Thursday, September 11, 2008

What Has Changed Since That Fateful Day?

Seven Years After 9-11

What to say, on this seventh anniversary, about the events of September 11, 2001 - "9-11" as it is now universally known?
In "On Nov. 4, Remember 9/11," an op-ed writer for The New York Times reasoned: "The most important thing the next president must do is prevent terrorist groups from executing a nuclear attack in America."
But this begs the question: Is that really the "most important" thing a new president must do? And if so - by that limited measure - hasn't George W. Bush been a highly successful president?
Yes, you could argue that. After all, most rational human beings want to feel safe and secure. And obviously the politicians agree, considering the billions of tax dollars spent on "homeland" security and associated efforts.
But are we too willing to purchase that illusive security no matter what it costs in lost personal freedom and liberties?
Have Politicians Really Learned Anything from Our Mistakes?
The inimitable Oscar Wilde wrote: "Experience is the name everyone gives to their mistakes."
As we observe the anniversary of 9-11 - especially in this election year - Americans have every reason to question whether their would-be "leaders" have really learned anything from those thousands of needless deaths and the events of ensuing years.
Yet in the PATRIOT Act and with unconstitutional secret surveillance, detention, and torture of terrorism suspects, we have sacrificed the very principles that we claimed to be defending.
Remembering that Fateful Day
I was one of those millions of horrified Americans watching television when United Airlines flight 175 crashed into the South Tower of the World Trade Center at 9:02:59 a.m. I too watched in horror as cameras trained on the two towers after the earlier plane crash.
In my mind's eye, I can still see the TV screen with a small black dot moving, right to left, inexorably towards the World Trade Center. I can still see that giant fireball bursting like water from all sides of the second silver tower.
"My God!" my internal voice said, prompted by the instant mass obliteration of so many innocent human lives. The worst was confirmed within minutes by yet another plane smashing into the Pentagon.
After my own sensations of horror, disbelief, anger, and sorrow for the victims, my friend and former House colleague, U.S. Rep. Ron Paul of Texas, expressed my troubled thoughts:
"Times of tragedy and war naturally bring out strong emotions... Sometimes people are only too anxious to sacrifice their constitutional liberties during a crisis, hoping to gain some measure of security. Yet nothing would please terrorists more than if we willingly gave up our cherished liberties because of their actions."
Sad to say, Ron Paul's prediction has come to pass in too many ways.
At the time I noted that "...readers know my view that freedom in the United States has eroded for decades, most assuredly in the area of financial privacy. Having served in Congress I know how panicky politicians react in times of crisis; witness the many liberties we have lost under the false banner of the failed war on drugs."
Some Proper Perspective
Consider some stark numbers. Excluding the 19 hijackers, a confirmed 2,973 people died and about 20 others remain listed as missing as a result of all the 9-11 attacks.
Without denigrating the memories of those souls who died on 9/11, it is worth remembering that in all the many wars America has fought, (including our own bloody Civil War), 1,090,200 have died. Add the 4,150 Americans who have died in Iraq as well as many thousands of Iraqis. That doesn't even count for how many died recently in Afghanistan.
Consider Gen. Robert E. Lee's first invasion of the North, at Antietam Creek in my home state of Maryland. In one day alone, Sept. 17, 1862, more than 23,000 men were killed, wounded, or went missing.
Yes, we all live under the constant threat of terrorism. But because of 9-11 and even with a continuing threat, Americans should never sacrifice the liberties that so many have fought and died for.
Unanswered Question
If you observe how many have been sacrificed for America down through the centuries, it only accentuates the meaning and importance of the greater cause they died for. They died before their time, their promise unrealized, in our country's service.
Those who died on 9-11 were innocent victims of yet another war. It was a religious jihad that some fanatic Muslims saw as the means to impose their twisted view on the entire world.
But the real legacy of September 11, 2001 will be determined by how Americans, as a free people, continue to react to this great provocation. This truly was, and continues to be, America's moment of truth. Whether we pass or fail this crucial test is yet to be determined.
Failure is what we should truly fear.