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TV's Window to America
An Essay by Andrei Codrescu

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I was a child in Romania when we gathered around our brand new television to watch news of the assassination of John F. Kennedy. Nobody believed it. My uncle said that it was all fake, a plot by the Russians to destroy our minds. Television had barely come into being and it was strange enough to see the moving images. It was even stranger to see America for the first time. "Look at the amazing tall buildings," my mother said. They were amazing. The tall buildings. The energy of people moving fast even as they were weeping and mourning.

On Sept. 11, 2001, the 21st century began in earnest. The whole world gathered around televisions to watch the horror visited upon us. My friend Ioana wrote from Romania that she had been watching with her son. She sent her heartfelt condolences and said, "We keep waiting for Bruce Willis to show up and for the movie to end!" I thought about her son Luca, who is the same age I was in 1963, and wondered what he was making of it. The tall buildings. The airplanes crashing into them. The flames. The people killed. This was his initiation into the new century, into how things really stand in history. The movie has no happy end. There is no Bruce Willis.

I hate to say it, but we were overdue for disaster. A terrorist act in Sarajevo ended the peaceful decades of the Belle Epoque and precipitated World War I. After only two decades of peace, another terrorist provocation, the burning of the Reichstag in Berlin, set the world on its way to World War II. The attack on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon is the beginning of another war.

Our Belle Epoque is over. We will look back on the '90s of the last century with the same nostalgia people looked back to the '90s of the 19th century. My sons, who were born within the golden bubble of the last quarter of the American century, have no idea. I wish they didn't have to. Americans are not demonstrative people: We did not gather in public squares to vent our anger at the terrorists. In other countries, people would have been on the streets calling for blood. But make no mistake: The anger is there. I just hope that we won't overreact. War isn't what it used to be.

Poet Andrei Codrescu lives in New Orleans and publishes the online journal, Exquisite Corpse.