e-mail us

Inside NCR

A year ago.

Hideous images. A growing realization that someone had planned and executed suicidal missions. Four planes. Thousands dead. Unimaginable heroism and seemingly endless grieving. “Things” we would say without specifying, had forever, in an instant, changed.

A year later we really haven’t comprehended fully how much things have changed.

On the other hand, truth be told, things have not changed much at all, not in the rest of the world. What happened Sept. 11 was that the rest of the world crossed our threshold. The violence and uncertainty, the terrorism that white America had known only in the most tangential ways, had intruded in a big way.

But what does it mean?

When we assembled the issue reporting on the Sept. 11 attacks, we could promise only to “dig deep into the heart and soul of NCR to help you think about the awful terror visited on us as a people. The full dimensions of these horrible acts will unravel only slowly. How to understand them will occur only with time.”

What I recall from our staff discussions that first day a year ago was the resolve that seemed to arise quickly around the table that NCR should stick close to its essential mission -- to ask the questions that would be mostly avoided elsewhere. So during the weeks that followed we chose a question a week: Who hates us and why? What is patriotism? Was war the only answer? Can the ‘just war’ theory hold up to modern tests? Were ancient crusade themes echoing through the battle strains of today?

While we received overwhelming affirmation from our readers, others were irritated at the direction of the coverage. They wondered why we started raising questions so quickly and why we felt the need to ask divisive questions when the mood of the country was so focused on pulling together. Some suggested that such an approach was a dishonor to those who had so recently lost their lives and their families and loved ones.

I don’t know if we satisfied their questions with our reporting, or if it is possible to answer such questions adequately when the bombs begin to fall. NCR could never pretend to cover the wide spectrum of opinion about the war or the infinite angles involved in the story.

It quickly became clear, however, that after Sept. 11 the major media too often would abandon its watchdog role and become an uncritical cheerleader for the militarism that was soon to run rampant. The most outlandish abandonment of that role came when one of the most famous anchors, on a late-night talk show, said he’d sign up and go anywhere if this president asked. He was ready to follow orders.

For months, generals, active and retired, were paraded onto sets where large maps were covered with arrows and legends, and strategies were talked about as if the country simply had become involved in some life-size Risk game. People who called themselves reporters fell over themselves gushing about the glories of weapons systems being used. Secretary of State Donald Rumsfeld daily was permitted the equivalent of a stand-up act, rarely facing even the threat of a challenging question.

It is only in recent months that the press and television news outlets, in forums and trade magazines, have begun asking if the media all went a bit too soft on the president and the Pentagon during the early stages of the crisis.

A year later, the country has become different in very discernible ways. We have become engaged in an open-ended, yet undeclared war with more war on the horizon. Civil liberties have been eroded. Fighting terrorism has moved from being a unifying global theme to one that causes deep skepticism among allies and foes alike. The United States, this age’s lone superpower, seems to become more isolated as the weeks pass, as the questions keep accumulating, as the issues become more complex.

A year later, we once again go to the heart and soul of NCR and offer you the following extended special report on the anniversary of 9/11. Our intent is to keep pressing the issues and to bring you some insights and perspectives from those we think have important things to say and who are often ignored in other quarters.

Anyone interested in finding out more about or supporting the mosque-rebuilding program that Claire Schaeffer-Duffy writes about on Page 13 can write to or send donations to Episcopal Diocese of New York, Attention Ms. Helmholtz, 1047 Amsterdam Ave., New York NY 10025.

-- Tom Roberts

My e-mail address is troberts@natcath.org

National Catholic Reporter, September 6, 2002