This is the eighth anniversary of the September 11th terrorist attacks. Much
like the assassination of Kennedy and the destruction of Challenger,
this day is the one that my generation will say “I remember where I was
I was in my senior year at Texas A&M. My
alarm clock went off just long enough for me to hear a blurb about the
“events in New York City” and the tone of the DJ suggested something
bad had happened. Minutes later, my mom called. She
told me that terrorists had flown planes into the World Trade Center
and made me promise that I wouldn’t quit school and go enlist.
I remember telling her “of course not” and that I loved her. I then got ready for the day and walked from my Northgate apartment to the Bright Building for my class. The attacks were all anyone could talk about. There were several students of Middle Eastern descent in my cohort and they were all concerned about reprisals. We all agreed that this meant war on whomever was responsible.
After my class, I went to the McDonald’s on Northgate to grab something to eat and wait for my next class. I watched the World Trade Center building smoulder on the TVs. I knew that it wasn’t just debris falling from the sky, too. The first tower then collapsed and the normal cacophany of the restaurant went silent.
The greatest symbols of American military and economic might were devastated. An
even worse tragedy – the likely destruction of the US Capitol Building
– was narrowly averted thanks to cell phones and the bravery of
ordinary people over the skies of Pennsylvania. America was suddenly, abruptly, and irreversibly brought to face the threat from religious extremists.
In response, the great machinery of the US national security apparatus went into high gear. With
almost universal international support, we invaded Afghanistan to go
after Osama bin Laden and the Taliban regime that harbored him and his
foreign fighters. Though I kept my promise to my mother not to enlist, I, too, joined in the War on Terror as an intelligence analyst.
was in that period of my life that I learned what such action really
meant, how complicated the world really is, and that the law of
unintended consequences always reigns supreme. I didn’t know how much I didn’t know until I saw it with my own eyes.
our fear after 9/11 drove our government to make decisions that I do
not believe were in our long-term best interests. I do not believe we should have expanded the practice of extraordinary rendition. I do not believe we should have instituted the enhanced interrogation techniques. I do not believe we should have invaded Iraq.
such an invasion was inevitable, we should have done it with enough
troops to actually secure the country and a clear counterinsurgency
plan should have been rolled out immediately. By our
arrogance, we gave the jihadists a “cause célèbre,” as the Intelligence
Community said in one of their assessments, and seem to have forgotten
the lesson of Vietnam – it doesn’t matter how many battles you win
against the other side if you lose political goodwill.
There is still much work to do, though. Osama bin Laden is still out there. Jihadist
groups like al Qaeda have adapted with greater decentralization in
response to the more intense pressure we’ve brought to bear. However, we honor those who died on 9/11 by staying true to our system of laws and individual freedom. We honor them by taking the fight to the enemy, but not becoming monsters ourselves in the process. Not
only must we remember what we lost on that fateful day, we must also
remember Hannah Arendt’s cautionary tale of the “banality of evil.”
I leave you with the words of Edmund Burke, the father of classical liberalism.
“When bad men combine, the good must associate; else they will fall one by one, an unpitied sacrifice in a contemptible struggle.“