Generations mark the passage of time by significant events. The oldest generation among us can recall Pearl Harbor or VJ-Day. Subsequent generations remember the assassinations of John and Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr., and younger baby-boomers will recall where they were when they heard the Berlin Wall had fallen. All of these milestones marked the end of the world as the reminiscer knew it. The end of US neutrality in World War II, the end of Camelot or the end of the Cold War. What ended on 9-11, the newest milestone and a first for our youngest generation was the end of our nation's immunity from terrorism.
Before the current millennia, terrorism was seen more as a tool to advance an ideology than a crime in and of itself; terrorists committed crimes against persons or property to further their ideological agenda. But because of the magnitude and success of the attacks launched by Al-Qaida, we have begun to view terrorism itself as a crime which obscures its ideological objectives, to use violence against noncombatants to inculcate fear that coerces others to accede to the terrorists political, social or religious objectives.
If you haven't read the 9-11 Commission Report, the report on the events leading up to and the outcome of the attacks on the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and other targets, you should. In addition to being a riveting read that explains exactly how poorly our intelligence, diplomatic and law enforcement agencies failed their essential tasks, the report also reveals that within hours of the attacks, members of President George W. Bush's administration ordered that investigations be initiated to see if Iraq was culpable in the attacks and doggedly pursued that line of reasoning.
When the Iraq narrative began to unravel, the administration produced ex post facto evidence, that ultimately turned out to be flawed, from foreign intelligence services, to rationalize its focus on Iraq. Despite growing doubts within and outside the government about the threat he posed, the Bush administration pursued a campaign against Saddam Hussein's regime that wasted the lives of our servicemen, the goodwill of our allies and our national treasure while the true perpetrators of the crimes, Saudi citizens working for an organization led by a Saudi, Osama bin Ladin, and facilitated by the government of Afghanistan, the Taliban, were relegated to a sideshow.
The inexplicable intransigence in the Bush administration pursuing the senseless war in Iraq turned the 9-11 attacks from a tactical victory into a strategic victory for Al-Qaeda. While almost 3,000 Americans died on that day, another 4,500 have died in Iraq and the nation's treasury and will have been sapped fighting an enemy that had nothing to do with the attack. If it wasn't so pathetically sad, you might say the terrorists have already won.
But that wasn't Al-Qaeda's only victory. Paranoia from the attacks has created an environment wherein US citizens have begun to accept restrictions on their civil liberties in the name of “security.” President Bush created, and President Obama has continued to support, a $100 billion a year bureaucracy that has capitalized on the fear of terrorism to strip Americans of basic civil liberties: the Department of Homeland Security. This Orwellian organization has sponsored the creation of federal and state government scrutiny and intrusion on the lives of innocent citizens that is rivaled only by the former Soviet Union. Here in Kentucky, the Office of Homeland Security wisely changed their logo for “Eyes and Ears on Kentucky,” a program that encourages neighbors to inform on each other, from a single, Tolkeinesque eyeball to a rifle wielding minuteman, but there is nothing patriotic about the program. Our mobile telephones are monitored, our internet use is tracked and our persons are intrusively searched without warrants at airports, all in the name of security.
Those that defend the war in Iraq or the ongoing violations of our basic civil rights by saying that the US hasn't suffered a successful terrorist attack since 9-11 do not understand the nature of terrorism. Out of fear, we allowed ourselves to be dragged into senseless war in Iraq that has depleted our resources and our will, and we have freely surrendered those civil liberties that make us different from the oppressive ideologies the terrorists represent.
While war must be brought against those who seek to violently destroy our way of life there is more to the war on terrorism, and that is to celebrate and exercise what makes us different from them, our freedom. As we enter our second decade of war with Al-Qaeda, we must pursue with as much vigor our support for our natural way of life as we do our war against theirs, because, if we fail to do so, the terrorists have fundamentally changed us as a nation and have indeed won.