On 9/10/2001, it was a different world. Terrorism was something that, even against United States’ interests, usually happened elsewhere—U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998, the U.S.S. Cole in Yemen in 2000. Only one example of foreign terrorism on U.S. soil comes to mind from before 9/11: the bombing of the World Trade Center in 1993. But that attack, which killed six and injured over 1,000, just didn’t seem to affect us much.
I wish it had.
On 9/11, as I watched the twin towers fall and the Pentagon burn on my dorm-room television, my attitudes changed. I realized for the first time that there were things worth fighting for, and vanquishing radical Islamic fascists was one of those things. I realized then, as many in the Bush administration did, that a long, violent battle lay ahead where our very freedom was at risk and sacrifices would have to be made.
For what felt like a brief moment in retrospect, I thought the rest of the country had the same change of heart that I did. I felt like we were motivated to confront the enemy, fight them with everything we had, and win. Sadly, it seems I was wrong.
Our resolve has faltered, and with it our chances of emerging victorious over those radical Islamic fascists—people who will not rest until the whole world bows to their corrupted version of the Muslim religion, or until they are dead—have diminished. This has happened because far too many people have fallen back into a 9/10/2001 attitude.
On 9/10, it would have made sense that politicos on both sides would try to defeat their opposition in the next election at all costs. Since 9/11, I would have hoped that matters of national security would be held above the political fray rather than becoming arrows that Republicans and Democrats can sling at one another.
On 9/10, it would have made sense to be angry at the government for warrantless wiretapping. Since 9/11, we should be happy that the president is doing everything possible under his war powers to identify and capture enemies who would kill us in a heartbeat.
On 9/10, it would have made sense to believe that terrorist groups were small, isolated, impotent groups that could be handled through traditional law-enforcement. Since 9/11, we should all understand that the war on terrorism is, indeed, a war, and wars must be fought through a combination of traditional law enforcement (where appropriate) and overwhelming military force.
On 9/10, it would have made sense to believe that we were safe from madmen like Osama bin Laden, Mullah Omar, Saddam Hussein, and Kim Jong Il. Since 9/11, it is clear that belligerent, hateful leaders of nations and fanatical religious sects cannot be ignored, cannot be placated, and cannot be appeased. Either we fight them, or they—eventually—will bring the fight to us.
On 9/10, it would have made sense to advocate peace at all costs. Since 9/11, it has been made painfully clear that there are enemies who want us dead, and fighting them on the battlefields of Afghanistan and Iraq (where they have gathered in droves since our invasions) is a much better idea than waiting until they bring the war here again like they did five years ago. Peace cannot be attained until those violent, belligerent, hateful enemies are not there to violate it.
On 9/10, it would have made sense to preach moral equivalence between Israel and Palestine, between ‘the west’ and ‘the Arab world,’ between [supposed] imperialists and terrorists. Since 9/11, we can no longer play that game. There is no moral equivalence between killing civilians unintentionally (in the course of attacking a military target) and blowing up a city bus full of innocent people. There is no moral equivalence between military occupation and flying hijacked airliners into office buildings. There is no moral equivalence between deposing a dictator and beheading a journalist. There is no moral equivalence between individual soldiers breaking the law (like the prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib) and executing an organizational policy of murdering civilians. Period. There are good guys and bad guys, and in this case we are the good guys.
It is understandable that many would like to get back to 9/10—a relatively peaceful world where we didn’t have to deal with intrusive security or worry about dying every time we go to work or get on a plane. I would too. But getting back to 9/10 doesn’t happen by acting like 9/11 never happened. Getting back to 9/10 happens when we have defeated radical Islamic fascism.
Personally, I do not understand how so many people seem to have forgotten what happened that day and have lost track of what we need to do to move beyond it. The images of 9/11 and the people who died that day have held steadfast at the top of my mind. They color my decisions, my beliefs, my votes, and my prayers. And while my steady anger at those who would have us murdered drives me to support all efforts to defeat them and their brethren, the countless stories of courage, heroism, and humanity from that fateful day had given me hope that we would get through these trying times a stronger nation.
But with the quick return to politics-as-usual and the 9/10 attitudes I cataloged above, I’m not so sure any more.
Five years after the 9/11 attacks, the American people have a very important choice to make: pretend it’s still 9/10 and watch 9/11 happen all over again, or refuse to forget that we are a nation at war and have to make sacrifices to win it. We can defeat the kind of radical Islamic fascism that we saw first-hand five years ago, but we cannot do it pretending it’s 9/10, that we’re not at war, and that we’re safe from harm.