Lessons from 9/12

“The day dawned different and stayed that way. Traffic was thin and sidewalks quiet. The stock exchange didn’t open, nor the airports, the schools, Broadway. People loaded up on bottled water, batteries, canoes. The law enforcement presence was intense: men with machine guns, gunboats circling the harbor. Downtown, fires burned, smoke plumed. The odor stood. It was a city humbled and scared, where the possibilities of destruction had been recalibrated. It was Sept. 12, 2001. The day after. ...”
Sometimes it’s useful to remember the bad times. In a masterful piece of writing, a New York Times reporter called up the day after 9/11 and wrote about the fears that both his city and the nation would hunker down, become a fearful fortress and endure more bombings, more kamikaze airliners, an unending invasion of terrorists determined to tear our nation apart.
He also wrote about those who responded immediately with defiance, determination and a renewed sense of common purpose with the rest of the city and the nation to deal with whatever came and triumph.
The essay ended up-beat. New York became its former self in a relatively short time. The fear subsided and then disappeared. The common purpose was wash-ed away by self-absorption and partisanship. The American flags that had festooned buildings, front yards, car bumpers — every place the stars and stripes could be displayed — gradually were taken down or peeled off.
Garage and gas station attendants stopped putting mirrors under cars to discover hidden car bombs.
The future looked bright rather than gloomy to more and more of us, in the stricken city and throughout the land.
Sept. 11, 2001 brought the wars against Afghan-istan and Iraq, the creation of the Department of Homeland Security and what must be called an effective effort to foil the efforts of terrorists to carry out further attacks — even though the public has no way to know today if attacks by well-trained, competent terrorists have been planned or attempted in the intervening eight years.
What we do know, and have not dealt with, is that the United States and its allies have done nothing to eliminate the conditions that make it easy for terrorist leaders such as Osama bin Laden to recruit young men and women who are willing to blow themselves up to kill Westerners.
We will know that this goal has been reached when young adult citizens in nations like Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Iran and Indonesia become free to choose fruitful careers, to speak their minds without fear and are not brought up in schools and places of worship that teach hatred of and violence against the West.
Hope has returned to the streets of New York. But the challenge that the disaffected youth of many Muslim nations poses to the Western world has yet to be met.

— Emerson Lynn, jr.