Did We Win?
I told myself not to. I suggested that my wife didn’t either. I knew what my reaction would be, so I tried not to watch any of the coverage of the ten-year anniversary of the attacks of 9/11. But I failed. I guess it was just too prevalent; the shows were everywhere and on seemingly every television channel. And I guess my curiosity and solemn nostalgic reflection just couldn’t turn my head away. So I watched, and I remembered, and I cried, all over again.
As I sat quietly with my family on Sunday morning, the bells were rung, the names were read, and words were spoken in honor and respect for that fateful day. But with all the news and analysis of that day and every day since, I couldn’t help but ask myself one question about the war on terrorism that kicked into high gear ten years ago: Did we win?
We chased Al Qaeda from strongholds in the governments of several Middle Eastern countries, but are we safer? We instituted tons of new restrictions when flying, passed many new laws and regulations, and even created a whole new federal department, but is our homeland more secure? We’ve won nearly every battle, we found and killed Osama Bin Laden, but have we won the war? I’m inclined to say no.
In a post cold-war world, we were the lone remaining super power, but since terrorism is a tactic that can be carried out by a single person acting alone, no amount of military might can eradicate it from the world. When faced with unwinnable odds, radicals don’t fight, they hide, they survive, they lie dormant and wait for their numbers or odds to increase and then they strike again. Regardless of how many bullets or bombs we use, only history will show the real affects of the military war on terror.
But, in the same way that our military force can’t change their religious or political ideology, their psychological warfare is meaningless if we stay true to our way of life. Terrorism is powerless if we refuse to cower, and no amount of random violence can be effective if we resolve to be steadfast in our freedoms. But in the war of ideals the question remains the same… did we win? And again, I’m inclined to say no.
One of the products of the attacks of 9/11 was an almost immediate spike in church attendance. When faced with the horrible tragedy of that day, millions of Americans sought the guidance or even just the solace of their previously discarded faith. Yet, ten years later, the anniversary ceremony in New York was purposefully kept nearly religiously vacant. Why? Are we scared that our religious freedoms might offend someone? Do we think that the way to combat religious fanaticism is with secular cowardice?
This country was founded on the principle of individual freedoms, yet in the years since 9/11 we seem all too eager to give them up. In the wake of the 9/11 commission report, new legislation was formed which gave the government expansive powers. The Patriot Act brought us warrantless wiretaps and Homeland Security made it illegal to bring toothpaste onto an airplane. But the words of Benjamin Franklin were never more true: “Those who give up essential liberty to obtain temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.”
Actually, the biggest reason I don’t think we’re winning the war on terror is because I’m not convinced that we’re really fighting it. If we really wanted to strike a blow at terrorism, I can think of no more powerful response than rebuilding the very towers they knocked down, bigger, better, and faster than ever before. It took only 10 years to build the Panama Canal, yet ten years later we’re still faced with a scarred skyline in lower Manhattan. As the saying goes, it’s not whether or not you get knocked down, but whether or not you get back up again.
And our scars aren’t just architectural. As a society, I see far too many people walking on politically correct egg shells. We’re acting like the victim of spousal abuse who, instead of standing up, apologizes to the abuser. Our thick skin and resiliency used to be a source of national pride, but one decade later, the same country that provided federal funding for a person to put a crucifix in urine and call it art now wordsmiths documents and speeches to remove so-called “insensitive” terms, and “inflammatory” remarks. And, newspapers that portrayed a vice president as Darth Vader shy away from printing political cartoons because the subject matter might be too controversial.
We’re not winning the war on terror. We’re not fighting a war on terror. Ten years ago, 19 hijackers took control of four planes; they killed thousands of innocent people and caused billions of dollars in damage. But everything they’ve taken from us isn’t nearly as devastating a loss as what we’ve freely given up; our national pride, our multi-ethnic and multi-cultural perseverance, our ‘melting-pot’ mentality, and even our individual sense of humor. If you want to beat terrorism, if you want to strike a blow to religious fanaticism, then we need to return to being a society that can complete the sentence, “a Christian, a Jew, and a Muslim walk into a bar…” in some way that doesn’t end in violence.