A Heart, a Cross, and a Flag: America Today

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"This is a book about love." So begins Peggy Noonan's enormously moving collection of her post-September 11 Wall Street Journal commentaries. On the morning of the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, Noonan began writing, and produced at least one essay every week through September 11, 2002. These candid, compassionate and sometimes heart-wrenching pieces are full of insights and observations picked up throughout the country - on experiencing the return of religious faith to a great modern city; on how the events influenced our
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Overview

"This is a book about love." So begins Peggy Noonan's enormously moving collection of her post-September 11 Wall Street Journal commentaries. On the morning of the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, Noonan began writing, and produced at least one essay every week through September 11, 2002. These candid, compassionate and sometimes heart-wrenching pieces are full of insights and observations picked up throughout the country - on experiencing the return of religious faith to a great modern city; on how the events influenced our perceptions of what it means to live in New York, or to be a man, or to take part in a community. Taking her own, her city's and her country's pulse, she administered a welcome dose of humanity, affirmation and inspiration, quickly attracting a large and loyal readership. This first draft of history - a record, written on the ground, of what it felt like to be an American that day, and the days after - balances the immediacy of the tragedy with its broader meaning for our world.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Noonan is the kind of whimsical romantic who likes to walk across the Brooklyn Bridge at five in the morning simply because "it is fun." Her take on life and world events is refreshingly different from the usual political commentary. She writes as if she were conversing with her readers; unpretentious and warm, she lays out her soul for the world to see. The former Reagan speechwriter offers a collection of her weekly columns from the Wall Street Journal spanning the year from September 11, 2001, to September 11, 2002. Many of the essays address the tragedy that changed our world. Sometimes Noonan plays the role of the daunting pessimist, warning we are not safe; "we are all soldiers now." And yet, she tells us, life is wonderful, we are lucky. She shares her passion for the small and grand details that make life worth living: her "darling subway," watching Kevin Costner eat Raisa Gorbachev's dessert, meeting the pope. Beware: Noonan (When Character Was King) does not hide her political conservatism. At times her warm persona takes on a rough urgency. Many of her opinions on such sensitive issues as profiling men of Middle Eastern descent and the invasion of Iraq may rankle some readers. But Noonan's book stands out because it is more than an exercise in right-wing political discourse. It's a testimony: a record of history as it was actually lived by real people. It is a celebration of America, a reminder that life is meant to be embraced. (June 11) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Wall Street Journal columnist and eloquent Republican apologist Noonan (Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness, 1994, etc.) reprints pieces that ran weekly in the year following 9/11. There is nothing new in Noonan. Her universe is as uncomplicated as a Saturday morning Western serial from a half-century ago. There are the good guys (all Republicans), the better guys (Ronald Reagan, both George Bushes, Rudy Giuliani), and the best guy (the pope). There are the bad guys (Democrats and liberals), the worse guys (Al Gore and Joe Lieberman), and the worst guy (Bill Clinton). She says Reagan is like a battleship, Clinton like a collapsed accordion. (The latter is also a lazy slob.) George W. Bush is like Truman: decisive, steadfast, diligent, tongue-tied but trustworthy, the real thing in a faux world, a guy who found his soul in the ashes of 9/11. And so on. The author justly—and repeatedly—celebrates the heroism of the emergency workers on that awful day but then indulges in some silly sentimentality about how great it would be to have more retro-males with big muscles and soft hearts who stand to surrender their subway seats to women. She waxes nostalgic for the pervasive patriotism of a century ago but neglects to mention that in those wonderful times her grandmother would not have been allowed to vote, nor would anyone else who failed the tests of gender and race. Oh, but weren’t they the good old days! Noonan rages justifiably against the failures of the American Catholic church in the sex scandals and honors the pope with lovely lines and even a few of her tears. She saw the actual face of Satan in the explosion at Tower Two and writes credulously about a statue of Maryweeping blood. She says we must credit Reagan for the booming ’90s economy, Clinton for 9/11. Corporate greed is bad. Profiling is good. Alternating spoonfuls of treacle and wormwood.
From the Publisher
The Weekly Standard A living record. Noonan's gifted narration...draws us into remembering what we ourselves were doing when the dreadful news came....The result is poignancy without sentimentality.

Booklist From the column she wrote just two days after 9/11, full of shock and raw emotion, to the reserved but determined piece she wrote on the one-year anniversary, Noonan's essays are thoughtful, introspective, and deeply patriotic....An inspiring collection.

