Sept. 11, 2001, like Dec. 7, 1941, will forever “live in infamy” in our collective memory. All you have to say is “9/11” and most people over 30 know the day you refer to and where they were when America was attacked by 19 Islamic terrorists in four hijacked airliners.
Here’s part of the casualty toll of that attack:
- 2,753 civilians killed when two hijacked airliners crashed into the World Trade Center (WTC) towers in New York City;
- 343 FDNY firefighters who died in rescue efforts in the WTC towers;
- 23 NYPD officers who died in the WTC rescue efforts;
- 37 NY-NJ Port Authority police officers who died in the WTC rescue efforts;
- 184 passengers and crew and people at work killed when hijacked American Airlines Flight 77 crashed into the Pentagon; and
- 40 passengers and crew killed when United Airlines Flight 93 crashed near Shanksville, Pa.
The death toll and destruction on 9/11 was a sharp reminder, if it wasn’t clear already, that we were at war with radical Islam. A war of national survival. Americans had been under attack, killed, wounded and held hostage in this Islamic jihad, or “holy war,” for decades before in Iran, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Kenya, Tanzania, Somalia and, not to be forgotten, the terrorist truck bomb attack in the World Trade Center in 1993.
The lesson for all to finally realize was that we are faced with a determined and remorseless enemy with a long view of history and a clearly stated agenda: to impose its fanatical ideology on all Muslim nations; subjugate other countries; and destroy the hated “Great Satan,” America, and the “Little Satan,” Israel.
The United States responded decisively after 9/11, drove the Taliban and al Qaeda out of Afghanistan, eventually caught up with Osama bin Laden, and with the help of NATO and other allies (37 of them deployed troops), gave the Afghan people a chance for a better life. However, with ideological patience and undeterred persistence, the Taliban wore down the political resolve of the United States.
At the end, there were the images of the Taliban in Kabul, the chaos at the airport, including the suicide bomb attack that killed and wounded American military personnel trying to help people (our first casualties there in 18 months), as well as many more Afghan civilians trying to escape.
Finally, there was the hasty departure of the last evacuation planes, leaving behind, as far as we know today, hundreds of American citizens and U.S. green card holders, and thousands of Afghans who helped us and our allies. All desperately want to get out of Afghanistan to safety. A sad and shameful sight. As one veteran recently wrote: “This is what losing looks like.”
As impressive as the heroic humanitarian evacuation effort was in the time allowed by the president and the Taliban, it does not change the loss of Afghanistan to the Taliban. Here’s one lesson from history. In praising the famous military evacuation from Dunkirk in 1940 and rallying the British people and allies to continue the fight and defeat Nazi Germany, Winston Churchill noted: “Wars are not won by evacuations.” For us, that vital task continues.
So, this year — and it’s difficult to even think about much less write — Sept. 11 and the Taliban victory in Afghanistan will be widely celebrated not only by the Taliban, but by a reinvigorated al Qaeda and every other radical Islamic group and government. This is going to be hard for most Americans to watch and accept after all the sacrifice and the improvements in the lives of the Afghan people — especially women and children — that will now be lost. We don’t like losing. Or the humiliation of our country in the world.
However, we are a strong, resilient people, and have recovered and prevailed after defeats and disasters before, including the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941. President Roosevelt pledged to defeat Japan no matter how long it took, and Congress declared war (pursuant to Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution) putting the full force of the nation into the war effort. Is that possible today? Right now, I don’t think so, given current political differences and media focus elsewhere.
But there will be an accounting for the disaster in Afghanistan and time for a clear-eyed assessment of the Islamic threat and how best to meet and defeat it. Ultimately, it will be up to the American people to decide. President Lincoln once said: “I am a firm believer in the people. If given the truth, they can be depended upon to meet any national crisis. The great point is to bring them the facts.” Together we can prevail again, as “one nation, under God, indivisible.”
In the meantime, on Sept. 11 this year, we will remember all the victims of the Islamic terrorist attacks on that day in 2001. There is a 9/11 Memorial and Museum on the site of the WTC towers in New York City today. It is a place of commemoration, reflection, education and peace. It is also the resting place for the remains of many victims. The following quote from Virgil’s epic “The Aeneid” is inscribed on a wall of the memorial: “No day shall erase you from the memory of time.” We will always remember them.
So, too, we will remember and honor all the men and women, military and civilian, who served in Afghanistan and other countries after 9/11 to defeat the Taliban, al Qaeda and all the other Islamic radicals who seek to destroy the United States. They risked their lives to keep us safe for 20 years. May God bless them and their families and the United States of America.