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Giving Our Nation’s Best

In this month of September–the first anniversary of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon in the nation’s capital–it’s time to speak plainly.

For the past 12 years this back page of Kentucky Living has been a monthly tribute to a kind of daily bread: sense of place and good living based on simple values and freedom from fear without religious dogmatism or authoritarian tyranny.

Longevity with a sense of decency and, certainly, an absence of terror has played no small part in striving for higher meaning. Usually, I stop short of political debate while trying to be sensitive about multicultural creeds and regimes different from our own in the United States of America.

Make no mistake, our national security has come under attack–our sense of individual place has been terrorized, our survival as a nation has been placed in unacceptable peril.

“Nine-eleven” has entered the English language along with “December 7” and “Holocaust.” Nine-one-one no longer means just another call for help when an intruder raps on our window in the dead of night, when a grease fire has flared in the kitchen and smoke is spreading to our bedrooms, or when lightning has struck the stock barn and the horses are wild-eyed, pawing on their stable doors.

Nine-eleven means survival on planet Earth.

September 11 is also the birthday of a neighbor’s son; for him there’ll always be looks of surprise when asked when he was born. “Were you really born on September 11?” For uncounted times he’ll say, “Yes, I was.”

In fact, a new awareness was born on that infamous date, or should have been, because none of us will ever be the same.

What to do? No time for apathy, no time for weakness, certainly no time for surrender to terrorism. It seems mighty clear that there are those who want us dead–we could renounce all our religious and political beliefs, this enemy would still want us dead.

What to do? Build our national defense. Sharpen our offense. If we don’t, it means we don’t believe our institutions are worth defending. More importantly it means we don’t believe our individual selves are worth saving.

What to do? Turn off the entertainment channels long enough to become informed. Join the home front by the simple acts of reading, thinking, then acting with courage born of September 11, December 7, and the Holocaust.

Jeffrey Goldberg’s “The Great Terror,” which appeared in the March 2002 issue of The New Yorker magazine, is journalism at its finest and ought to be read and re-read. It’s in-depth reporting that won’t be found on anybody’s television station.

Goldberg will put readers to considering the likelihood that Iraq’s chemical and biological warfare in Kurdistan was a coldly calculated laboratory experiment in which the Kurds were used as guinea pigs. Look at the lead picture–the dead man shielding the dead child–and ask yourself, would it make any difference if the doorstep was Kentucky and the victims were neighbors across the street or road?

Thomas L. Friedman’s widely praised From Beirut to Jerusalem, published in 1989, winner of the National Book Award, serves as a keystone for improved understanding of the Middle East.

Dinesh D’Souza’s new book What’s So Great About America should deflect some of the bashing of America.

As I was working this summer in our little garden here on Plum Lick, I wondered about the “nine-eleven” of a year ago and any other nine-elevens to come before my course is run, my life’s purpose is finished. I made a promise to myself: the innocent victims at the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and the plane that crashed in Pennsylvania deserve my best–and that’s what they’re going to get.

With my individual sense of duty and my desire to survive as an American citizen, I will not yield to terrorism.

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