September 11: What Have We Learned?

Five years ago today, the world changed.

Five years later, have we learned anything?

I relive the events of September 11, 2001 often in my mind, and wonder if it was truly real.  There was no other day like it before, and there hasn’t been another day like it since.

Scenes of horror, the likes of which were only reserved for movies in the past, were suddenly a searing reality.  Fireballs erupting out of skyscrapers.  Air traffic out of control.  Buildings crumbling before our very eyes.  Thousands of people dying in an instant.

On that day, the United States of America were more united than ever before.  Political foes were comrades.  Liberals, conservatives, Democrats, and Republicans didn’t matter.  Unity mattered.  Resolve mattered.

And, understandably, revenge mattered.

Before we could answer “How could they do this to us?” we had to answer “Who did this to us?”  That answer was made abundantly clear very soon afterward.  In a matter of days, the names Osama bin Laden and Al-Qaeda were household terms.  We learned what Jihad was about, and Islam was deemed an enemy.  So we went to war on those who hurt us.

When the bombs started to fall in Afghanistan, it seemed that revenge was being served.

But what has happened since then?  Suddenly, things began to shift course.  No longer was our enemy just Al-Qaeda and Osama bin Laden.  Suddenly, our revenge turned into a new kind of war, with a different kind of enemy.  We were fighting a predjudice… an ideal.

Five years later, we haven’t found Osama bin Laden or squashed Al-Qaeda.  Instead, we have invaded another country that had nothing to do with September 11th.  We toppled a regime that did, indeed, need to be removed– but the costs of doing so were, and are still, nearly as painful as the losses we experienced five years ago today.

We traded bin Laden for Saddam.  Afghanistan for Iraq.  Nearly 3,000 dead in New York, the Pentagon and Flight 93 for nearly 50,000 (to date) dead (combined) in the Iraq war.

So what have we learned from– and since– September 11, 2001?

Here’s what I have learned:

  • Revenge is not the answer to every situation.  It’s an understandable emotional response, but it’s only going to make matters worse.  Hate breeds hate.  And we have only created more hatred by our actions in Afghanistan and Iraq.
  • Our leadership is stuck in a rut with this conflict that we have created.  They have no better plan to get us out of it than anyone else.
  • It’s embarrassing to me, as a United States citizen, to see our country being demoralized by arrogance, the likes of which our current administration has displayed.
  • Whether there is more to the September 11th story or not is immaterial now.  We have shown our true colors by our actions afterward.
  • It makes me sick to see that nothing has been done with the World Trade Center site in the last five years.  The fact that it is still a gaping hole is shameful.  In true American fashion, bureaucracy and emotion cannot combine to come up with a viable solution.  It may be like that in five more years, at the rate things are going.  This is unacceptable.

Finally, and most importantly, when the attacks occurred five years ago, we were, understandably afraid.  And our fear was that of the unknown.  “Who did this?” we asked. “Why did they do this?”  “How could they do this?” and “How can we make sure this never happens again?”

Five years later, we are still living in fear, and that is all thanks to our current administration.  But that’s just how they want it.  They are spoon-feeding the fear to us in daily doses, and hoping we don’t spit it up so we can see that it’s truly the poison that it is.  And those of us who do see the poison are labeled “Un-American” and “Just as bad as the terrorists themselves.”

My question to them is this:  “Who are the real terrorists?”

And then, I’d love to hand each of them a mirror, so they can look and see for themselves.