I remember the day Osama bin Laden struck our city.
The statistics are frozen in time but they’re still horrific.
Total Number Killed: 2,976.
Number of firefighters and paramedics killed: 343.
Number of NYPD and Port Authority police officers killed: 60.
The planes struck at: 8:46 a.m. and 9:02 a.m.
And now bin Laden is gone but the image that keeps coming back to me is of a soldier, in combat boots and camouflage uniform, marching up Park Avenue about three hours after the attack.
He had a large American flag draped around his shoulders, covering his body, and he was moving with a determined stride. He ignored the traffic around him as he marched.
“Why are you doing this?” I asked. And he replied: “I want people to know that we are here, that we’ll protect them.”
The soldier identified with the feelings of most New Yorkers -- shock at this violation of our city and our people. We mourned the dead. We were angry. We were anxious about the future.
Our sorrow for the people who had lost loved ones was deep. Some of us discovered we knew people who had suffered such losses. We tried to comfort them, and in the larger sense, we as New Yorkers were comforting each other.
The images of fire, people jumping out of high windows, twisted metal and rubble, the ruins of the iconic buildings that dominated lower Manhattan can never be erased.
But for many New Yorkers there was pride, too, in the heroism of the firefighters and the others, including many civilians who risked or lost their lives in the aftermath of this, the greatest disaster in New York’s history.
On Sunday night, crowds, many of them young people, gathered outside the White House and at ground zero to celebrate the end of this hated enemy. They waved flags, sang the national anthem and honked horns.
Many of those celebrating had been children on 9/11. They grew up with the images of horror and the knowledge that we were pursuing this villain who had ordered so many of our people killed.
That the crowds cheered, and that there was a spirit of vengeance in the air, is understandable. But it would be a mistake if we looked at the death of bin Laden as a guide to the future.
It was disturbing to see headlines in the tabloids that said: “Got Him! Vengeance At Last! U.S.Nails the Bastard.” And another tabloid headline with a front page picture of bin Laden reading: “Rot in Hell! “
It reminded me of something my mother said to me following my trip to Auschwitz, the Nazi death camp in Poland, after World War II. I was furious after seeing the relics of the mass extermination that took place there and the ashes of human beings destroyed in this place, and I wrote about it to the family.
My mother wrote back: “I’m not worried about what your hatred of the Nazis will do to them. I am worried about what it will do to you.”
The president on Sunday night said simply that “justice has been done.” He added: “The death of bin Laden marks the most significant achievement to date in our nation’s effort to defeat al-Qaida.”
And he pledged the fight against terrorism was not over. His heart and the hearts of his fellow Americans go out to those who lost loved ones on 9/11 -- but we can’t let the horrors of that day translate, in the pursuit of justice, into vigilante justice.
We are engaged in a war against terrorism. But it’s important that we not use what happened Sunday night in Pakistan as a guide to the future. The world isn’t Dodge City. We don’t want America to earn a reputation for gun-slinging and lawlessness.
Our interest in apprehending bin Laden was based on a conviction that the world must have law and order. Bin Laden’s extremist rhetoric and the cruel events prompted by his orders are what he was about. It’s not what America is about. We don’t need to follow in his footsteps but rather to live by the ideals of our forefathers.
It’s important that we don’t get carried away. The world is watching America. And we New Yorkers must be particularly sensitive to the sacrifice nearly 3,000 New Yorkers made here 10 years ago -- and the need to set an example for the world.