We would never be the same. We were sure of it. After the shock and horror of the eleventh of September, 2001, the one thing everyone agreed on was that the world was irreparably altered. We’d never look at each other the same way, regard our way of life with the same nonchalance, or discount the threats to our liberty from forces at home and abroad. We were united in a common cause, and that unity would guide us forward thenceforth.
But we haven’t changed. Not much. Only our circumstances are different now; circumstances that we created in an emotional backlash. We have to go through more pain at the airport now before being allowed to proceed to our destinations. We endure countless intrusions into our private lives and communications. We allow further restrictions on our speech, our movement, and even our thought, all in the name of the nebulous concept of security. We have changed a lot of things, but we have largely remained the same.
Of course, some people were deeply changed. For the hundreds of thousands of military members who were in at the time or have joined since, our nation’s kneejerk reaction to 9-11 changed everything. For us, constant war has become a way of life, an idea so foreign to our civilian peers that we may well have become aliens in our own land. Thousands of my brothers and sisters in arms now lay dead, and thousands more carry visible and invisible wounds acquired in wars that the American people chose to abandon before their objectives could be fully realized.
The cost of America’s sitcom-length attention span; of fractious, power-hungry politicians; of single-minded corporate moguls and of a careless, ignorant electorate is that the sacrifices made by our military have largely been abandoned to the pages of history books. The hallowed battlefields which were soaked in the blood of American patriots are now again trampled by the forces of hatred and murderous oppression.
Remembering where you were on 9-11 is a fine thing, but it is nothing like enough. You have to understand what happened, remember the raw rage that you felt, and consider the consequence those events had for those of us who have sworn to defend you. More than anything, you have to question why we’re still not doing what it takes to stop it from happening again.
We continue to face an enemy that fights with no rules and no reservations. For them, collateral damage isn’t an unfortunate consequence of struggle, it is the sole objective of their entire operation. They have no timetables, no exit strategies, no qualms about international borders or humanitarian treaties. What they have is an unbridled hatred for the relative freedom of the West, and an insatiable desire to destroy it by any means available.
Until we are willing to confront such an enemy with anything like the resolve they show, we will continue to teeter on the brink of another heinous attack. We crushed the Taliban and Al Qaeda in Afghanistan, but balked at pursuing them into Pakistan. We toppled a regime known for its murderous brutality and hatred in Iraq, but failed to stay and help the newly freed people secure their future as a free nation. We have neglected historic opportunities to ensure peace, freedom and stability in Libya, Egypt, Syria and Iran. Now we find ourselves on the brink of another limited campaign in Iraq and Syria, one doomed to fail as surely as every limited action against an unlimited foe.
We have not won anything in our war on terror; we have only wounded it and displaced it to locations we are unwilling to reach out and touch.
Thirteen years after 9-11, we remember, but not the way we once did. Even the images trotted out on social media have become softened, stylized logos, rather than the raw images that accurately portray the events of that Tuesday morning. Perhaps our feelings have become softened, stylized versions of their former selves, as well. The more those memories fade, the less creedence we give to the severity of the wound we suffered thirteen years ago today, the closer we step to letting it happen again. Pray that enough of us do remember to stop it before it does.