My earlier reaction ranged somewhere between stunned at the sight of Kamikaze airliners piled into the twin World Trade Center towers and just plain P.O.d.
I must admit to being just a touch concerned from time to time over the last few weeks but that's all been lost in the stark terror that seems to have replaced my earlier reactions.
So, take it from somebody who knows the difference; I'm a good 20 miles beyond concerned here. I'm downright frightened. Oh, it hasn't got anything to do with flying. That's something I'm only mildly concerned about, but I've been that way all my adult life. Anyway, my new-found fear has nothing to do with people of Middle Eastern descent and religious persuasion, either. I'm not laying awake late at night for fear someone in unusual headgear with a bomb strapped to their person is going to run up to me in a crowded place and detonate the damn thing.
I am deathly afraid, however, for the near direct hit bin Laden's suicide pilots scored on this nation's collective character and freedoms. When the pillars of black smoke rose from the World Trade Center and Pentagon, I caught just a faint whiff of something else burning amidst all that jet fuel. As the flames of the most dastardly deed in human history consumed the architectural wonders of the tallest structures on Manhattan island and the heart of this nation's military, industrial complex, I thought I smelled just the slightest odor of burning parchment. Now, I can be as patriotic as the next guy. Hell, considering my background and personal experiences, I can whistle Yankee Doodle with anybody in America.
But despite what our political leaders have told us and have kept on telling us since those first dark moments, I'm scared to consider the fact that it's not ''freedom'' that's fighting back in my name after all. I know President Bush has assured us all that ''Freedom will defend itself'' in these trying times. It's the words of some of his PR flaks I'm having a problem with.
A somewhat popular late-night television host was pilloried a week or so back for comments he made during an on-air discussion of the Sept. 11 tragedy.
The host, Bill Maher, who is a comic known for his biting whit on things both social and political, made a rather simple comparison of national combat styles. He had the audacity to mention that it took less nerve to lob cruise missiles, as this country has done on several occasions, at targets from safe distances as opposed to intentionally crashing a jet airliner into a building, killing yourself and several thousand others. Immediately, some of Maher's sponsors reacted by pulling advertising, and a number of ABC network affiliates, most notably here in the Midwest, refused to air the program -- ''Politically Incorrect.'' Even the White House got into the act, with Bush administration spokesman Ari Fleischer noting that Maher's comments were ''a terrible thing to say,'' and ''unfortunate.''
Now, I might not have been near as fearful for the republic if Fleischer had chosen to stop with his initial critique. But, when told that Maher had apologized and added that his comments were aimed at ''political leaders,'' Fleischer walked a little farther out on that paper thin plank that seems to be all that's separating our fever-pitch rush to war and the way of life our leaders promise we're defending with that war.
Fleischer noted that Maher's comments were ''reminders to all Americans that they need to watch what they say.'' He also added that ''this is not a time for remarks like that; there never is,'' presuming that there are things that we as Americans are not allowed to say.
Well, you can imagine that this new approach to freedom of speech comes as just a little bit of a shock for someone in my line of work. But I'm more than just a tad concerned that I might be in a very small minority of individuals who were truly shaken by the tone in the official White House response.
I wasn't aware that we, as Americans, were ever in the habit of having to ''watch'' what we say, or, for that matter, that there were indeed ''remarks'' that could be limited by ''time'' and/or circumstance outside of shouting ''FIRE'' in a crowded theater.
Hell, we live in a country where grown men are allowed to put on sheets and masks and say some of the most horrid things I've ever heard. We also allow certain television evangelists to get on national broadcasts and tell the American people that the Sept. 11 attacks were directly attributable to the sinful ideas of those of a liberal political bent and that the death and destruction were proof that God himself was wracking some sort of vengeance on our nation.
We also live in a country that allows a president to call this supposedly Christian nation to a ''Crusade'' against Muslim-affiliated terrorists, conjuring up some very nasty historical references that did not go unnoticed in the Arab world.
We allow groups to target abortion providers on hate-drenched Web sites, while still other so called Christians stand on busy street corners flashing pictures of indescribable horror in the name of ''life'' and others in our midst carry signs and scream epithets of the most vile nature at the funerals of homosexuals.
But one late-night TV humorist makes an off-handed comment about the alleged lack of courage on the part of some of our political leaders and that's the remark that there's just ''not a time'' for? If that's where this flag-draped, patriotic-song-dripped parade is headed, we should just send the white flag to Osama bin Laden right now and save a lot of other young Americans the blood, sweat and tears. Because when the day comes in this nation that there are some things we either cannot say or there's just no proper moment to say them, then the terrorists of this world have won.
On that day we're not defending our freedoms or way of life any more, we're simply protecting old men's rear ends and standing like school boys out on the playground arguing just who's got the biggest gun.
And that's simply not enough of a reason for one more human being on this earth to die for. And where in all the grand speeches, military might and patriotic hoopla is the real difference between ourselves and our enemies on that day? We can certainly never hope to defeat tyranny, paranoid delusions of grandeur and hatred by disguising ourselves in it.