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One of the greatest dangers we've faced since September 11 is the inflated rhetoric of a nation that feels under siege.

The terrorist attacks were mentioned at the three cultural events I attended last week, but each performing group responded in a different way. At Invisible Theatre, head honcha Susan Claassen made a brief statement of sympathy and took a collection for the Red Cross. That was the best response of the three.

The two concerts I attended--by the Tucson Symphony and Tucson Pops orchestras--were disfigured by the inflated rhetoric of our awful national anthem, bellicose doggerel set to an English drinking song (the Anacreonic Hymn) that can be adequately sung only by drunkards.

But the real problem came amid the well-intentioned remarks of the Tucson Pops MC. He declared the attacks to be "the greatest tragedy in American history." Well, a far greater national tragedy was the Civil War, in which half a million Americans died at the hands of their fellow citizens.

Echoing many earlier tributes, the MC referred to those who died in the attacks as "heroes." But to be a hero, you have to do something. The people who crashed the fourth plane into an uninhabited area before it could reach its target, and the emergency workers killed at the World Trade Center, were heroes. They worked to earn that label. The others were robbed of their lives. They weren't heroes; they were victims, and that's what makes their deaths tragic.

Many people have repeated George W. Bush's declaration that the terrorists were "cowards." Yet undertaking a complex suicide mission, however heinous, is hardly an act of cowardice.

Rallying Americans around such misleading language and around our sacred national texts is the first step toward launching our own jihad. And a holy war, in terms of lost lives and compromised morality, will harm us far more than those who oppose us.

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