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Monday September 24, 2001, 00:44

Not a day after the Twin Towers came tumbling down in a dusty mess, American flags began coming out of storage and flying off of store shelves. For the first time in my lifetime, the country united under the stars and stripes, proudly displaying Old Glory in a display of solidarity and in memory of those who had their lives snuffed out in what was seen as an attack on all things American.

That evening, candles were lit all around the city, again in memory of those who died. Notes went up beside the candles, soon to be joined by more elaborate memorials; sculptures were erected, banners were flown. Stories were told.

Candles are nice. Flags are nice. The American flag, simple (and to many, ugly) as it is, is a clear sign of democracy recognized the world through. But things soon started to get scary. But when the display of the flag began being accompanied by repeated shouts and cheers of "U-S-A! U-S-A!" I began to get worried. The flags at half staff, the candles burning on the sidewalks, they served as memorials, as peaceful reminders of the horror that had taken place. But the cheers. The cheers were driven by something completely different. The dust not even settled, Americans began looking for blood.

Three letters. A battle cry.

The first time I heard it, I was watching the president visit the once-site of the towers. He was congratulating the firefighters and rescue workers and as he stood there, amidst the rubble, vowing to bring the terrorists to justice, the crowd started chanting and growing to the president's pep-rally encouragement. "U-S-A!" they chanted, and the anger grew. An anger towards an un-named foe. An anger fueled by noise.

I heard a story on the radio of two groups of Americans, both claiming rights to live on her land, standing their ground on either side of a neighborhood street shouting at each other, spitting the letters like bullets. Holding flags and chanting, each was picking up the same cry as his own, each was daring the other side to chant louder, to assume ownership over those letters.

Those three letters. U. S. A. They can be like daggers. While the songs that have been pulled out of mothballs and elementary school memories for this occassion (America the Beautiful, God Bless America and even The Battle Hymn of the Republic) produce a supportive patriotism to carry the people of this country through this defining moment of our history, those three letters, together so powerful, yet so disjoint, can only serve to segregate. Like the letters themselves, three lone elements, America will be split. Seemingly one solid entity, it will not take close examination to find a country divided, from itself and from the rest of the world.

Patriotism is one thing. But a blind support for an ill-defined cause is something else entirely.

Those three letters are not simply an abbreviation. Far from it. Like soldiers marching into battle, into the unknown and, most likely, into death, the chanting of those letters acts as the beating of the battle drum. Driving, unthinking, into the future, the cold, harsh, and not so distant future, with consequences unknown and, it might be noted, not particularly important. With the power of those three chanted letters, the country began driving itself down a road that is quite near impossible to back out of.

For to back out of the journey that has begun now would be to turn against that cry. To turn back now would be to give up the power of the country, to give up the power of the letters, to give up the power of the drum. The march forward would have to stop, the momentum would have to stop and, in the minds of many, the battle would be lost.

The drummer and the flag bearer. Two soldiers without guns, with the power to lead an army.

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