friends and our neighbors, our sons and our daughters. Some of them have already been called to battle, and we will support them with our pockets and our prayers; our hope and our love. But before the first shot was fired, we had already won.

We won something precious that day. For while each generation is called to grasp from their fathers the falling torch of liberty, few are chosen to shine it aloft in dark places. Few are called to the fog of battle, to unsheathe the shining sword of freedom, to lift a black cloud of fear and tyranny from the world.

We have this honor. To us is given a solemn mission, a dreadful duty. To us is given the privilege to be the living emblems of liberty, breathing banners of freedom, the targets of unrestrained hated by an utterly barbaric foe.

We all share it. We have lost our blood, our innocence. We have been scarred with a dreadful evil. But we have found our pride, our patriotism. We have regained our citizenship. And we will triumph, no matter how many dark days lie ahead.

We are Americans. We now share a common wound. We are veterans of the war against terror. We now share the red badge of citizen.

Charles Rousseaux is an editor for the Commentary pages and an editorial writer for The Washington Times.

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