I just finished watching the movie "United 93" with my wife and daughter and I found myself choking back tears at the end. This September 11th will mark seven years since the horrible events of that day but the film brought back for me all the emotions of that time as if it had just happened yesterday. A single thought kept pounding in my skull: "How could we have forgotten?" The frustration in me right now is so great that I have to write down what I'm feeling. If my words are stinging in their directness, I ask for your forgiveness in advance. It angers me to see people attacking those in our government who are charged first and foremost with the defense of our country and its people. The stimulus package, universal health care, Clinton vs. Obama vs. McCain, all of that stuff is irrelevant if we're dead. The first and most solemn responsibility of our government is to keep us safe and it's NOT fear-mongering to say that there are people out there who want us dead, who don't care about our gender, color, ethnicity, creed, political persuasion or ideology, and will not stop until they've eliminated us. They can't be talked out of killing us, nor do they care if we suddenly pull out of the Middle East and other world hot spots in the hope that if we leave them alone, they will leave us alone. Anyone who believes that is either naïve, ignorant or lying to us. The leaders of Al-Qaeda have declared in their own words that "The ruling to kill the Americans and their allies - civilians and military — is an individual duty for every Muslim who can do it in any country in which it is possible to do it." What part of that do we not understand?
Like a lot of Americans, I recognize we're paying a heavy price in Iraq and Afghanistan and I'm just as frustrated with the way the war on terror has been prosecuted as anyone else. Our civilian leaders for whatever reason initially rejected the most fundamental principal of warfare, the use of overwhelming force to achieve total victory. I don't know how the Taliban and Al-Qaeda forces in Afghanistan escaped to Pakistan where we can't get to them without violating a sovereign nation that is supposedly our ally but is apparently ineffective in capturing or killing the terrorists in their midst. The surge in Iraq is working but we could have saved so many lives and been so much further toward a stable and allied Iraq had we committed to it sooner.
In the midst of our frustrations, however, we must consider the words of President Theodore Roosevelt, who warned us against "a readiness to criticise work which the critic himself never tries to perform, an intellectual aloofness which will not accept contact with life's realities pointed out." He went on to utter these famous words:
"It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat."
Therefore, let me say this in as clear a manner as I can muster. We have not had a terrorist attack on our soil in 2,351 days. If Afghanistan and Iraq have accomplished nothing else, they have kept the terrorists over there fighting against trained and courageous men and women who can fight back rather than here in America, using planes filled with innocent men, women and children who can't fight back to kill thousands more innocent people on the ground.
To date, 479 American soldiers, sailors, Marines or airmen have died in Afghanistan and 3,963 in Iraq over a nearly seven year period. Al-Qaeda murdered 2,998 defenseless people in one day. I am as certain as the air I breathe that the innocent people who died that day are embracing our fighting men and women as they join them in eternity, thanking them for their sacrifice and ensuring them they didn't die in vain.
Here at home, our intelligence and law enforcement officials have been doing their jobs with professionalism and apparent effectiveness - did I say we haven't had a terrorist attack on our soil in 2,351 days? - and not getting an iota of credit for it. Instead, we vilify them for upholding their constitutional duty to defend us and threaten to take away from them the tools they need to track and thwart an enemy who couldn't care less about our endless debates over the legality of electronic surveillance on their calls into the United States. Someone please explain to me what in the world is so wrong with monitoring the calls of suspected terrorists from foreign countries into the United States. We know they are in our midst and if our ability to trace calls ends at our own territorial waters, then we have a greatly lessened change of finding and arresting them before they kill us. What good will all the legalism do us if we're dead?
On December 7, 1941, 2,388 people were killed in a surprise attack on the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor by the nation of Japan. This unprovoked attack led the United States into World War II and put an entire nation on a war footing with all of our capabilities, even our entertainment industry, mobilized for the war effort. Our nation remained in a state of total war until August 15, 1945 with Japan's surrender. Victory was achieved and in the unique tradition of the United States of America, we rebuilt and restored our mortal enemies to the community of nations.
On September 11, 2001, 2,998 people, mostly civilians, were killed in a surprise attack on our nation's financial and political capitals, New York City and Washington, D.C. respectively, by 19 terrorists of Al-Qaeda, an elusive and fanatical transnational organization dedicated to the total destruction of America and its allies. Among the 2,998 souls lost, fifty police officers, 319 firefighters and a police dispatcher rushed into the chaos at the World Trade Center rather than flee, and they gave their lives in the service of their fellow human beings. Forty airline passengers and crew lost their lives in an incredible act of valor by overpowering their attackers and forcing them to crash their plane into the ground near Shanksville, Pennsylvania rather than strike their intended target, the U.S. Capitol building in Washington, D.C. This unprovoked attack led the United States into a global war against the forces of international terrorism and put an entire nation into...what?
The war on terror is no less significant than the world wars of the 20th century, but we behave as if it is some distant event that only involves our military forces and their families and has nothing to do with us. As "United 93" so powerfully reminded me, for at least one clear day in September 2001, we were violently shaken out of our slumber and placed in a state of total war against an invisible enemy from the skies. They're still out there looking for their next opportunity to strike but you would never know it by the way we behave today. How could we have forgotten?