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My friend Leon's dad hated Asians. It wasn't that Mr. Krygowski couldn't stand them. No, he actually wanted to kill them. He already had.

A Marine Corps veteran of World War II, Mr. Krygowski was proud of having once been paid to kill the Japanese, and volubly happy to do it again tomorrow for free. Anyone remotely Asian was a target.

Sunday evenings Leon's dad would sit in front of the TV and coldly regard the Chinese cook on "Bonanza." Then he would point his finger and say, "Pow."

I never learned the details of why Leon's dad remained so homicidal 20 years after the war was over. I didn't want to. It was scary enough just knowing he was not kidding around.

Mr. Krygowski's attitude was a mystery to me then. Later, I passed it off as contemptible bigotry. But I was just a kid. What did I know? I hadn't lived through Pearl Harbor or even heard of places such as Peleliu and Tarawa.

I got a glimpse at the inside of Mr. Krygowski's heart the morning of Sept. 11, 2001.

Having worked late the night before, I was still asleep when my wife burst into the room and turned on the TV. I sat up just in time to see United Flight 175 punch a hole through South Tower.

Just like Pearl Harbor in Mr. Krygowski's generation, I was watching an attack on America in mine. And it changed me.

Everyone has his or her own 9/11 story; where they were when it happened, how they heard about it, what they thought as they watched. Most of the ones I've heard are similar to mine.

I was stunned, then I was appalled and then mindlessly furious. For a long, ugly moment, I wanted every single person from Casablanca to Karachi dead. Anyone remotely Muslim should pay for the attack.

Yeah, I got dumb in a hurry. The disturbing part was how easily the feeling came over me, and just how justifiable I felt having it. There was real righteousness in wanting other people dead.

The thing is that I wasn't personally injured in the attack. I didn't know anyone who died at the Pentagon or the Twin Towers. I didn't have to go fight. Hell, I wasn't even all that inconvenienced by what had happened.

I didn't know any Muslims, either. This is Utah. Hell, we barely have any non-Mormons in my neighborhood, never mind real Muslims.

When the planes struck, the only Muslims I knew ABOUT were terrorists. And for a moment there, everyone who even remotely resembled a Muslim became — in my mind — the enemy.

Fortunately the moment passed. I took the time to sort things out and actually get to know some Muslims — and along the way some of the other people I just assumed were Muslim because I was stupid.

I scared myself during 9/11. I didn't want to be like Mr. Krygowski, nursing a blind hatred for the rest of my life, sitting in front of a TV years later pointing my finger at who I thought I had figured out but didn't really.

Any victory in a conflict has to include the resolve that you don't end up becoming what you're fighting.

Eleven years after 9/11, I like to think I'm a slightly smarter, more informed member of the human race. We all ought to come away from 9/11 better people for everything we lost that morning.

Robert Kirby can be reached at or

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