- The Washington Times - Friday, November 16, 2001

When President Bush said this month that "out of evil can come great good," he put words to something Americans have come to understand since September 11 as we have watched, with so many joining, the effort to rescue and restore, honor and avenge, assist, heal and donate to a wounded nation. But if there has been an "awakening to service," as Mr. Bush takes pride in noting, there has also been an awakening of another kind: a realization that much of the good Americans are seeing in their country has been there all along.

One way this becomes obvious, and painfully so, is to read through (or try to) the sketches of the dead that appear in the New York Times, day after day after day, as the newspaper fulfills an honorable mission to remember each of the nearly 5,000 human beings who died in the attack on the World Trade Center. (See www.nytimes.com/portraits.)

Reading these short pieces "glimpses" the newspaper calls them is not just a sobering exercise. It is an agonizing, angering and humbling one. In these very personal remembrances, we learn of the families, even the pets, left behind. We read about the teams the people coached, and the reunions they organized. We become privy to the wedding invitations they didn't get the chance to send, and the summer barbecues that will never be the same. We find out about the 9 a.m. meeting at Windows on the World, and the brand-new office on the 92nd floor all the particulars of chance and design that placed so many people at the center of the world on the morning of September 11.

Amid all those who perished simply because they went to work, there also appear sketches of the 343 New York City firemen, the 37 Port Authority policemen and the 23 New York City policemen who perished trying to rescue them. These are the gallant ones, almost all of them men, who lived to serve and died doing so. And through these glimpses, we see into a world few outsiders are privy to: a place in the culture where it is not unusual for men to marry their high school sweethearts, follow their firemen-fathers onto the force and, in general, live lives that, in certain basic ways, seem unchanged by the cultural revolutions of recent decades.

You might say, to paraphrase the president, out of evil can come an appreciation for great good. As further testament to these lost lives, such appreciation just might become an ennobling experience for us all. That is, the selfless heroism of the men who kept climbing into the fire has already stirred a renewed respect, not to mention gratitude, for the old-fashioned virtues associated with what was once, a very long time ago, esteemed as "manliness." Courage. Duty. Endurance. Brotherhood. All the things that the corrosive elites the media, academia and the entertainment world have long undermined and vilified, if not eradicated, in society at large.

Writing in the left wing weekly The Nation, Katha Pollitt correctly observes that the terrorism attacks and their aftermath "have definitely rehabilitated such traditional masculine values as physical courage, upper-body strength, toughness, resolve." But wrinkle your nose when you read her words for the proper inflection. Ms. Pollitt, who earlier in the season lamented her 14-year-old's sudden desire for a flag, is appalled by this revival and does what she can to pervert it. "The WTC attack is men vs. men firefighters and fanatics," she writes in one of the uglier bits of analysis to congeal in this crisis, adding: "It would seem positively ungrateful to ask why, in a city half black and brown, the 'heroes' were still mostly white, and, for that matter, still mostly male." She continues: "You can see the gender skew everywhere, in the absence of female bylines in the op-eds about the war, in the booing of Hillary Clinton during the Concert for New York at Madison Square Garden, in the slavish eagerness of the media to promote the callow and inadequate Dubya as a strong leader whose 'cockiness' interesting word and swagger are just what Americans need in the hour of crisis."

Men vs. men, black, brown and white, "gender skews" and swagger: Talk about fanatics. It must be an unnerving experience to see life through such a cracked prism. Well worth remembering, though, is that, even through the black smoke and flame of the imploding towers, the heroes of September 11 could still see a better world, one we would all do well to envision as we rebuild our lives from the ruins.


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