By Mike Allen
The Washington Post
ATLANTA — President Bush, urging the nation to avoid both a state of panic and a state of denial, said Thursday night that individual citizens will be responsible for personally confronting terrorism in coming years despite a government pledge to protect American soil.
Bush said the government remains on high alert and asked viewers of the nationally televised address to add their eyes and ears to the effort. He said the nation has "entered a new era," with "new responsibilities, both for the government and our people."
"This is a war that must be fought not only overseas but also here at home," Bush said. "We must be vigilant, inspect our mail, stay informed on public health matters. We will not give in to exaggerated fears or passing rumors. We will rely on our good judgment and our common sense."
His announced theme was homeland defense, but Bush used the occasion to deliver a broad message that ranged from calls for personal vigilance and community service, to a progress report on anthrax investigations, to a renewed commitment to destroying Osama bin Laden and his al-Qaida terrorist network. Looking relaxed and confident, Bush said the United States and the international coalition he has assembled "are deliberately and systematically hunting down these murderers, and we will bring them to justice."
"We are at the beginning of our efforts in Afghanistan, and Afghanistan is only the beginning of our efforts in the world," he said. "No group or nation should mistake America’s intentions: Where terrorist groups of global reach exist, the United States and our friends and allies will seek it out and destroy it."
Bush compared international terrorists to the reviled tyrants of past eras, and although he didn’t explicitly mention Hitler and the Nazis, the reference was unmistakable. "We are the target of enemies who boast they want to kill all Americans, kill all Jews and kill all Christians. We have seen that type of hate before. And the only possible response is to confront it and defeat it," he said.
Bush called the mailed anthrax "the second attack against America," but pointed out that anthrax has been found in just three of the 30 billion pieces of mail that have been processed since Sept. 11. He acknowledged that the government still doesn’t know the source of the anthrax attacks. "We do not know whether this attack came from the same terrorists," Bush said. "But whoever did this unprecedented and uncivilized act is a terrorist."
Bush began Thursday night by saying that the time since the hijackers crashed airliners into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon has been "two of the most difficult, and most inspiring, months in our nation’s history."
"We wage a war to save civilization itself," Bush said. "We did not seek it, but we will fight it and we will prevail. … We have refused to live in a state of panic — or a state of denial. There is a difference between being alert and being intimidated, and this nation will not be intimidated."
White House officials had hoped to win coverage of the speech by the broadcast networks, announcing that it would begin 30 seconds after 5:01 p.m. PST, leaving time for an anchor introduction. But on the East Coast, NBC stuck with "Friends" and CBS showed "Survivor: Africa."
Bush, updating a theme of his inaugural address, urged each listener to "become a September the 11th volunteer" by committing to community service. "You can serve your country by tutoring or mentoring a child, comforting the afflicted, housing those in need of shelter and a home," he said. "Through this tragedy, we are renewing and reclaiming our strong American values."