I wrote the following five years ago today. It still seems appropriate now for the fifteenth anniversary of that horrid day.
There isn’t one of us who doesn’t remember what we were doing. I was having a day off and was watching Good Morning, America and I will remember to my dying day Diane Sawyer’s “Oh, my God!”.
I was very lucky, though, although I have family working in the financial district, I lost no one close to me. But in a very real sense they were all my family; the workers, the Firemen and Police doing their everyday heroics, the passerby. They were all our family: the family of the free. For this was an attack on freedom. For this was an attack on the free market system and the military that protects it.
To me then and now it hearkened back to another ‘Day of Infamy‘: 7 December 1941, both in the manner of the attack, a sneak attack on a peaceful country, and in how I instantly understood, as I never had, what my parents and their generation had felt on that awful Sunday afternoon.
And I knew something else, even as they had, I now lived in a country at war, where nothing short of victory was acceptable. I thought my country was united in that, I still think most of it is. I also knew that the retribution of America and her allies would be terrible and no interference by anyone would be tolerated. For indeed “They had sounded forth the trumpet that shall never call retreat”.
And I was heartened by the reaction of the world, especially this:
Nobody ever showed their support better, which is not surprising, after all, the Queen has known us well since she was Princess Elizabeth driving an ambulance in the Second World War.
Another thing I understand now was my Dad’s and his generation’s respect for Roosevelt even if they disagreed with almost all of his policies, he was the war president. I now have that feeling, even love, for George W. Bush.
We really are an exceptional nation, nobody in the world, outside of the Anglosphere understood our determination, in Bevin Alexander’s words “to proceed door to door in the very heart of the Arab-Muslim world, to make clear that we were ready to kill and to die to stop our society from being undermined, and to say, gun in hand, to the people, and to the governments who permit terrorists to exist, “What is it that you don’t understand about leaving our country alone?”” And I find it notable that those stalwart Allies of the Anglosphere are marching forward to the battle in step with us, as it has been for nearly a century now.
And so, almost before we knew what was happening the first counterattack was underway. It ended in a smoking hole in Pennsylvania, it was a very expensive counterattack but it was successful. And like the targets of the attack itself, it was conducted by ordinary Americans, no different than you and me. The counterattack launched with that simple command, “Let’s Roll”.
The time for our superb military had not yet come. But it would, with dire consequences for our enemies.
Bin Laden should have studied us better, for indeed the man who said this was half American:
We have before us an ordeal of the most grievous kind. We have before us many, many long months of struggle and of suffering. You ask, what is our policy? I will say: It is to wage war, by sea, land, and air, with all our might and with all the strength that God can give us; to wage war against a monstrous tyranny never surpassed in the dark, lamentable catalogue of human crime. That is our policy. You ask, what is our aim? I can answer in one word: It is victory, victory at all costs, victory in spite of all terror, victory, however long and hard the road may be.
The American people are difficult to turn into an enemy, for we much prefer to be everyone’s friend, but attacking the homeland will do it, every time. There is no more fearsome enemy in the history of the world than the aroused people of America.
A quick look back will show this. On 7 December 1941 the battleship USS Arizona was sunk on battleship row in Pearl Harbor. 35 months later, the other old battleships of the 7th Fleet, also sunk at Pearl Harbor, sank the Japanese fleet at Leyte Gulf, in the last surface gun action ever fought. The new battleships in the 3rd fleet were off chasing the IJN’s aircraft carriers. Moored close to the Arizona is the USS Missouri on whose deck 11 months after Leyte Gulf, in Tokyo Bay, Imperial Japan surrendered. Yes, we are impatient, and sometimes fickle, but do not mess with our homeland.
It never fails to amaze me how much the enemies of the United States rely upon the goodness and restraint of the United States. The Taliban who supported al Qaeda knew that their sheer existence beyond the next 30 minutes depended exclusively on the forbearance of the United States.
If we were the imperial power that we are so often accused of being, Afghanistan would now be the world’s largest sheet of glass. If a city rebelled against Imperial Rome, the retribution was that every living thing, right down to the dogs, was put to the sword, the city was destroyed and the ruins sown with salt, so nothing would grow. I dare you to find Carthage on a current map.
Instead, we very carefully target our retribution on those that we believe are guilty. Indeed, we have developed weapons that allow us to target an individual from several hundred miles away. Instead of our massive air raids in World War II we now use a stealth aircraft with individually targeted missiles. I have seen reports that say that the Pakistanis, when they see one of our drones overhead, calmly go about their business, knowing that only the target is in danger, as opposed to the panic when their own air force is attacking.
This is the way that America, a country that values each and every human life makes war.
This is America the Avenger. Not on the innocent people of cities and countries, but upon the malefactors hiding in its back streets and hills.
This is America at war. Not destroying cities and countries but only individual enemies.