Publishers Weekly [Noonan's] take on life and world events is refreshingly different from the usual political commentary. She writes as if she were conversing with her readers; unpretentious and warm, she lays out her soul for the world to see.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780743250054
  • Publisher: Free Press
  • Publication date: 6/11/2003
  • Series: Wall Street Journal Book Series
  • Pages: 288
  • Product dimensions: 6.42 (w) x 9.36 (h) x 0.97 (d)

Meet the Author

Peggy Noonan is a contributing editor of The Wall Street Journal and a columnist for the Journal's online editorial page. Her articles and essays have also appeared in Time, Newsweek, The Washington Post, Forbes and many other publications. Noonan is the author of five previous books, including the bestselling What I Saw at the Revolution and When Character Was King. She was a special assistant to President Ronald Reagan from 1984 to 1986. Noonan currently lives in her native New York City.

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Read an Excerpt

A Heart, a Cross, and a Flag

America Today
By Peggy Noonan

Free Press

Copyright © 2004 Peggy Noonan
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0743250486

Chapter One

What I Saw at the Devastation

Thursday, September 13, 2001

This, for me, is the unforgettable image of the day: the fine gray ash that covered everything downtown, all the people and buildings and cars; the ash that flew into the air in the explosions and the burning and that settled over half the city. It was just like Pompeii, which also was taken by surprise and also was left covered top to bottom with ash, fine gray ash.

This is what everyone in New York says, sooner or later, when they talk about what happened: "It was such a beautiful day. It was the most beautiful day of the year." It was. Clear stunning cloudless skies, warm but not hot, a breeze. It was so clear that everyone in town and Jersey and the outer boroughs - everyone could see the huge, thick plumes and clouds of black and gray smoke. Everyone could see what happened.

And when it began, everyone was doing something innocent. It was morning in New York in the fall and workers were getting coffee and parents were taking their children to school.

And yet: For all the horror we are lucky. If you are reading these words you are among the beneficiaries of great good fortune. Those of us who were not in the World Trade Center or the Pentagon or nearby, those of us who were not among the terrified victims on the planes, those were not heroic firemen and tough cops - on a local TV show last night the reporter Dick Oliver was asked how it was that so many firemen died, couldn't they have escaped, and he said, with a rough voice that had love in it, "Firemen don't run out of buildings. Firemen run into buildings" - are blessed indeed.

And not only because we are alive. We are lucky because for some reason - for some reason, and we don't even know what it was - the terrorists didn't use a small nuclear weapon floated into New York on a barge in the East River. We are lucky that this didn't turn nuclear, chemical or biological. It could have, and I thought the next time the bad guys hit it would have. Instead they used more "conventional" weapons, fuel-heavy airliners and suicide bombers. And so the number of dead will be in the thousands or tens of thousands and not millions or tens of millions.

We have been spared. And now, chastened and shaken, we are given another chance, maybe the last chance, to commit ourselves seriously and at some cost to protecting our country.

People were saying "This is like Pearl Harbor," but it wasn't Pearl Harbor. Our fleet wasn't taken out; we weren't attacked by a nation whose planes had clear markings; we lost 10,000 or 20,000 people, and they were civilians. If it has to be a movie, yesterday really to most of us in New York was Titanic. It was the end of a world, the drowning of illusions as brave men and women held hands and jumped; it was, I hope, the end of the assumptions that ease and plenty will continue forever, that we rich and powerful folk will be kept safe by our status, wealth and luck; it was the end of a culture of indifference to our nation's safety. Those Twin Towers, those hard and steely symbols of the towering city: they were the ship that God himself couldn't sink.

I was, like most of New York, very afraid. My sense from the beginning was: This isn't going to be over for a while. My son, fourteen, had just begun at a new high school in Brooklyn, just a stone's throw across the river from the World Trade Center. He'd left for the subway at 7:30. At 8:45 as I watched TV I saw the first explosion, and the breathtaking telephone report of a terrified man who had seen, he said, a big plane fly straight into one of the towers. "Oh my God," he said over and over, and it was like hearing the first report of the Hindenburg. I was still watching when something - I thought it was a helicopter - hit the second tower and it blew. And then minutes later the Pentagon.

Phones went down. I could not reach my son or his school. He's new there - no friends yet, no teachers he felt close to. And Manhattan was cordoned off; no one could get in. Should I go, try to walk to Brooklyn, try to get across the bridge? But what if he calls? If I don't answer he'll think I was hurt.

But the Internet did not go down, and I was comforted by instant messages from friends reporting in, e-mails from friends with information - the phones were down but the Net stayed up, and I kept it on all day. I thought a network or newspaper would be hit - the bad guys had targeted the great symbols of American power, the wealth of Wall Street, the military might of Washington. Now I thought: They will hit their much hated media. I sent an e to a friend at a newsmagazine: You guys may get hit, go home. I e'd word to my praying friends: Pray for the children at my son's school. They e'd back: Pray for my aunt at her school.

I waited by the phone, by the computer, hoping for word. The phone would ring and go dead, or I'd pick it up and get a busy signal.

