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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Wednesday, September 12, 2001

Island Voices
Yesterday a day that will live in degeneracy

As news becomes crazier, journalism schools may have to add courses in psychiatry. How else can reporters tell about the suicidal wholesaling of death in New York and Washington?

If, as some expect, the perpetrators are identified as fanatics who merge church and state in a high-octane melting pot, the world will have witnessed its most spectacular case of religious dementia.

How can ordinary Muslims, Jews, Christians, agnostics and atheists understand the inner anger outwardly expressed without possibility of victory? Destroying an office building where thousands worked achieves no military purpose. No battle is won. This is not Gettysburg or Stalingrad or Waterloo. Much has been lost but nothing has been gained.

Americans of a certain age were instantly reminded of Pearl Harbor when they heard about yesterday's assaults.

Pearl Harbor was the most famous sneak attack since the Trojan horse, and the date was aptly fixed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt as a day that will live in infamy. How would he describe yesterday? It is a day of degeneracy, directed first at civilians and powered by revenge.

Revenge is the name on the ongoing horror in the Middle East, where Palestinians kill and maim whoever happens to be there when the suicide bomb goes off. And this is where Israelis kill and maim in retaliation, drawing on their enormously superior military strength that serves them no more conclusively that a firefighter's hose at the Pentagon.

The terrorists are cunning. But they have no accomplishment. They have made no point, convinced nobody.

American reaction, as it was after Pearl Harbor, is to resist terror and to affirm the lives of those who were killed. Nobody wanted such a test, least of all President Bush, but the country examines its readiness to meet terrorist assaults under depressing circumstances.

Not long ago it might have been claimed that this kind of terrorism is beyond American comprehension because it comes out of a different culture. But that claim blew up in Oklahoma City.

A.E.P. Wall, former president of the International Federation of Catholic Press Agencies, is the former Sunday and managing editor of The Honolulu Advertiser.