WASHINGTON — The country has rallied behind the president. He has told the American people that the war won't be short, that they must be prepared to make sacrifices. A question has to be raised: What if - as it appears - this war goes on for several years like World War II? In this fight against a shadow enemy, will Americans be willing to give the same unflagging support to our military that they gave to our forces back in the 1940s?
There's no doubt that war spirit among Americans is running high, aroused by the terrorists' vicious attacks on our country. "This is a great nation," the president says. "We're kind and peaceful. But they have stirred up the might of the American people, and we're going to get them."
But Mr. Bush is cautioning Americans not to expect a quick fix, pointing out that the road may be long before the terrorists' network is wiped out. In his address to Congress and the nation - a successful performance with moments of eloquence - he said there may be no clear moment of victory, that it will be "a task that does not end."
So what happens if the body bags start coming home? How will we respond to the war-related taxes that likely will come? How hard will our economy be hit?
Will our patriotic spirit hold up for the long run as it has in the aftermath of disaster? I think it will. I sense a resolve in Americans today that will remain until the terrorist threat is put to an end. You could see that resolve on the faces and hear it in the voices of the people in crowds that gathered around the country to mourn and honor those who lost their lives in the murderous attacks.
On the morning of Sept. 12, I heard that voice when I went about the simple task of picking up clothing from a tailor nearby.
I was early and her shop was closed. As I stood outside, waiting, the next-door jeweler arrived for work and walked over to talk. He said he was an American citizen born in Armenia. His first words were, "We're going to get them, no matter how long it takes." Soon my tailor (of Korean background) joined us and, after expressing her sadness over the tragedy, said, "This time we must get those who are doing these terrible things."
Since then, I've heard this same voice of resolve - again and again. And pollsters, too, have found it throughout the country.
A young woman relative of ours from the Boston area called shortly after the attack to see if we were all right. After being assured about our safety, she said this horrendous event had changed her view of her own life - that her personal worries now seemed so insignificant.
This sounded like the perspective that was so much a part of the patriotic spirit of World War II. I recalled how my wife-to-be joined me early in the war at the Biloxi, Miss., Army Air Corps Field to which I had been assigned, for a quick wedding ceremony. Afterward, I was given a three-day pass for our honeymoon. We did not go far from the base.
Available off-base housing for the military was almost invisible in that Biloxi area, as well as around all military posts in the United States. After quite a search, I found some upstairs rooms for rent in an old frame house in nearby Gulfport. The heat was unrelenting, and we had to fight a constant battle against bugs of all varieties. But we weren't complaining. We just felt fortunate that we could be together, perhaps for only a short time during the war.
That perspective stayed with Americans all through World War II. And, after the sobering events of Sept. 11, I think we have been shocked into this same outlook - one that will enable us to make sacrifices and, most of all, stick it out.