Vital Signs

Thinking About the Fall of America

Following the terrorist attacks last September, matters have been moving much too fast for a monthly periodical to have any hope of keeping up with events.  It may be that, by the time these words appear in print, world affairs will have been restored to happy equilibrium, justice will have triumphed, and the severed heads of Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein will be mounted on spikes outside the headquarters of the New York City Fire Department.  On the other hand, maybe the world will be more chaotic than ever, and U.S. forces will still be struggling on an increasing number of battlefields across the globe.  Whichever reality we will be confronting, one fact remains unchanged: On September 11, 2001, the United States received a series of historic lessons that we all absolutely have to learn.  In the space of two horrific hours, it became grimly obvious to anyone with eyes to see just how the United States could be defeated, how we could be getting a foretaste of the fall of America.  This might just be the last warning we receive.  And we paid far, far too heavily for the lesson for us to ignore it.

Like most baby boomers, I grew up with the knowledge that the world might indeed be destroyed, but that the thermonuclear cataclysm would simply be too universal for us to worry about any particular country.  As Tom Lehrer sang, “We’ll all fry together when we fry.”  Given that...

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