[from September 2001 issue]


Columbia Heights resident and former chairman of its Advisory Neighborhood Commission Gary Imhoff, in his email circular, "TheMail," wrote, "After yesterday's terrorist attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, most of our concerns about daily life and local government can seem petty by comparison."

How true his thought and how trivial our reports of problems in our community seem at a time like this. And yet it is this very sort of thing that a community newspaper--or any group of citizens or individual citizen--in this country does that in so many other countries would bring down the wrath of its rulers. Maybe it's this unfettered right to expose government wrong-doing or to say what we please about the bureaucrats and their bosses, that has over the years so enraged our enemies abroad. This is one of the many manifestations of a democracy that they abhor. After all, we suspect they know that we really have the best deal going and they know that as their own people catch on their days of absolute terror rule at home may ultimately be doomed. That's one very strong reason why they hate us so.

But what can we really say? Words do fail. Thanks to friends from around the country and even journalism colleagues from overseas, we have been heartened by a genuine outpouring of concern and expressions of resolve that have helped to steady us.

When we have mentioned to these kind people our sorrow at loss of life even among Washington, DC residents and even neighbors, they share our sadness with us. It is hard to comprehend that several young DC public school children, off on the educational adventure of their young lives had to experience such absolute terror at the end--and we know they knew what was happening,because we know what the Solicitor General's wife knew as a result of her final cell phone call.

How sad indeed. And how sad that so many friends and neighbors will be mourning the loss of Swann Street resident David Charlebois, the 39-year-old first officer of the ill-fated American Airlines Flight 77 that was slammed into the Pentagon. Maybe, just maybe, he did something that ultimately caused the terrorists not to carry out the initial plan of crashing into the White House. But while he was assuredly a hero on that awful morning, to neighborhood friends he was simply a fine person who will be missed.

And, yes, this was an act of war perpetrated on us and we need to recognize that as surely as we did on December 7, 1941. This writer, although quite young at the time, vividly remembers listening to Walter Winchell break the news on his Sunday evening radio program. The effect was just as unsettling then as the TV coverage has been to people now, although that might be hard to fathom by a generation or two accustomed to the power of pictures. And, speaking of pictures, those that we have been seeing in the Post and the New York Times, especially the black and whites, are just as frightening as the pictures in newspapers all during World War II showing the destruction of entire cities. What we are seeing of lower Manhattan looks just like what we once assumed would only be possible in the cities of Europe.

So, it will be hard to return to "normalcy," but we must do so because to do otherwise will make it impossible for us to forge ahead and defeat the bastards, to borrow from General Schwartzkopf's pungent expression the other day. And so, for example, we wholeheartedly support Mayor Williams' strong urgings for the DC public schools to have resumed right away. Let's not traumatize our kids or ourselves more than we have already been traumatized.