This is America, the superpower that can destroy any country on Earth in an hour but chooses to put its own sons and daughters at risk to find only the guilty.
This is America, where steel from the World Trade Center now is incorporated into the bow of the USS New York, leading the ship into harm’s way.
This is America, the first revolutionaries, who learned to control the revolution, but not to let it die and slip back into tyranny, about whom our President said, long ago:
We dare not forget today that we are the heirs of that first revolution. Let the word go forth from this time and place, to friend and foe alike, that the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans—born in this century, tempered by war, disciplined by a hard and bitter peace, proud of our ancient heritage—and unwilling to witness or permit the slow undoing of those human rights to which this Nation has always been committed, and to which we are committed today at home and around the world.
Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and the success of liberty.
and who later that day also said:
Now the trumpet summons us again—not as a call to bear arms, though arms we need; not as a call to battle, though embattled we are—but a call to bear the burden of a long twilight struggle, year in and year out, “rejoicing in hope, patient in tribulation”—a struggle against the common enemies of man: tyranny, poverty, disease, and war itself. Can we forge against these enemies a grand and global alliance, North and South, East and West, that can assure a more fruitful life for all mankind? Will you join in that historic effort?
In the long history of the world, only a few generations have been granted the role of defending freedom in its hour of maximum danger. I do not shrink from this responsibility—I welcome it. I do not believe that any of us would exchange places with any other people or any other generation. The energy, the faith, the devotion which we bring to this endeavor will light our country and all who serve it—and the glow from that fire can truly light the world.
This is the America that I grew up in and love, and I will not allow the destruction of, from without or within. For above all others, this hill, with its city gleaming bright, is worth dying for and worth living for.
Many things have happened since President Kennedy said those words on a cold January morning.
The Berlin Wall was built up and torn down.
The World Trade Center was built up and knocked down.
The specter of the Soviet Union no longer threatens the world.
The threat of Islamofascism has arisen from the shadows.
From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic, an iron curtain that had descended across the Continent, has now been lifted.* Old and proud states of eastern Europe have been liberated. Many having seen what America believes, in action, have become proud allies of America.
Al Qaeda decided that the old American will had been eroded and has had that illusion shattered, and is on its way to destruction. Almost weekly we hear of the demise of more of its leadership as America again sorts out the guilty from the innocent.
Many things have happened since 9/11/01 also. How will it all work out? We will never know. This is the eternal war between liberty and slavery.
As Cassandra of Villainous Company put it on 27 June 2005:
Our own Revolution was not without blemish. Innocent men were tarred and feathered. Families torn asunder. People bled, and suffered and starved. There was even [shudder] terrorism. But it lit a flame that has burned brightly for over 200 years. There are signs that this is happening in the MiddleEast: Arabs are looking at election day in Iraq and Afghanistan and demanding democratic reforms in Egypt and Lebanon and Kuwait. The fire in men’s (and women’s) hearts is spreading.
We would like certainty. We would like painless progress. We would like closure. We will not get any of those things.
On July 4th we must ask ourselves, what do we believe? Our military – brand new immigrants who enlist before the ink is dry on their visas – believe in those words so strongly that they will lay down their lives to spread the fire of democracy. They also believe (as I do) that their purpose is to serve American foreign policy aims, no matter how abstract and long-term they may seem. No matter how difficult to explain to the American people. No matter how frustrating in the short term.
What kind of world will we bequeath to our grandchildren? It may be that long before we know. But our actions today will have an incalculable effect on that far-off tomorrow. And if our policy is not firmly grounded in the spread of those long-ago words:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights…
…then I wonder if we shall not be the first Americans who fail to pass the blessings of liberty on to the next generation?
“The only thing necessary for evil to triumph. is for good men to do nothing.” – Edmund Burke.
And so as we remember and celebrate the lives of the victims of that horrible day ten years ago, so we must also renew our determination that their sacrifice and the sacrifices of our military since shall not have been in vain. For as another President said:
It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.
Ultima Cumaei venit iam carminis ætas;
Magnus ab integro sæclorum nascitur ordo.
iam redit et Virgo, redeunt Saturnia regna,
iam nova progenies cælo demittitur alto.
From the Eclogue of Virgil:
which translates as follows:
Now comes the final era of the Sibyl’s song;
The great order of the ages is born afresh.
And now justice returns, honored rules return;
now a new lineage is sent down from high heaven.
* Adapted from Sir Winston Churchill at Fulton, Missouri.
So, I said and believed then, five long years ago. Do I still? I want to, but as the wastage of our young people in foreign wars, for no good purpose continues, as well as the degeneration of our society. I have come to doubt that our leadership has the interest of America in its heart. Perhaps it does, and I misread the signs. I hope so. Or perhaps we will see a change in direction, for truly all things are possible, under God.
In the meantime, we must carry on, such that if this Republic shall last for a thousand years, our descendants will remember us with pride.