There are certain singular events that can be defined as movements of the Linchpin of History. These are events that change the world so fundamentally that nothing Before is ever again quite the same as After. These events resonate hundreds and sometimes thousands of years later. Most recently, there have been two such movements: the sight of thousands of Germans tearing with bare hands and hacking with picks and sledgehammers at that hated wall in Berlin, and in 2001 the images of the World Trade Center towers collapsing in blood and ruin.
We are now two years into the war sparked by the attacks of September 11, 2001. American troops are in combat in faraway lands. The Taliban rule of Afghanistan has been ended. The bloodthirsty dictator Saddam Hussein has been forcibly ejected from Iraq. The organizer of the attacks, Osama bin Laden, may well be dead but more likely is in hiding - no doubt plotting more evil. He is, however, a marked man and he knows it. He dares not move in the light of day or even call those subordinates he must talk to in order to command operations. When the shooting began in earnest, an interesting thing happened. Those who talked of bravely standing up against the Great Satan fled the first time they confronted by armed forces that actually knew what they were doing.
For those of us who came of age during the Cold War, we note an old familiar feeling. During the Cold War one always knew there was the possibility that an attack could come at any moment. Watching the 20-something generation deal with this is interesting to folks of somewhat older vintage. The notion that we are all on the front lines has taken hold, even if our esteemed political leaders are loath to say so.
Meanwhile, New York City has cleared the World Trade Center site with an eye toward redevelopment, the Pentagon was repaired in record time and plans are underway to build a memorial at the crash site in Pennsylvania. Democrats and Republicans have gone back to squabbling over what the meaning of is is and exactly how many square inches of skin you can see at the local multiplex. There is still, though, the gnawing feeling that we are doing these things more because we dont know what else to do than any return to normality.
As usual in such times there has been much silliness. In response to an isolated incident, with typical governmental logic, passengers all across this country have been forced to remove their shoes for inspection by clueless security personnel. All those fragrant shoes and feet probably pose more of a chemical threat than anything al Qaeda could dream up. Despite the governments best efforts, air travel is probably safer now than at any time since the early 1960s. Anyone who tries anything suspect on an airliner these days will be set upon by the passengers who figure theyve got nothing to lose.
In another move, the Bush administration, reacting to the very real intelligence failures that aided and abetted the terrorists, has created the Department of Homeland Security. This new governmental creature has, so far, only succeeded in adding an additional layer of bureaucrats over the 170,000 other government employees it inherited. Not only that, but in addition there is a color-code threat level indicator that only confuses anyone trying to make informed decisions. Much of this can be traced to that greatest Law of Bureaucracy: When In Doubt, Look Busy.
While only a few disjointed protests greeted the commitment of troops into Afghanistan, by the time attention turned to Iraq, the professional protesting class had time to organize. Leftist of every stripe have united under the questionable theory that doing nothing to combat terrorism would somehow stop it. This strange belief has transfigured into the notion that somehow the United States is the real threat and has to be stopped at all costs. After that it has been only a short step to convince those governments (France and Germany spring to mind) with a vested interest in a diminished America to oppose any and all American military efforts in the future.
All this came to a head in the Great Debate over Iraq. Emboldened by the white noise emanating from Berlin and Paris, the chattering class in our own country then took up the cudgel, hoping to imitate their intellectual heroes of the anti-war movement of the 1960s. Hollywood actors threatened to leave the country should we invade Iraq. University professors held teach-ins at their local fern bars and the press positively swooned over their every pronouncement decrying American policy.
The news media, with its incessant references to Vietnam has done nothing but increase the apprehensions of our political leaders. To listen to CNN and most of the others, Osama bin Laden was (or is) Ho Chi Minh in a turban, and the Taliban were the second coming of the Viet Cong. Having been proven wrong in Afghanistan, the newsies were unperturbed. They simply regurgitated the same arguments and applied them to the aftermath of Operation Iraqi Freedom. Every ambush or car bombing in Iraq is now greeted with an ill-disguised expectation that This One is the start of a latter-day Tet Offensive.
None of this changes the fact that September 11, 2001 saw a concerted attack carried out against two of the three pillars of American democracy: commerce (the World Trade Center), the military (the attack on the Pentagon) and more than likely our political leadership, had the passengers on that United flight not prevented it, with an attack on either the Capitol Building or the White House. These targets were selected with an eye toward symbolism. The attacks on these targets were designed to so terrify us that we would retreat from the world and wallow in shame and cowardice until the Islamists could establish their twisted religious hegemony over the Middle East and most of the rest of the world. Had a callow leader ala Nixon, Carter or Clinton been in charge, they might well have succeeded. George W. Bush, we (and they) found out, is made of much sterner stuff. He has sworn to pursue these murderers to the far ends of the earth. We are not out to bring them to justice. We are out to destroy them root and branch. We will also flatten anyone who rises to defend them or offers them sanctuary.
The war is being won but many battles remain. Some will be fought in lonely outposts scattered around the globe. Others will involve those of us at home. The end of the Cold War coupled with an unprecedented economic boom left us sitting targets for those who fear us. They seek to kill us and remove our memory from the earth. As Americans, we must never forget that our freedoms are on loan from those who came before us and we hold them in trust for those who will follow us. We must also remember that freedom comes with a price tag and that price is paid in blood. This generations bill has come due. It will be paid. We will prevail. As long as we keep faith in our Constitution and those sworn to uphold it, the sacrifices made at the World Trade Center and the Pentagon shall not be in vain. Until then, as Americans, we must renew the pledge of the Founding Fathers and pledge our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor to the preservation of the Constitution and by extension, the United States of America, the last best hope for freedom in the world. --Pat Gang