The Barbarians Will Learn What America's All about
By Syndicated columnist Leonard Pitts Jr.
Last Updated: October 29, 2001


They pay me to tease shades of meaning from social and
cultural issues, to provide words that help make sense of
that which troubles the American soul.

But in this moment of airless shock when hot tears sting
disbelieving eyes, the only thing I can find to say, the
only words that seem to fit, must be addressed to the
unknown author of this suffering.

You monster. You beast. You unspeakable bastard.

What lesson did you hope to teach us by your coward's attack
on our World Trade Center, our Pentagon, us?  What was it
you hoped we would learn?
Whatever it was, please know that you failed.

Did you want us to respect your cause?  You just damned your

Did you want to make us fear?  You just steeled our resolve.

Did you want to tear us apart?  You just brought us

Let me tell you about my people.  We are a vast and
quarrelsome family, a family rent by racial, cultural,
political and class division, but a family nonetheless.
We're frivolous, yes, capable of expending tremendous
emotional energy on pop cultural minutiae, a singer's
revealing dress, a ball team's misfortune, a cartoon mouse.

We're wealthy, too, spoiled by the ready availability of
trinkets and material goods, and maybe because of that, we
walk through life with a certain sense of blithe
entitlement. We are fundamentally decent, though -
peace-loving and compassionate.  We struggle to know the
right thing and to do it.  And we are, the overwhelming
majority of us, people of faith, believers in a just and
loving God.

Some people - you, perhaps - think that any or all of this
makes us weak.

You're mistaken.  We are not weak.  Indeed, we are strong in
ways that cannot be measured by arsenals.

Yes, we're in pain now.  We are in mourning and we are in
shock.  We're still grappling with the unreality of the
awful thing you did, still working to make ourselves
understand that this isn't a special effect from some
Hollywood blockbuster, isn't the plot development from a Tom
Clancy novel.

Both in terms of the awful scope of its ambition and the
probable final death toll, your attacks are likely to go
down as the worst acts of terrorism in the history of the
United States and, indeed, the history of the world.  You've
bloodied us as we have never been bloodied before.

But there's a gulf of difference between making us bloody
and making us fall.  This is the lesson Japan was taught to
its bitter sorrow the last time anyone hit us this hard, the
last time anyone brought us such abrupt and monumental pain.
When roused, we are righteous in our outrage, terrible in
our force.  When provoked by this level of barbarism, we
will bear any suffering, pay any cost, go to any length, in
the pursuit of justice.

I tell you this without fear of contradiction.  I know my
people, as you, I think, do not.  What I know reassures me.
It also causes me to tremble with dread of the future.

In days to come, there will be recrimination and accusation,
fingers pointing to determine whose failure allowed this to
happen and what can be done to prevent it from happening
again.  There will be heightened security, misguided talk of
revoking basic freedoms.  We'll go forward from this moment
sobered, chastened, sad.  But determined, too.  Unimaginably

You see, there is steel beneath this velvet.  That aspect of
our character is seldom understood by people who don't know
us well.  On this day, the family's bickering is put on
hold.  As Americans we will weep, as Americans we will
mourn, and as Americans, we will rise in defense of all that
we cherish.

Still, I keep wondering what it was you hoped to teach us.
It occurs to me that maybe you just wanted us to know the
depths of your hatred.

If that's the case, consider the message received.  And take
this message in exchange:

You don't know my people.  You don't know what we're about.
You don't know what you just started.

But you're about to learn.

Miami Herald columnist Leonard Pitts Jr.'s column usually
appears Thursday on editorial pages of The Times.  His
e-mail address is:

Copyright (c) 2001 The Seattle Times Company