Terrorists who organized the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon deserve to be punished. And those who plot such hateful acts against Americans need to be stopped.
But in the coming days and weeks, Americans need to focus on one another and, in practical ways, help those touched by this national tragedy.
Now is the time for strength of character - especially restraint, resilience, and compassion - not fear, panic, or trauma. The mental aftereffects of this event should be the nation's top priority - to show that self-destructive acts of evil need not triumph.
Help children first
First of all, the nation's children who have seen these events on TV must be assured that they are safe, that such tragedies are not at all common and are, in fact, meant to cause fear. Schools can organize special events and offer personal counseling - as many schools have done after shootings - to provide information and talk through fears.
Children also need to know the details of how such a tragedy can happen, and how government officials have successfully prevented terrorist attacks in the past and have captured many terrorists. In fact, of 423 international terrorist incidents documented by the State Department in 2000, only 17 involved American citizens or businesses.
Information centers and media role
Second, government officials in New York and Washington need to set up special information centers to help all those seeking information about family members or friends who might have been affected.
In tragedies such as these, the desire for information is immense. While the media groups play their role, government leaders need to show compassion for the concerns of those who fear they knew someone killed or harmed.
Related to that, the media official need to look hard at their coverage and realize they have a role to play in influencing how Americans cope with this tragedy. Media should not seek high ratings or more circulation by focusing on trauma and death. Rather, now is the time for journalists to rise to the occasion and provide reports that show how survivors have the resilience to cope with this loss.
Success stories about people's coping skills are needed in the media as much as accurate information about the event and its aftereffects.
Back to routine
The best answer to terrorism is for people to not let it paralyze them. At home and work, talking about this tragedy may be necessary, but not to the point of breaking routines and not getting tasks done. Tragedy can bring us together as a people, but dwelling on it only serves the terrorists' purpose. This event can be used to rehabilitate communities, not debilitate them.
Learning from these events
To help overcome the fear that such a tragedy might be repeated, Americans need to learn how to become better prepared, and to help officials in preventing such acts and dealing with them after they occur.
That does not mean returning to the public hysteria of the 1950s, when people built backyard fallout shelters in anticipation of nuclear attack. Governments at many levels are learning more and more how to deal with unconventional violence such as terrorism. Citizens can become more involved and supportive.
At times like these, the president and Congress are called on to show a special kind of leadership. They must bring the nation together in mourning and compassion, while restraining any impulse toward revenge and unwise military reaction. Justice will win out.
These plane attacks are no Pearl Harbor, demanding a conventional war. The perpetrators may be known, but killing them may not end the motivations that create terrorists. Diligence against potential attacks, better covert intelligence, and other counterterrrorism measures need to be expanded and improved.
Now is the time to embrace one another, and work together to show that good is always the victor.