Leonard Pitts Jr.: Hateful attack won't hurt us as it will you
September 12, 2001
BY LEONARD PITTS JR.
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 cause.
Did you want to make us fear? You just steeled our resolve.
Did you want to tear us apart? You just brought us together.
We are a family
Let me tell you about my people. We are a vast and quarrelsome family,
a family rent by racial, cultural, political and class division. We're
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. And we are, the overwhelming majority
of us, people of faith, believers in a just and loving God.
Perhaps you think that any or all of this makes us weak. We are not weak.
Yes, we're in pain now. 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.
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. 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 in
the pursuit of justice.
Sad, but determined
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.
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
Still, I keep wondering what it was you hoped to teach us. 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.
LEONARD PITTS JR. appears most Wednesdays and Fridays in the Detroit Free
Press. Reach him at the Miami Herald, 1 Herald Plaza, Miami, FL 33132;
toll free at 888-251-4407.