As another anniversary of the horrific attacks of 9/11 passes, we reflect on the lessons learned and the opportunities wasted in our war on Islamic terrorism.
American history is marked by the dates on which we as a nation came under attack. There was the “shot heard ‘round the world” at Lexington on April 19, 1775 which launched the American Revolution and our founding as an independent nation. Our national anthem arose from the siege of Fort McHenry on September 13-14, 1814 as Francis Scott Key penned his observations of that historic battle in the form of an inspirational poem. The Battle of Fort Sumter on April 12-14, 1861 launched the bloody Civil War in which we warred against ourselves over the issue of slavery. “Remember the Maine, to Hell with Spain!” became the rallying cry of the Spanish-American War when the battleship USS Maine was sunk in Havana Harbor on February 15, 1898 under mysterious circumstances.
The most famous date of the Twentieth Century is without a doubt that of December 7, 1941, that date which will live in infamy, as the date the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor and thrust America into World War II. So severe and so unexpected was the Japanese attack which destroyed the battleships of our Pacific Fleet that we continue to sear this date into the memory of generations born long after the event. While few of us have any direct connection to the attack on Pearl Harbor, most of us are vividly aware of the circumstances of September 11, 2001 as we suffered our own version of the Pearl Harbor attack. 9/11 was as shocking and devastating to our generation as Pearl Harbor was to the Greatest Generation, and we are still acutely aware of where we were and what we were doing on that day when we learned of the Islamic terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and the unknown third target that day. Those of us who experienced that awful day will never forget, just like those who were alive on December 7, 1941 never forgot that day.
We were stunned at the audacity of the 9/11 attacks and our inability to imagine such a scenario, much less defend against it. We stumbled around for days and weeks afterwards unable to comprehend a normal existence in a state of utter shock and dismay. Slowly, with much time, we acquiesced to the new reality of our vulnerability to the asymmetric threat of Islamic terrorism. Our lives begin to return to some sense of normalcy as we absorbed and processed this event and the responsibilities of everyday life rudely interrupted our stupor as the mundane details of soccer practice, school, work, and paying bills could wait no longer. Even as we regained a sense of normalcy, we never truly believed life would return to a similar state of nonchalance as we enjoyed prior to 9/11, and we sincerely believed that it should not lest we be tempted to forget and suffer the possibility of future attacks due to lapsing back into a state of unpreparedness.
In our stupor, our leaders overreacted by passing legislation granting the government unprecedented powers to conduct electronic surveillance under the auspices of protecting us from future Islamic terrorist attacks, but which have come to be abused by those targeting their political opponents and generally hostile to the ideas of American exceptionalism and personal liberty. As time passed and America suffered no further Islamic terrorist attacks, we came to believe that our effort to take the war to the terrorists and deny them sanctuary in which to plan and carry out their attacks was having the desired effect of once again insulating our shores from enemy attack. We grew tired of the wars and forgot the original reason they were undertaken as our leaders lost their focus on the original goal of denying sanctuary to the Islamic terrorists and sought to redefine their original grand ambitions of a War on Terror to something much more focused and manageable. Dropped were references to Islamic terrorism and any focus on the clash of civilizations embodied between the information control of repressive Islam and the democratization of information represented by the liberalizing influence of Western Civilization and its tradition of personal liberty.
The easy toppling of the Taliban government of Afghanistan was followed by a protracted guerilla war in which al-Qaeda terrorists and Taliban fighters inflicted damage on our forces through asymmetric tactics such as Improvised Explosive Devices which entered our lexicon as IEDs. We intended to topple the Taliban government and put Afghanistan under new management friendly to America, but the reality turned out to be much more complicated and involved us having to take over the country to establish new democratic ideas and institutions, something for which we never had the stomach. We further distracted ourselves from the business of Afghanistan by toppling our old nemesis Saddam Hussein in Iraq in a bid to restore American credibility in both the region and the world.
Barack Obama, a Senator with a thin resume, no practical experience, and the ability to present himself as a blank slate upon which voters could project their personal political ambitions, capitalized upon America’s weariness with the wars and their lack of focus on the original goal to trash President Bush and get himself elected as his successor on a promise to end the wars and America’s involvement overseas as an isolationist. Our Islamic terrorist enemies, which had never gone away nor had ever been seriously defeated, celebrated Obama’s victory as justification for their belief that America had no tolerance for war and their policy of holding out long enough for this realization to occur as ultimate vindication for their terrorist efforts. Obama has proved them right as he immediately began to pull America troops out of the war zones and ineptly telegraphed American policy goals as the inexperienced foreign policy buffoon he is. The Taliban and al-Qaeda have patiently waited for the dates Obama announced to pass as they prepare to once again take over Afghanistan fully aware that we will not return to cause them future grief.
The ultimate result of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor was not the intended demonstration of power to cripple American naval power in the Pacific and cause America to submit to Japanese plans for expansion over Asia, rather it was the unconditional surrender of a thoroughly defeated Japan after experiencing the devastation of two nuclear attacks by a determined and resolute America intent on avenging her loss at Pearl Harbor and emerging as the world’s lone superpower. There was never any thought that anything less than total and absolute unconditional surrender would ever be accepted by America from any of her enemies in World War II, and the American people never considered their sacrifice so great as to warrant an end to hostilities short of such an outcome. There was no protesting for the troops to come home because the job wasn’t finished and wouldn’t be finished until America had secured unconditional surrender.
Contrast that attitude to the current attitude in America that has forgotten that we went to war after having suffered a devastating and intolerable attack by those committed to our destruction. Americans have suffered no hardships at home like those tolerated by our ancestors during WWII such as meatless Mondays, rationing of goods essential to the war effort, various other deprivations of daily life. We have grown weary of watching the war from the comfort of our homes as if it was conceived as an event for our entertainment, and we seek its cancellation to make room for other more stimulating and distracting options. We even suffer fewer casualties due to improved equipment which better protects our soldiers and increases their lethality while allowing the direction of drones from the convenience of our shores. We have it much easier in our war to avenge the 9/11 attacks and restore American security than our ancestors had in WWII, but we lack the resolve they had in getting the job done. We whine that it’s too hard or too expensive or too long or too this or that.
We remember 9/11, but our resolve has been softened by the lack of visual reminders stemming from the decision to refrain from broadcasting the shocking images of that terrible day. We are stunned anew during their rare airing on anniversaries of the attack and reminded just what is at stake. The decision to keep this footage sequestered does America no favor and intentionally weakens her resolve. We need to see this footage and be shocked by what it represents. We need to remember exactly why 9/11 is seared into our memory and what we did to avenge these attacks. We need to remember that peace does not come from the acquiescence of tyranny and refusal to go to war, but from the resolve of a nation committed to defense of its shores and ideas demonstrated by its willingness to wage war with the unconditional surrender of its adversaries as the only possible conclusion.