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One year later

09/09/02 12:00AM By David Moats
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(Host) Commentator David Moats reflects on how some events become etched in our memory, to stand forever as bridges between "before" and "after".

(Moats) A year later September 11 has become a turning point, a pivot around which historic eras seem to be changing. In my life, I can remember only one comparable date: November 22, 1963. After President Kennedy was shot, things seemed to unravel - not because of his death alone, though his death was a turning point.

As for September 11, the event was historic all by itself. Memories are still fresh, and we'll be repeating stories for years about where we were, how we learned, whom we knew, what we thought. The images are indelible.

So was it a turning point comparable to the death of Kennedy? Think of all that is different since then. American forces have fought a war in Afghanistan, which is still not over, and the military is engaged in a whole new list of places to fight terrorism - Uzbekistan, Georgia, the Philippines. President Bush has declared war on what he calls the "axis of evil," and he is laying the groundwork for war with Iraq. That wasn't happening a year ago.

The world appears far more threatening than a year ago. The conflict between Palestinians and Israelis is even more dangerous because of the way it is enmeshed in the increasingly tangled web of Middle Eastern politics.

Fear of terrorism has seeped in, in other ways. We now hear about exotic diseases, such as small pox and anthrax. Airplane flights now occur in a kind of war zone.

Meanwhile, there is a host of other issues: climate change, world poverty, international war crimes about which the Bush administration has been unwilling to take an interest. It adds to our feeling of helplessness.

Not only that, the economy has taken a nosedive. The stock market bubble of the '90s has burst along with that sense of blessedness that accompanies good luck on the market. Now instead of blessedness there is wretchedness as we learn about corruption in the business world. Lack of decisive leadership in responding to corporate crime adds to our nervousness.

After Kennedy's death, the Vietnam War was the principal cause for the unraveling that followed. In retrospect we can see the fateful steps that people took, the lies they told, the pride they indulged, the mistakes they made.

A year after Sept. 11 things haven't unraveled. But it's a new and uncertain time, not just because of the attacks in New York and Washington - but because of that and everything else. We aren't sure where or how or if the unraveling will occur, but we are on our guard against the lies, the pride, the mistakes, that might turn things bad.

Our memories of Sept. 11 ought to have a humbling effect. It's humbling to learn how vulnerable we are and how badly we can suffer. We wish that humbling would create a sense of human solidarity, rather than prideful, hurtful wrath. But it is a new era and we are not so sure.

This is David Moats from Middlebury.

David Moats is the editorial page editor for the Rutland Herald and winner of the 2001 Pulitzer Prize for editorial writing.
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