I ran out, got cash at the bank, walked to Ninety-second Street and saw, with awe, that the clouds of smoke were visible all the way up here, five miles away. Trucks unloading food at restaurants and grocery stores were double- and triple-parked, their cab doors open, radios blaring. The Church of the Heavenly Rest, an Episcopal church in the neighborhood, immediately taped flyers to utility poles: "On this tragic day, come and pray."

Three hours later, at noon, my son got through. They had heard the explosions; the head of the high school had come in and said, "Please, peacefully, follow me downstairs." Most everyone was calm and purposeful; they gathered downstairs and listened to a radio. My son had a long line of kids behind him wanting to call home and he couldn't speak long. "I'm safe," he said. "We're all completely safe."

I told him the attacks seemed over - he covered the phone and yelled to the line, "My mother says the attacks seem to be over." I said it had all ended, he said, "She says it has ended." In times of crisis every American becomes an anchorman.

He told me with the offhand gallantry of a fourteen-year-old boy, "It looks like I'll be sleeping in Brooklyn tonight." The school took him and all the children who couldn't get home in, cared for them and sent them to the homes of teachers who lived nearby. My son was with a gaggle of boys at the French teacher's house. He had seen people sobbing on the subway in Brooklyn.

I walked over toward church after noon, and now the scene was silent and jarring. The sidewalks and gutters were jammed with an army of expressionless marchers going from downtown to uptown, silently trudging through the trafficless city.

Midday mass was pretty full, and people seemed stricken. I saw a neighbor I'd been trying to reach. "We're all fine," she said.

"Did a rat stand on its hind legs this morning?" I asked.

"No, and if it had, I would have run to your house to tell you."

Like so many in New York, she has feared a catastrophic terrorist event for years, the type from which you have to flee, quickly. Years ago she told me that she saw a rat in her neighborhood, and he had risen on his haunches and then scrambled away. For no reason she could remember, she said a prayer at that moment: "Dear Lord, if the big terrible thing is ever coming, will you warn me by having a rat rise like that?" She often prays this. I was very glad she had not seen the rat.

I walked by a local school yard. On the steps, a group of young tough kids who are often there playing a boom box. They have the look, the manner, of danger, and everyone says drugs are sold there. Yesterday they were on the steps, boom box blaring, only this time it was news reports telling us what was happening. The well-suited men and women marching by would stop and listen to the news, and then nod with thanks and leave. I listened for ten minutes and when I left I said "Thank you, gentlemen," and they smiled and said "Welcome." They were offering a public service.

In the afternoon I went to the home of a friend in midtown - again stunning silence, and the streets now empty of people and traffic. On the way home, in the early evening, I went to get on a bus, and as I went to put my fare card in, the driver said softly, "Free rides today."

The bus was jammed, and people had what Tom Wolfe calls "information compulsion": Everyone was talking about where they'd been, what they'd seen, "I was in the Trade Center at eight A.M. and left fifteen minutes later."

A funny moment: A seat opened up and we disagreed over who should get it. "Oh I don't need it." "No, I'm getting off in a minute." The courtesy made us all laugh. An elderly Englishwoman in a seat chatted with a young girl standing nearby. As the young girl left, she turned and said, "I'm so sorry you're seeing the city like this." The Englishwoman shook her head and put out her hands as if to say: No, I am seeing the best.

As I watched television I became aware, as everyone I've spoken to has mentioned along the way, that the great leaders in our time of trauma were the reporters and anchors and producers of the networks and news stations. What cool and fabulous work from Peter Jennings, Dan Rather and Tom Brokaw, what stunning work from Brit Hume and Aaron Brown, Katie Couric and Diane Sawyer, and the cameramen who took stupendous and dangerous pictures, and the guests like Richard Holbrooke and Norman Schwarzkopf and Tom Clancy, who added knowledge and context and well-grounded viewpoints. They all did that knowing it was dangerous where they were, knowing it could get worse, that the weapons or targets could change. They stood their ground and did their jobs.

Those anchors and reporters, they led us Tuesday, with cool and warmth, with intelligence and deep professionalism. And every one of them must have known he, or she, was one way or another in harm's way. These men and women of the media should all get a mass Medal of Freedom the next time it's given. They really helped our country.

The night of the attack my son got through to me again, and he told me more of what he'd seen and then he told me, just before he rang off, of the amazing thing he'd seen. At dusk, as the sun was going down over the city, he looked over at Manhattan. The rays of the sun hit the smoke and debris floating in the air, hit it strong and at an angle, and it all reflected on the water of the river and the light it produced was beautiful. "It looked golden," he said. "It was all the color of gold."

