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Let Freedom Ring

Especially the freedom to ask questions, to know our enemy and know ourselves



Like all of you, I stumbled through the past week, first overwhelmed and outraged, then numbed. Anger and sorrow are on hold, showing up only for brief phantom moments that are quickly drowned in the flood of images and words on television and in newspapers, my only links, excepting common humanity and citizenry, with New York and Washington.

A single act of comfort comes on Friday when mezzo soprano Denyce Graves sings with perfect simplicity the song that should be our national anthem, "America the Beautiful," penned right here in Colorado Springs. The clear strains of her song echo throughout the National Cathedral and drill a fine hole in my heart that quickly fills with affection and pride for this magnificent land.

Then comes an unceasing barrage of messages from our government officials and the major media that deaden my heart and mind.

We must "act vigorously," though we're not exactly sure against whom. The Middle East, apparently, is composed largely of "rogue nations," many of which we've sold boatloads of deadly arms to in recent years and many of whose leaders are our former and current friends.

Above all, I understand in no uncertain terms, we must not ask questions or flirt with alternative points of view.

A New York Times reporter who wrote the definitive book on germ warfare is interviewed on CNN. Before she is cut off, she insists on being allowed to make one more comment. "I want to say one more thing," she offers. "If we hide and cower in fear, and if we commit violent acts where innocent women and children, innocent civilians are killed, then they have won -- we are no better than they are." Another commentator, a reporter sitting next to her, shakes his head as if to say, 'Poor thing, she doesn't know what she's talking about.' I understand his gesture because similar patronizing head shakes, accompanied by a slight smile, have been directed at me this week by people in the know.

I hear our president and others refer over and over again to the "American way of life," the thing we must protect at all costs. All weekend I wonder if we are considering the same American values. Are we talking about our indomitable claim as the world's mightiest military power and as the economic leader of the world (code words: peace and prosperity)? Or are we agreeing that we must preserve old-fashioned American values like freedom of the press, religious tolerance, and our history as an ethnic melting pot unmatched anywhere else in the world?

The Nepalese exchange student who has lived with my family for three years is hushed and afraid because of his dark olive skin, black hair, bushy eyebrows and foreign accent. I try to assure him that he is safe, but I'm not so sure.

"We will fight with all the arrows in the quiver," asserts Rep. Porter Goss of Florida. Does that include nukes? Biological and chemical weapons? If they could do it then why not us and why not us first?

President Bush assures us that his job is "turning [the victims'] sorrow into something positive for future generations." Like the certainty of war, a holy war, maybe, or possibly a world war?

We are told that this generation of young men wants to step up to the plate and be like "the greatest generation," those who went off to fight World War II. On Saturday, I'm listening to the radio at an intersection and fail to take off immediately at the green light, enraging the carload of apparent 17- to 18-year-old boys behind me. They slam on the horn and rush the tail of my car, swerving just fast enough into the next lane to avoid crashing into me. Then they all flip me off at the next stoplight. The next-greatest generation for sure.

I call my daughter in California to see if she's all right. "So much for airport security," I quip. She reminds me that it has been an illusion, a psychological ploy to get more people to fly, for many years, an illusion not unlike the notion of "national security." Maybe this will prove, once and for all, she asserts, the superiority of true diplomatic means over technology and weapons. I am grateful for her clear-mindedness. I am fearful for her safety and for that of her three teenage brothers, potential soldiers in the battle to end evil for all time.

What is security, I wonder. Obviously, alleviation of the fear that another devastating attack like this one will occur. But what about terror at home? On the same week that the terrorist attack occurred, our local daily newspaper reports that a woman's body is found strangled and dead, beneath the bushes, just behind the 7-11 on Spruce Street. She is identified as a transient. Later in the week the police give her a name, but I wonder who will mourn her terrifying death? Another local story describes atrocities aimed at an adopted child, reportedly terrorized by his parents for years, denied food, locked in a closet with nothing but a pot to relieve himself in. What about the terror of the 17-year-old Widefield boy, shot to death on Sunday, allegedly by a 14-year-old in one of our region's most beautiful parks? A single shot through the heart, heard by nearby joggers. These acts of terror barely make a blip on our collective radar screen of moral outrage, so commonly are they committed and reported here in the greatest nation on earth.

What about the terror of descending into poverty? We hear that hundreds of thousands will surely lose their jobs, at the same time knowing that the CEOs of many of those huge corporations drew multi-million-dollar bonuses this year.

All of it kills us a little, bit by bit, sound byte by sound byte, murderous image by murderous image. I want to hang an American flag outside my door but feel I cannot because a gesture of love would be misunderstood as a gesture of militancy. I pray for the dead and for those left behind.

I pray that we can talk, can ask questions, can learn more about our enemies and about ourselves. I pray that voices outside of the corporate media mainstream and the military might machine will be considered with due respect.

In that spirit, I offer a few selections that have crossed my desk in the past week.

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