I wandered out the front doors of the hotel this morning and looked across Pennsylvania Ave at the flags flying in front of the Wilson Building. It was early, I was nursing my first cup of coffee and cigarette for the day (damn Marriott anyway) and I couldn’t for the life of me figure out why the flags were flying at half staff. It didn’t occur to me until 15 minutes later, over a bagel, that today was actually September 11th. Yeah, I actually had to do that math on that one… It doesn’t seem possible that it’s been six years.
It’s only on reflection that I realized the real weight of the day – What it’s come to mean in our history; The blood and treasure that we’ve poured out on the days from then until now; the schism that it has left on our politics in our collective effort to decide what September 11th really means. More painful, perhaps, is the indifference that most now feel towards those who waged unholy war on us on a clear morning that seems both cavernously distant and painfully close. We were not the aggressor, but the victim of a ruthless attack carried out by cowardly men on an innocent population. We’re quick to forget those minutes and hours that seemed to stretch out forever.
I went to see Lincoln tonight. It just seemed fitting somehow. But the words that stuck in my head weren’t those written to bind up our nation’s wounds. They’re still too fresh for that. All along my long walk tonight, I was recalling Churchill’s words from the frosted depths of the Cold War… “We have surmounted all the perils and endured all the agonies of the past. We shall provide against and thus prevail over the dangers and problems of the future, withhold no sacrifice, grudge no toil, seek no sordid gain, fear no foe. All will be well. We have, I believe, within us the life-strength and guiding light by which the tormented world around us may find the harbour of safety, after a storm-beaten voyage.”
Winston would have understood the 21st Century. Sure, we have different clothes and different music, but it’s the same old world. He’d tell us to never give in and to stay the course. He knew that the only way to defeat evil was to pummel it into unquestioned submission. Winston would have understood.