Opinion | Bruce Butler: Remembering Sept. 11 two decades later
Common Sense Conversations
Much attention has been called to the 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terror attacks. Just like the assassination of President John F. Kennedy and the attempted assassination of Ronald Reagan, anybody who was old enough to remember the event remembers exactly where they were at the time they learned of the attacks.
I was at an airport conference in Montreal. I had returned to my hotel room after breakfast and was torn between taking a nap before standing on the trade show floor all day and turning on the TV to see what was happening in the news. I tuned into the news shortly after the first plane struck the north World Trade Center tower. I remember thinking it could be a tragic accident as small planes had struck the towers before. A few minutes later, the second plane struck the south tower.
The sinking feeling of watching the tragedy unfold as the towers collapsed, the Pentagon was struck and a fourth plane was brought down by heroic passengers in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, are feelings of horror, outrage and helplessness that I will never forget.
After generational events, there are endless promises to “never forget” and pledges to ensure a similar event “never happens again.” In the days following 9/11, there were American flags displayed from interstate overpasses, citizens banded together in unity and Bruce Springsteen wrote a patriotic album. Even in Canada, where I was stranded, everything came to a screeching halt — no sports, no travel, etc.
The Western world had been rudely awakened from its post-Cold War complacency, and NATO suddenly had renewed purpose. Our allies rallied around the U.S. to rout out the Al Qaeda terror network and bring Osama bin Laden to justice. It involved mobilizing into the tribal quagmire of Afghanistan. The Soviets learned the hard way 30 years earlier that military might was no guarantee of success against guerilla fighters motivated by Islamic extremism. Regardless, the response was essential and the cause was just; thus began the Afghanistan war.
The problem is we do forget. The “greatest generation” is almost gone. I doubt many college students could explain the significance of Dec. 7, 1941, as the day Pearl Harbor was attacked, drawing the U.S. into the Pacific War. A whole generation has come of age post-9/11. Today’s college students might have been witness to the 9/11 attacks, but they are too young to remember the horrific day.
Ronald Reagan said, “Freedom is never more than one generation from extinction.”
While I hope my daughter’s generation never has to experience another 9/11, I fear our failure to remember history — combined with current civil division and punctuated by President Joe Biden’s stunning ineptitude withdrawing U.S. forces from Afghanistan — has set the U.S. up for a renewed cycle of terrorist attacks. Our government’s actions have broken faith with Afghan allies who assisted U.S. forces, citizens have been abandoned to fend for themselves against cold-blooded killers, Middle East peace has been compromised and NATO alliances have fractured.
Like many Americans, I supported the goal of ending the war in Afghanistan, but it is inconceivable to me that Biden would abandon a tactical military base, surrender the embassy in Kabul, fail to make a contingency plan to remove or demilitarize billions of dollars of sophisticated weaponry and equipment, and withdraw forces prior to vetting Afghan refugees and evacuating all U.S. citizens. Thanks to Biden’s stunning incompetence, 20 years following 9/11, we are right back where we were Sept. 10, 2001, except the Taliban now have access to billions of dollars of U.S. weaponry — which is, no doubt, being thoroughly dissected by the Iraqis, Russians and Chinese.
I fear the 20th anniversary of 9/11 will be remembered for the Taliban’s use of U.S. weaponry to symbolically bomb the abandoned embassy in Kabul and for the execution of U.S. supporters. I will remember the 20th anniversary of 9/11 with respect, appreciation and sorrow for the men and women who served and gave their lives to secure 20 years of homeland security, embarrassment over how our president failed exiting Afghanistan, and horror over the broken promises and abandonment of citizens and endangered allies left behind.
I hope and pray that I am wrong.
Bruce Butler’s column “Common Sense Conversations” publishes biweekly on Tuesdays in the Summit Daily News. Butler is a former mayor and council member in Silverthorne, where he has lived for 20 years. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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