Even in horror there is beauty to be seen, even in trauma there is strength to be gained, and at the heart of every defeat is the seed of a future victory. After the Titanic sank, they reformed international maritime law, mandating enough lifeboats for passengers and constant radio contact.

And that is what we must do now, that is where the golden lining can be: We must admit that we have ignored the obvious, face the terrible things that can happen, decide to protect ourselves with everything from an enhanced intelligence system to a broad and sturdy civil-defense system, with every kind of defense that can be imagined by man, from vaccines to a missile defense.

For the next time, and there will of course be a next time, the attack likely won't be "conventional."

Continues...


Excerpted from A Heart, a Cross, and a Flag by Peggy Noonan Copyright © 2004 by Peggy Noonan. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

Preface
1 What I Saw at the Devastation: Thursday, September 13, 2001 1
2 There Is No Time, There Will Be Time: Tuesday, September 18, 2001 7
3 God Is Back: Friday, September 28, 2001 16
4 Courage Under Fire: Friday, October 5, 2001 19
5 Welcome Back, Duke: Friday, October 12, 2001 26
6 Profiles Encouraged: Friday, October 19, 2001 31
7 His Delicious, Mansard-Roofed World: Friday, October 26, 2001 37
8 We're All Soldiers Now: Friday, November 2, 2001 46
9 The Phony War: Friday, November 9, 2001 56
10 The President Within: Friday, November 16, 2001 61
11 What We Have Learned: Friday November 23, 2001 66
12 A Wing and a Prayer: Friday, November 30, 2001 70
13 From September 11 to Eternity: Friday, December 7, 2001 75
14 Miracle on Fulton Street: Friday, December 14, 2001 84
15 Give Them a Medal: Friday, December 21, 2001 94
16 A Nod from God: Friday, December 28, 2001 99
17 2001: A Bush Odyssey: Friday, January 4, 2002 103
18 "Everybody's Been Shot": Friday, January 11, 2002 106
19 Loose Lips, Pink Slips: Friday, January 18, 2002 110
20 Plainspoken Eloquence: Thursday, January 31, 2002 117
21 Why We Talk About Reagan: Friday, February 8, 2002 121
22 The Great Iraq Debate: Friday, February 15, 2002 124
23 A Message for Rumsfeld: Friday, February 22, 2002 130
24 Break Out the Bubbly: Friday, March 1, 2002 135
25 My Brothers and Sisters: Friday, March 8, 2002 140
26 Quiet, Please, on the Western Front: Friday, March 15, 2002 150
27 The Pope's First Statement: Friday, March 22, 2002 154
28 Star-Spangled Evenings: Friday, March 29, 2002 161
29 Bush Makes the Right Move: Friday, April 5, 2002 168
30 The Hard Way: Friday, April 12, 2002 171
31 The Pope Steps In: Friday, April 19, 2002 175
32 Back to Life: Friday, April 26, 2002 179
33 Will Clinton Talk?: Friday, May 3, 2002 184
34 The Crying Room: Friday, May 10, 2002 188
35 Dubya's New Deal: Friday, May 17, 2002 191
36 Open Your Eyes: Friday, May 24, 2002 194
37 Weenies or Moles? Friday, May 31, 2002 201
38 The Other Shoe: Friday, June 7, 2002 206
39 Rudy's Duty: Friday, June 14, 2002 212
40 Failures of Imagination: Friday, June 21, 2002 217
41 Capitalism Betrayed: Friday, June 28, 2002 224
42 The Lights That Didn't Fail: Wednesday, July 3, 2002 230
43 Privileged to Serve: Friday, July 12, 2002 234
44 The Nightmare and the Dreams: Friday, July 19, 2002 237
45 A Time of Lore: Friday, July 26, 2002 242
46 John Paul the Great: Friday, August 2, 2002 247
47 The Fighter vs. the Lover: Friday, August 9, 2002 253
48 The Fall After 9/11 Friday, August 30, 2002 256
49 A Heart, a Cross, a Flag: Friday, September 6, 2002 261
50 Time to Put the Emotions Aside: Wednesday, September 11, 2002 266
Acknowledgements 270
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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 11, 2003

    Outstanding!

    Ms. Noonan hit it right on the head with her outstanding commentaries. Reagan was the reason for the longest economic expansion in American history and boy Clinton for 9/11. She rightly condems the Democrats for being obstructionists and Republicans for trying to win a war on terror. She champions the men and women who gave their lives on that dreadful day and points out how the liberals still blame America for 9/11. It is a must read for anyone who still votes for liberals, whether they are Republican or Democrat.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 11, 2003

    Slanted

    This is a very biased, opionated, lengthy 'column' and not a representation of facts or history. It is not a biography. It is not a story. It is merely an outrageously one-sided op-ed piece that could have been written by any fanatic.

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