Paynesville Press - October 10, 2001

Guest Editorial

Terrorist attack shocks visiting journalist

By Yusuf Kalyango Jr.

Yusuf Kalyango Jr. Kalyango is director of news and documentaries at a televsison station in Kampala, Uganda. He spent a week in Paynesville earlier this summer as part of the World Press Institute. Read his article about America that he wrote while in Paynesville.

It is 7 a.m., Sept. 11. I turn on the television to catch up with the latest news and what TV networks are following this day. Forty-eight minutes later, CNN breaks a Paine Webber advertisement to show viewers a building burning up in smoke. It is one of the World Trade Center towers.

CNN reports that a plane has just crashed into one of America's tallest building.

Moments later, another plane, this time captured live by cameras, crashes into the second WTC tower. When it occurred to my roommate and me that this could be an intended attack on New York's monumental skyscrapers, a third crash and burning building was reported; this time it was the Pentagon.

I was bewildered. I was saddened and shocked by the catastrophic events. My mind was focused on the fact that America was believed to be the most protected and most secure nation in the world.

My heart throbbed relentlessly as I watched the images of the debris and replays of the attacks and the fires. This was indeed America under attack.

To make sense out of all this, I contacted my American host families. My mind was racing with questions such as: What could have gone awry with American security? And could terrorism be so effective even in the USA?

Yes, all this tragedy in America is awful. Not only does America not feel safe at the moment, but many of the world's people dependent on America as a symbol of democracy, freedom and military might will also feel less secure.

My five different American host families seem to be in a state of alternating emotions. First, disbelief at the amount of destruction and loss of life. Then anger and helplessness because it is somehow still unclear who is actually to blame. After that comes a deep sense of loss for all who perished and were injured.

I was surprised to see how united the country became after this tragedy. All politicians are in complete support of President George W. Bush. The Americans may scrap, fuss, and fight among themselves but they become one when faced with a common enemy. Political differences have been suspended, flags are out, and patriotism is on the rise from U.S. citizens of all races and creed.

Many have also turned to God in large numbers. As Larry Johnson, an electronic and communications engineer from St. Paul said: the pride of being American is one reason why Americans are unselfish in times of disaster.

"It is truly frightening to realize that we are not safe that was the worst part of Tuesday for many people to wonder when the attacks would end, and to know now that there are people involved in them who are free and who may still be planning new attacks," said Susan Ragan from Ely

. She says she cannot imagine how this could have happened unless there were failures of security procedures on several different government levels. "My opinion is that some airline employees must have been involved in the attacks. We will certainly be reexamining a lot of security procedures in the wake of this attack," she said one week after the attack. From the day of the attack, the majority of Americans feel, amidst great sorrow for the dead and those who suffered the terror face-to-face, a profound strength in saying: America needs to answer this call. "You faceless ones cannot trample on my freedom and prevail. I will not cower in fear. We Americans may appear child-like in our perpetual optimism to those who despise us, but they forget our brave fight against great odds to win our freedom. We are still made of that 'stuff'; our very essence is freedom and democracy," said Lynne Jacobson from Paynesville, Minn., in an e-mail a week after the attack.

What an experience for me as a journalist to be in the midst of this infamous event, to experience how Americans have reacted to this criminal act. America and its allies can blow away Osama Bin Laden and even eliminate Afghanistan from the face of the earth if need be. But my gut feeling is that others may take his place if America does not handle its war carefully.

Let me hope that America retaliates in the right way and also rethinks some of its policies in the world. When Bin Laden killed thousands of Arabs during the Iran war, he was a hero in the eyes of many Americans; when Mobutu had America's interests at heart, he was Africa's greatest leader.

The same story goes with all the other rebel fighters America has trained and armed and later branded terrorists and fundamentalists when they showed their true colors. That is what the U.S government has to address its approach to other nations' affairs.

The enemy is faceless. There are many venues in which Americans must confront this act of terror.

America is a great nation. What was made to divide Americans has brought them together. I hope that America will not assassinate leaders just because of suspicions that they might have been involved. I hope that America does not ban immigrants because of race or religion.

Extensive security measures would perhaps deter terrorism to a degree, but that would also turn the USA into an island unto itself. I think that would not accord with the ideals of freedom set by America's founders; it would be like a safe, but would make the USA into a kind of prison.

This was an unprovoked attack on innocent civilians of all kinds and race. It should be condemned and the perpetrators and actors be punished. But this should be done in a just manner.

This is an amazing time to be in the USA as a foreigner and as a journalist. It is an unfortunate but historic moment, even as the world seems in disarray.

World Press Institute fellows have not experienced any problems as foreign nationals traveling in America during this time of great grief and turmoil.

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