A Grim Fraternity of Nations
Of what we remember, as a nation, that day- of a series of heart-stopping stills that show those dreadful early Tuesday morning hours of September 11, 2001- much still remains unknown.
The last moments of ground zero first responders, the identity of the man photographed falling, leg akimbo, the vast distance from the top of those doomed and smoking towers; even the total death toll, as people who were at ground zero continue to die of illnesses sustained on 9/11.
When the first tower fell, we couldn’t believe it. When the second plane hit, we knew. No accident could have caused it. It was no unintentionally set fire that burned out of control, started by improperly stored solvents in a poorly-ventilated broom closet.
The U.S. had sustained a terrorist attack.
As a nation, we confronted the fact that most the great evils of the world are banal. The danger doesn’t come at midnight in a graveyard on Halloween night. Instead it comes some idle Tuesday around the time most people are just getting to work.
The evil “other” isn’t some monstrous figure in a hideous death mask; it doesn’t show up with horns and a tail. It’s a disenfranchised redneck in a pickup truck full of fertilizer.
It’s a group of innocent-faced radical jihadists who believe that their ideology is worth more than your life or mine. Even the lives of their co-religionists. Even their own.
For those of us who witnessed the attacks firsthand, in New York, from the shores of New Jersey, from Washington, D.C.- the memories of that day will never fade. The fear we felt for our children, who looked somehow smaller and more vulnerable that ever before. The fear we felt for ourselves. The frantic calls to neighbors and friends, to co-workers and family.
Followed by the funerals.
While the rest of the nation mourned, we pored over our collective grief and shock at memorial services for professional friends, former co-workers and employees; people we knew very well, people who were merely acquaintances before 9/11/2001. We mourned for people we had seen only the day before; we mourned for people we ‘d lost touch with, who we hadn’t seen in years.
We payed our last respects to people who had fed us, waited on us, sold us our first house, took our deposits at the bank.
We watched in shock as the memorial announcements went up. We attended funeral services for people who were never found, and could never be properly laid to rest. We did our best.
In the aftermath, we also did the best we could to hold each other up, to clean up and try and move on with our lives in a new, terrifying world where those terrible car-bombs and suicide bombings and hijackings we read about in other countries happen here.
The place where many fine, upstanding people from nations all over the world have sought refuge against exactly this type of war-mongering and mass-casualty violence. The place where many of us hoped our children would be able to grow up free, and free from the constant threat of extremist violence.
After September 11th, many of us had to watch some of those children grow up without the fathers and mothers who perished that day. Without grandfathers and brothers and sisters, aunts and cousins.
We have also been proud to watch as three successive Presidential administrations have taken up the mantle against the radical jihadists of Al-Qaeda and later ISIS.
On their watches, there has not been another foreign terrorist attack on U.S. soil since September 11, 2001.
It was the ultimate bi-partisan cooperation. The work began under President George W. Bush continued under Obama. Under President Obama’s watch, we saw the execution of 9/11 mastermind Osama bin Laden.
Under President Trump, the threat of radical Islam continues to be dealt death blow after death blow. Not only through his “America First” commitment, but also through his staunch commitment to American allies pivotal in keeping Islamist terror at bay.
Trump’s support of Israel and Saudi Arabia, even his hard line against Iran (the world’s leading sponsor of Islamist terror and violence), proves that “We will never forget” was more than a promise to Americans.
It was and remains a threat; if you plot to hurt America, Americans, or our allies, we will find you. No matter how long it takes.
9/11 was the day the U.S. joined the sad group of nations around the world who have suffered mass-casualty terrorist attacks. Being a target of Islamist terror is not something any nation aspires to.
But through the tireless work of U.S. and International law enforcement and intelligence agencies, it has been 18-years since a terror attack was successfully carried out on U.S. soil. And it hasn’t been for lack of anyone trying.
There is a good reason you can’t take liquids on an airplane; a sophisticated plot was foiled by British authorities in 2006. You are subjected to full-body scans because of the so-called “underwear bomber” and his plot which was foiled by U.S. authorities in 2009.
You have to take your shoes off because of the “shoe bomber” and his attempt, which was also thwarted by law enforcement agencies.
We will never forget wasn’t a threat, it was a promise. A promise three administrations of U.S. Presidents have faithfully kept.
The threat is real, and it remains out there. The U.S. is still under siege; from China’s unfair trading practices and exports of deadly fentanyl to the nuclear programs of Iran and North Korea.
But we will always be united when threatened. The U.S. is resilient.
Of all the lessons we learned on 9/11, that one remains the most empowering.
(contributing writer, Brooke Bell)