Attacks Bring Out and Require The Best of the American Spirit

By Jason McGrath

I have never been as proud to be an American as I am today.

While we are all still shocked, saddened, angered, frustrated, and confused by Tuesday’s horrific events, these are not the only emotions that I’ve experienced over these last three long days.

Hope. Pride. Determination. Selflessness. Heroism. The American spirit is alive and well today, strengthened by this heinous test of our collective will. This spirit is more than a political catch phrase or an arrogant claim. It exists and has manifested itself countless times through countless actions in the wake of Tuesday’s terrorist attacks. Our communities, especially in New York City and Washington, D.C., but also in every village, town and city in America, have responded to these crises with bravery, compassion and expedience.

Only hours after the assault, the news reports began coming in, detailing the courageous acts of individual Americans. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld’s attempts to personally save lives amidst the flames and smoke at the Pentagon. The New York City union laborers running through the streets in hard hats and suspenders, wanting to do something, anything to assist rescue workers. The civilian doctors, simply in the financial district on personal business or vacation, were rushing directly into the destruction zone, their eyes and lungs filling with concrete ash. Hundreds of firefighters and police officers stormed the doomed towers, herding hundreds, if not thousands, of innocent souls away from the inferno, in effect trading their lives for their fellow citizens.

Our neighbors in the global community have also responded to our plight with heart and aplomb. The loyalty shown by our friends in NATO is reassuring, as is the image of Yassar Arafat donating blood for victims of terrorism. Even states traditionally opposed to the United States and our policies have shown their humanist side, such as Libya and Cuba.

I am confident these accounts of heroism and friendship in the face of unspeakable catastrophe will only multiply as the days progress. The American spirit wasn’t only confined to the epicenters of violence. It blossomed around the nation, as blood banks overflowed and the American Red Cross hotline was jammed for hours by ordinary people asking what they could do to help.

This, I think, is the true embodiment of what this American spirit is. We, as Americans, are unused to being out of control of a situation. For a nation used to acting, not reacting, Tuesday’s events were brutally frustrating. As the skies across the Potomac turned into a billowing, towering mushroom of fire and smoke, hundreds of us watched powerlessly from the rooftops of Village A and LXR. As the morning progressed and catastrophe after catastrophe was reported across the airwaves, most of us here at Georgetown and in the District asked ourselves what could possibly be next? Were we sitting ducks? Fear and confusion were palpable not only on all of the broadcasts, but here on the Hilltop.

As the day progressed and details slowly leaked out, this fear and confusion had given way to sadness and anger for many of us. These feelings are understandable and natural, but they are not an excuse for us to stoop to levels equal to our adversaries in our calls for justice. Do not doubt that this is a test of our nation. Our response must be severe, but also measured. It must be swift, but also certain. This fight for our freedom and security cannot be won only with tanks and guns, but with the noble spirit of a united America.

This united America must be that: indivisible. This fight is against a specific group of terrorists who seek to undermine our freedoms and reduce our beautiful cities and countryside to chaos. It is not, and must not become, a battle against Muslims, Arabs, or any of the other traditional scapegoats in times of trouble. This precaution is doubly important with regards to American Arabs and uslims who share our freedoms and our concerns for our safety. No one is more American than anyone else and we all must stand shoulder to shoulder in this fight.

And I know that we will. This is a nation unlike any other on Earth. We will remain a great power not only because of our economic and military might, but through the character of our citizens. Through their spirit. We’re not a perfect people and our government reflects that, but our ideals are noble and our freedoms not to be taken for granted. So as we think about the victims and their families, as we overrun the blood banks and open up our wallets to support the Red Cross, let us remember what we’re mobilizing for. The right to live in the freest, greatest nation in the world. The right to be American.

Jason McGrath is a senior in the School of Foreign Service.

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