Nine years later …

Ed Morrissey

Every year on the anniversary of 9/11, I try to write some sort of retrospective on what has been the defining event for Americans of this generation, and for the nation in the 21st century. After nine years of commemorations, though, today I’d prefer to look forward rather than back. That was my first impulse in the moments after we realized that terrorists had attacked and destroyed the World Trade Center, disfigured the Pentagon, and murdered almost 3,000 people in their lunatic zeal for a pan-Islamist world.

In the days that followed, I asked myself how I personally should respond.  How does a middle-aged man with a family come to the defense of his country from an asymmetrical threat?  My father noted with some disdain that after Pearl Harbor, lines formed around military recruitment centers, but after this generation’s Pearl Harbor, those recruitment centers seemed almost forgotten.  But this was the wake-up call in a war that didn’t involve empires and massive military machines; rather it was a war that involved a relatively small number of lunatics with a lot of cash and a willingness to die just to kill others, not for land or resources but just for the sake of death itself.  We didn’t need a larger military as much as we needed a larger mindset.

It took me a while to absorb this, and to find a channel for my need to do something in the wake of 9/11.  That impulse led me to blogging, and to focus on war and foreign policy as much as I do national politics and domestic policy.  Others did join the military, or began doing both as milbloggers; still more became political activists across a wide spectrum of thought and philosophy.  All of these and more are the expressions of a free people, a way of reaffirming our American heritage and the principles that make us a nation — as well as a rebuke to those who think they can terrorize us into submission.  Our colors do not run, and whether we are conservatives or liberals, Democrats or Republicans, we are Americans first and foremost…

…The truth is that the threat existed for years before 9/11, and not just from al-Qaeda.  We saw an increasing number of attacks between the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center and 9/11, mainly abroad, that we just chose not to consider seriously as a rising threat.  People may want to blame Bill Clinton for that, but before 9/11, there would have been little support from anyone for a military expedition to Afghanistan or Sudan or Somalia to wipe out Osama bin Laden, and honest people will acknowledge that.  As a nation, we simply didn’t think it would amount to a serious threat, and 9/11 changed that forever.

So what do we do now?  What do the next nine years look like from this vantage point?  Terrorism has ceased being the top priority of Americans, who are more worried now about the economy and jobs — as it should be.  We should go about our business, but with the clarity that while we don’t want to arrange our public lives around terrorism forever, we need to keep the danger in mind as we conduct that business.  Recent attack attempts remind us of the potential cost of complacency, but we no longer have the luxury of indulging in sheer ignorance as we did through September 10th, 2001…

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