Sometimes, it seems like it was just yesterday. I remember sitting at my desk at work when the news the first plane hit broke. We were all clustered around the television when the second one did. A dozen military men, we all knew, even at that moment: we were at war.
In the next few days, the speculation in the circles I traveled in at the time was rampant, but many of us had a feeling: al Qaeda. The memory of the attack on the USS Cole was fresh enough that they were the first and most likely suspect. Who else would hijack planes as weapons? Yet we knew, whoever it was that did this to us, we were at war.
In the next weeks and months, our government confirmed that the attack was, indeed, carried out by al Qaeda, and our commander-in-chief dedicated us to rooting them out of Afghanistan and delivered a stern warning to the world: stand with us or stand against us. There was no middle ground. We were at war.
Except we weren’t.
A lot of people said in the days after 9-11 that everything changed, and in a way they were right. In the days since that horrible event, and unbelievable number of Americans have convinced themselves that everything but the truth is true.
Ivory tower academics and self-deluded pundits declare that America was to blame for what happened on 9-11. The news and the internet are full of journalists and talking heads insisting that our response to those events were overwrought, unjustified, even criminal. An entire segment of American society chose to respond to the recent death of Osama bin Laden by chiding Americans for celebrating the death of a bloodthirsty enemy.
In the ten years since 9-11, something has changed, something deep, sinister, and self-destructive. We now live in an era when a rapper can declare “Fuck the army troops” and claim gangsters are harder than combat veterans and people just shrug. We live in a society when reporters can write and say that the war in Afghanistan was an unjustified exercise in nation building, and most people believe that is true.
Instead of being at war with our enemy, we are at war with ourselves, and we seem very close to victory.
The sad fact of 9-11 ten years on is that, I believe, we have doomed ourselves to repeat history like we have so many times before. We have not learned anything. Instead, we have deceived ourselves into believing in a reality that never has been true, and it is almost inevitable that we will pay the price for that deception again.
For me, what remains ten years since 9-11 is the lingering thought that those of us who understood what changed that day must prepare ourselves and anyone who might listen for the eventuality of what may come next. We have to face the fact that things have changed and that someone has to be ready, even if everyone else believes it can’t possibly happen.
For those of us who get it, who understand what changed ten years ago, we cannot forget, we cannot tire, we cannot fail. Let’s roll.