Nine years ago this coming Saturday our nation faced perhaps it's greatest loss since the attacks on Pearl Harbor: of course I speak of the terrorist attacks committed against our country on September 11th, 2001. On that one day 2,977 Americans died at the hands of fanatical madmen who would have been delighted to kill not just (roughly) 3,000, but instead 30,000, 300,000 or even 3,000,000. They struck a blow against the way of life we Americans are blessed with, work hard for and celebrate.
The events of September 11th still resonate around the world today. You see, not only did America suffer that day, but the entire world was shown what a handfull of dedicated radical men could accomplish as the images of death and damage from New York and Arlington struck a chord of fear everywhere anyone could see a television. As American mourned the loss of lives in New York City, NY, Arlington, VA and Stonycreek Township, PA, the rest of the world battles on against terrorism, motivated by the realistic fear that these attacks could have just as easily been committed against their countries... their citizens.
As I do each year I take a few minutes to remember where I was, what I was doing, how I heard the news, the few minutes that followed and then the days that seemed to stretch on forever even though it was only a few. I was doing some contract work for a satellite communications company in Gaithersburg, MD that morning. Just after American Airlines Flight 11 crashed into the North Tower of the World Trade Center, the company's owner came around and told everyone to come to the conference room - he had the news on their large screen plasma television. I walked into the room just a few minutes before United Airlines Flight 175 crashed into the South Tower. I will never forget that moment as the company's owner, who was standing right next to me, turned and said, "My God... we're at war."
Were we? Absolutely. We had been - but the general populace had never been so aware of it. The United States of America had been fighting, and continues to fight against terrorist forces that had perverted a religion to justify crime and violence. "From the shores of Tripoli" where our Marines were sent by President Thomas Jefferson, to the mountains that form a geographical divide between Afghanistan and Pakistan today, our country has fought against terrorist violence. We've been "at war" a long time but most of the time that war is in the background of our daily lives. Not so since September 11th, 2001.
With the company's owner's words in my head I called in to my National Guard Unit. You see, I was still in the Maryland Army National Guard, and being in an Engineering unit so close to the Pentago (around the Washington Beltway about an hour) I fully expected that we'd be activated to assist / perform search and rescue duties, rubble clearing and reconstruction assistance. Ultimately my unit was activated to perform physical security duties at a different facility in Maryland. My service tour expired in March of 2003 and I didn't re-enlist at the request of my son - six years old at the time. In the following years I've watched my oldest son become a Marine, now deployed in this war, and my oldest daughter become a soldier, now a veteran of Army service.
That morning I left Gaithersburg and drove four hours home (a drive that normally took about two hours on a busy day). I wondered about the possibility of chemical or biological weapons on the planes. I listened on the radio as the crash of American Airlines Flight 77 into the Pentagon was reported. I listened to reports of car bombs and suspicious vehicles all over Washington DC were reported. I listened as the crash of United Airlines Flight 93 into a field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania was reported. Only later would we be made aware of the heroic actions of the Americans on that plane as they refused to be victims; they refused to sit idly by and allow the hijacked craft to be used as a weapon; they took the fight to the terrorists and prevented God-only-knows how much further loss of life.
I took my children out of school early and kept them home the next day. I made phone calls to check in with family and friends. I stayed in touch with my National Guard unit command staff. I pondered what the future would bring since terrorists had brought - so unfortunately successfully - this war to the innocents of America.
Nine years later now we still fight this war. We've seen the government, under a new administration, stop referring to it as the Global War On Terrorism. We've heard requests from our country's leadership to stop referring to the terrorists as fanatical or radical Muslims. Just as Americans of Japanese heritage had been targeted and unfairly treated during and after World War II, some Muslims in America have been targeted and unfairly treated since the attacks of September 11th. It is wrong to do so; just as wrong as it is for Americans - of any religious faith - to speak up in support of those heinous men who planned and committed those terrorist attacks.
There are no words sufficient to express the grief, angst and anger I feel with regard to these attacks. Song writers and singers have certainly done a better job of capturing the feelings of our country that day - and in the days to follow. All around the country American flags sprouted almost magically out of houses, onto long bare flag poles, onto car windows and more. Just recently I received an email encouraging me to fly an American Flag this coming Saturday, September 11th "in rememberance." There is an American Flag flying at my house every day of the year. The national pride and surge of patriotism we collectively felt on September 11th, 12th, 13th and so on in 2001 shouldn't have ever wained. It should be as strong today as it was then. We are still at war against terrorism and likely will be long into the foreseeable future.
As I do each year I circulated an email asking coworkers, writers and friends to provide some input on the events of September 11th. Two writers provided whole articles which will be posted separately. Two writers provied input which I include below. I invite you to share your comments as well.
Before I post those writers' comments, please indulge me as I include a few quotes from then President George W. Bush in the speech he made regarding the attacks.
A great people has been moved to defend a great nation. Terrorist attacks can shake the foundations of our biggest buildings, but they cannot touch the foundation of America. These acts shattered steel, but they cannot dent the steel of American resolve.
The search is underway for those who are behind these evil acts. I've directed the full resources of our intelligence and law enforcement communities to find those responsible and to bring them to justice. We will make no distinction between the terrorists who committed these acts and those who harbour them.
And from President George W. Bush's address to a joint session of Congress on September 20, 2001:
We have seen the state of our union in the endurance of rescuers working past exhaustion. We've seen the unfurling of flags, the lighting of candles, the giving of blood, the saying of prayers in English, Hebrew and Arabic. We have seen the decency of a loving and giving people who have made the grief of strangers their own. My fellow citizens, for the last nine days, the entire world has seen for itself the state of union, and it is strong.
Al Qaeda is to terror what the Mafia is to crime. But its goal is not making money, its goal is remaking the world and imposing its radical beliefs on people everywhere.
The terrorists practice a fringe form of Islamic extremism that has been rejected by Muslim scholars and the vast majority of Muslim clerics; a fringe movement that perverts the peaceful teachings of Islam.
I also want to speak tonight directly to Muslims throughout the world. We respect your faith. It's practiced freely by many millions of Americans and by millions more in countries that America counts as friends. Its teachings are good and peaceful, and those who commit evil in the name of Allah blaspheme the name of Allah.
This is not, however, just America's fight. And what is at stake is not just America's freedom. This is the world's fight. This is civilization's fight. This is the fight of all who believe in progress and pluralism, tolerance and freedom.
And perhaps President George W. Bush's most famous words after the attacks of September 11th. I quote them here and hope that every reader takes them as a personal commitment to the American way of life and the security of our great nation:
We will not tire, we will not falter, and we will not fail.
And now, the inputs I recieved from two writers:
September 11th is forever ingrained into the American conscience and culture. For almost a decade now, people have referred to the coordinated foreign terrorist attacks against America as a number, calling it simply 9-11. In honor of those who died at the World Trade Center, I remember just two numbers. I remember 343, the number of firefighters who died. I remember 73, the number of police officers who died there. But I have never referred to 9-11; I always call it September 11th. It may mean nothing to anyone else, but it is important to me. After all that was sacrificed by the living and the dead, it is the least I can do to refer to the date in full. Here's hoping we all remember, and honor, September 11th. - Jonathan Bastian
When I think of 9/11 it is my generation's Pearl Harbor, the greatest loss of emergency service in our history, a rally cry and rekindling of America. More so, on September 11, 2007 it was the birth of my granddaughter Cadence. Now, even more 9-11 has more meaning to me, I want my granddaughter needs to have a strong, vibrant country that I grew up in, we are still fighting for our children's children...keep up the true fight for America.... - Chief William L. "Bill" Harvey