The United States is at war. And Americans watched it all unfold on live television.

It was unbelievable. Or, at least, we didn’t want to believe it.

Yet, it is real. The image of the hijacked airliner crashing into the already burning World Trade Center is forever etched in the minds of all Americans.

Although we have all seen terrorist attacks enacted in amazing detail in the movies and TV shows, none of us were really prepared for this morning.

The World Trade Center was struck by the first airplane just before 6 a.m. PDT.

Eighteen minutes later the second plane struck the 110-story twin towers in New York where 50,000 people work. To put it in perspective, that’s about as many people as live in Walla Walla County.

About an hour after the New York attack, the Pentagon was in flames after being struck by an aircraft. And then another hijacked airliner, believed to be a 747 Jumbo Jet, crashed outside of Pittsburgh.

Before today, most of us clung to the belief that this type of extensive, calculated terrorist attack could not happen in the United States. We thought that the Oklahoma City bombing, which was an act of domestic terrorism, was as bad as it could get.

Today — our minds numb and with tears welling in our eyes — we are starting to see just how horrific it can be.

The death toll from this day, which is not over yet, will be staggering. It is likely that thousands of Americans have lost their lives.

The United States is at war, but we don’t know who has attacked us or why. The unknown adds to our uneasiness.

Today Americans lost our naive belief that we are safe from widespread terrorist attacks. All of us, even in a small town such as Walla Walla, feel vulnerable.

But we also feel outraged.

The nation remains strong. People across the nation have, despite the horror we have witnessed, remained calm. And the government is taking swift and appropriate action.

All flights have been grounded. Authorities have deployed military troops and the nation’s most obvious targets, such as the White House, are under watch.

“Terrorism against our nation will not stand,” vowed President Bush about an hour after the first attack.

We didn’t want to believe this type of terrorist attack is possible.

Now we know it is — and the nation is preparing to fight back. When it is clear who is behind this act of war, the United States must take swift, decisive action.

Editorial Page Editor Rick Eskil has been writing editorials for the Union-Bulletin since 1989. He started at the U-B as a reporter on the first day of 1980.

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