Special to WorldTribune.com
We all remember where we were on September 11, 2001. We all remember with sheer disbelief watching the unfolding horror and the realization that “it could happen here.”
We all remember and vowed to never forget the Al Qaida terrorist attacks on America, and as importantly, ensure that they never happen again.
As I wrote that fateful day, “On a picture-perfect clear September morning, the Grim Reaper visited New York.” The azure blue of that sunny day was shattered by hijacked airliners being flown into the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center, and into a side of the Pentagon.
I vividly recall seeing the Twin Towers burning from a few miles away, standing like two giant smokestacks against the panoramic sky in lower Manhattan. My memories are as surrealistic as they are painfully poignant. As I penned on that day, this unprovoked attack “became this generation’s Pearl Harbor.”
The attackers came from a violent and hateful ideology, not a formal state as was Imperial Japan when they attacked the U.S. Navy base in Hawaii. The surprise December 7th assault came from a formal State with a fixed address; Tokyo. In the case of the Al Qaida attacks on America, the terrorists represented a murky Islamic fundamentalist ideology operating from the vastness of Afghanistan’s Islamic Emirate. The subsequent military counter-strike on Afghanistan, the toppling of the Taliban regime and the hunting down of Bin Laden network soon followed.
Each year the somber commemorations in New York recall, revere and respect the fallen. Each year the commemorations try to evoke not only the pain and fury of that fateful September day, but the sacrifice and the heroism too. Thus, the annual respect for the fallen is a kind of Celebration of Life rather than a wake for the dead.
Now the 20th anniversary year is upon us. The political optics of September 11th commemorations always attempt to recreate that fleeting moment when the USA was united as One and steadfast in the mission to track down the terrorists. The remembrances in New York, the Pentagon and Shanksville, Pennsylvania are but a somber reminder of America being jolted into a reality long present in so many parts of the world facing terrorist violence.
Indeed, the unprecedented Unity which America experienced following the attacks is long gone and replaced by bitter divisions, revisionist recriminations, and even airbrushing the 9/11 story.
Nearly 3,000 civilians were murdered that fateful day. Some 343 members of FDNY died in a heroic but fateful rescue attempt. Twenty-three NYPD and 37 Port Authority police were killed. And many thousands more people both among first responders and civilians are still affected by post-9/11 illnesses.
The Losses, the Sacrifice and the Memories continue.
They form what I call the Legion of the Silent, those who fell on September 11th and still remain in our memories and our prayers. But they are gone forever. Their kids are grown up and in college, indeed many serve in the military or among first responders. Some are now part of that thin blue and red line, the police and the fire department, who protect us 24/7 to use the phrase, and still do so.
But there is another stunning reality facing us this September 11th. We are living through the immediate aftermath of the fall of Afghanistan and the return of the Taliban regime we helped topple twenty years ago. History indeed has a strange, if not bitter way, of repeating itself.
The safe havens Al Qaida once had in Afghanistan could soon be back. Afghanistan is yet again run by the Taliban fundamentalists. American honor has been stained and bloodied with the fall of Kabul. Were the lives of 2,400 U.S. troops over twenty years, and 13 more just two weeks ago, been in vain? Were more than 20,000 injuries in Afghanistan so quickly forgotten?
History seems to be scolding us for the lessons we never seem to learn. The precipitous U.S. pullout from the strategic Bagram Airbase, signed off on by President Biden himself, tipped the scales and psychologically devastated the wavering Afghan military. Defeat was in the air. Then leaving $85 billion in munitions and Military material from Humvees to Helicopters to fall into enemy hands. And abandoning so many American citizens after the chaotic Kabul Airlift.
“Biden’s debacle” headlined Britain’s respected but left-leaning Economist magazine.
Now that the war in Afghanistan has ended with a Taliban victory, the U.S. faces an energized jihadi international movement planning its next move.
John J. Metzler is a United Nations correspondent covering diplomatic and defense issues. He is the author of Divided Dynamism the Diplomacy of Separated Nations: Germany, Korea, China (2014). [See pre-2011 Archives]