Commentary: Watching the violence from abroad

By Alex Kingsbury
U-Wire Washington Bureau

Posted 5:30 p.m. Sept. 17

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND – When I heard the news, I ran to the nearest television in the Student Union’s bar.

In a special report, the BBC played the now familiar video of the airliners as they plunged through the towers of the World Trade Center, plumes of flaming jet fuel punching their way through the buildings seconds later.

The film, etched into the minds of the world, continued as the two towers fell to the streets of lower Manhattan from where they had been raised 30 years before.

I flew across the Atlantic only days before, to London from Boston’s Logan International Airport. I did not expect that the first real news from back home would be so monumental.

Last week as students watched the drama unfold, there was so much anxiety and tension in the Student Union that it seemed physically tangible, yet no one spoke. All eyes stared as if in a trance at the monitors around the lounge, fixated at the sight of a world landmark ruined in less than an hour. The shock and horror was almost beyond words.

Some who have never even been to the U.S. burst into tears as the television showed panicked workers flinging themselves from the building to escape the inferno that raged inside.

“It is just so awful,” one young woman said, realizing the understatement of her words.

Others whose families live in New York hung their heads in shocked disbelief and mused that the vengeance our country would reap on those responsible would be great.

Calling home was futile as the phones jammed with thousands of fearful voices.

I tried the phone lines to see about friends who were interning at the Pentagon. I tried to phone fellow journalists in Manhattan, who would have been some of the first on the scene, but all communications were so overloaded that it was not until after 3 a.m. that I was able to get through. Some were safe, but others were missing.

We are too young to remember the devastation of the Second World War, which reduced much of England to similar heaps of rubble. But the scenes after the London blitz are eerily similar to that of lower Manhattan.

And as it was the attack on Pearl Harbor that brought America out of isolation and into world struggle, this too may lower the drawbridge of “fortress America” and engage us in world struggle again.

While the newscasters speculate over who has done such horrors, it becomes all too clear who is at fault: the nameless, faceless specter of international terrorists. And it is this realization that has somehow made things far worse.

Osama bin Laden may well be the one who masterminded the attacks, but it will be little consolation for Americans to weigh the deaths of so many against the punishment of so few.

Unlike the Nazis, or in more recent times, the Iraqi army, there is no clear enemy. The promise of U.S. retaliation is of little succor at this point.

Our military – undisputedly the most well equipped, well trained, and well prepared in the world – has been bested. And bested and blindsided not by the Russians or the Chinese, but by an enemy we did not even see coming.

The opinions expressed here belong to the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of U-WIRE or The GW Hatchet.

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