Test will come when the flag-waving ends

A week ago this morning I walked to work after pouring my two children some cereal and scolding them for messing around when they should have been getting ready for school. My car was in the shop and I was thinking how tough my day was going to be.

I didn't have time to turn on the television and had no idea that thousands of people were dying on the other side of the country.

I've had lots of time to think about time these past seven days.

Time to think about my family and how much closer I need to hold my children and my wife.

Time to think of my church and how much more I need to pray and to hear Father Jerry's comforting words. Just days before the attack he reminded us that we need to live each day as if it were our last.

Time to think of all of those thousands of fathers, mothers, sisters, brothers, sons and daughters who perished in such a senseless and cowardly act.

Time to think of the heroes who died trying to save those fathers, mothers, sisters, brothers, sons and daughters. And for those heroes still at work searching the ruins of the World Trade Center and Pentagon for survivors. Those who wear the uniforms of police officer or firefighter truly are brothers in arms and share a bond most of us will never fully understand. Their pain was evident at Mills Park on Sunday as they raised money for their New York brothers and sisters.

And time to think about my country that I love so much. If the military would have me I'd sign up today. Just as I did 31 years ago, when America needed us. It was a different atmosphere then. People didn't cry when they heard the words to "God Bless America." The streets weren't lined with red, white and blue. Football and baseball games played on.

Soldiers simply got on a plane and flew away to a foreign land. Some returned in 13 months. Many didn't. And still the bands were silent and the flags absent.

I recall hitchhiking home from Travis Air Force Base when I returned and how long I stood along Interstate 80 in my uniform, dragging a duffel bag behind.

I will always recall the stories of my real-life heroes as I traveled back to Vietnam with 13 former POWs just three years ago. They are patriots 365 days a year.

But this is very different. Our nation was violated last Tuesday in a way it had never before been violated and Americans saw it all on television. Over and over and over again until we could no longer stomach it.

Horror is delivered straight into our living rooms today, complete with DVD sound.

Driving home Friday evening I honked as young people with candles lined Carson Street in memory of those victims of last Tuesday's attacks. I wondered if those same young people will line the streets a year or two years from now if we are still fighting in some faraway desert. Because if we go to war, it will likely be a long one. Terrorism has no face and we may be chasing shadows for a long, long time. How do you fight a people who welcome death?

I wonder if those televisions will be tuned to CNN 18 months from now as young American soldiers die in living color and DVD sound. Will viewers tire of it and change channels? Will they grow weary of the surrealistic images and run to the video store for the latest blockbuster?

Will the nightly "body count" projected by a bar graph on the television screen become just another statistic and the names and faces attached to that count only be personal to those who knew them? Will they wait until the Fourth of July to dust off the flags again, once they see there is no shortcut to victory in a war on evil?

And will we hold our children close and cry when the National Anthem is played a year from now?

These are things we must ponder as we prepare for war. Our period of mourning will end soon. At least for those who aren't fathers, mothers, sisters, brothers, sons or daughters of those thousands who perished last Tuesday.

Then we most certainly will retaliate. Our president has promised that much.

I have the stomach for that, if that's what it takes to weed out these cowards who kill civilians in the name of something they call holy.

But I won't have the stomach for a nation of people who are patriotic only when it suits us. Those of us who are calling for action today may get more than we ever bargained for and we must be prepared to back that action for a long, long time. Our young men and women who will most certainly be asked to die will need to know their entire nation is with them and will always be with them, no matter what.

God bless America and God be with those we may soon send to war in a far-away land.

-- Jeff Ackerman is publisher and editor of the Nevada Appeal.


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