This is something I wrote on September 13, 2001. It wasn't meant for anyone other than my wife, Wendy. My parents were visiting us in California on 9/11 and, like many others, we were stunned by what had happened just two days prior. I struggled to find a way of telling Wendy what I thought so I sat down and started writing.
I hadn't re-read the piece since I originally wrote it. Having re-read it today, it rekindled many of the thoughts, emotions and resolve of eight years ago.
I’m sitting in my office thinking of the events over the past few days. I find it difficult to continue working knowing the pain and horror that my fellow man is still experiencing. Those families who have lost loved ones, those heroic and feverish attempts to find survivors in New York City, those attempting to recover parts of our nation’s military headquarters and those forced to clean up the remains in Pennsylvania are constantly at the center of my thoughts. I believe this nation will survive, will become stronger and will persevere just as we have throughout our short history. Yet, the immediacy of the current suffering is impossible to fathom.
I’m surprised about that which makes me emotional. I’ve always felt strong in the face of adversity and have never felt that I was one to panic. I can detach myself and watch the surreal images of planes penetrating the World Trade Center buildings and think of the engineering stresses placed on both plane and building. I can intellectually analyze the steps necessary to dig through the rubble, recover and perhaps even rebuild. I can even watch with a detached curiosity the explanations as “talking heads” parade across the television screen with endless drivel and equally endless brilliant insight regarding these events.
But there’s something that causes tears to well up in my eyes and causes me to choke up. No matter how many times I see it. No matter how many different ways it is presented. I am unable to maintain my steadfast composure when I see how people pull together. When I read about individuals putting the safety of the group ahead of their own I get teary eyed. When I hear stories about people grouping together to overcome adversity I get choked up. When I see the endless ability for perfect strangers to band together and do what’s right I have to look away lest I completely lose all composure.
In “The American Crisis”, Thomas Paine eloquently captured a thought that applies today, “THESE are the times that try men's souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph.”
These are the times that also try the soul of the nation. We will learn if this nation has the ability to withstand the external forces of evil that attempt to destroy civilization. Let there be no doubt that this is evil. Nothing short of pure evil could hatch and execute the monstrous plans that have destroyed so many lives. The people who perpetrated these crimes against humanity are not fighting for freedom – they are fighting to eliminate the freedom of others. They are fighting to eliminate our freedom – to take away from us what our forefathers worked so hard to give us.
This nation faces a test unlike any we’ve ever seen before. As a nation, we’ve fought against evil many times. However, this is the first time we’ve faced such a massive and cowardly enemy. An enemy that has to hide behind lies and deceit is cowardly. An enemy that can only lash out at unarmed, faceless civilians is cowardly. We cannot and must not allow such an evil coward to continue to exist on this planet.
There are many debates that we will face as we move forward. There are many emotions that we will feel in the days and weeks ahead. There will be many arguments against the swift sure actions we must take to ensure the safety of future generations in this country and around the world.
There are those that are concerned that our enemy is the small set of individuals that perpetrated this heinous crime. Our enemy is more than that. Our enemy consists of those individuals that acted, those individuals that aided and those nations that gave succor to these enemies. I have heard some argue that we can’t violate the rights of sovereign nations where these armies of terrorists may live and train. I argue that sovereignty entails much more than just the right to be free from outside influence; it also carries with it the responsibility to not allow attacks to emanate from within one’s own borders. Those nations that encourage, or simply allow terrorists to reside within their borders, to allow these bearers of evil to train for these attacks have failed to uphold their sovereign responsibility. They have abdicated their responsibilities to the community of nations that make up this planet and, therefore, can no longer expect to hide behind the “right of sovereignty”.
Some have argued that attacking countries that harbor these doers of evil will alienate and anger our allies in the mid-east. I argue, who cares? These “allies” have angered us by allowing their brethren nations in the region to continue to operate terrorist cells and training camps. Those who do not fight this evil with us are against us and are against civilization. If they are angered, so be it. If they are reluctant to join us, allow them to stand-alone, outside the community of nations that abhor evil. If they fight against us then they shall bear the brunt of our forces.
To those that argue for proportional response, whatever that may be, I argue that there is no longer room for “proportional response”. We must eliminate the tyranny of evil that poisons the well from which we all drink. To think that we are simply punishing a criminal for a single act is to ignore the reality of today’s situation.
I’ve read arguments that if Afghanistan turns over Osama bin Laden that we can then step down our military responsiveness. Again, this is not about a single individual who committed a single crime. This is about a web of evil that poisons the world. The Taliban had their opportunity to turn over bin Laden – they failed. The Taliban had their opportunity to reign in bin Laden – they failed. The Taliban could have done what was right – they failed. If Afghanistan is the center of bin Laden’s world then we must destroy that center as surely as we must destroy any cancer that invades us and threatens to end civilization.
Some have even argued that unless Osama bin Laden can be proven to be behind this evil act then we must leave him and Afghanistan alone. Hogwash – Osama bin Laden has already been proven to be behind multiple attacks against innocent people, including the first attack against the World Trade Center. Regardless of his complicity in the most current attack, he must be turned over now. We must not allow any of these bearers of evil to continue to operate.
To those that argue that we may be biting off more than we can chew and those that argue that we could end up in a long, messy war, I can only say that you are right. As Thomas Paine said, “Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph.” Let there be no doubt that we are fighting hell itself.
To those that argue that innocent lives will be lost – I agree. I happen to believe that fewer innocent lives will be lost if we take this burden unto ourselves and eliminate this scourge before another day passes. We are charged with protecting the lives of tomorrow’s innocents as well as today’s. Let us vow to create a more innocent world for the generations that follow us.
It is not the time for compromise as one can never compromise with evil. Some say that evil begets evil and that war is evil. I say that evil begets evil and best to eliminate evil altogether. This is the good fight. This is what will either unite us or destroy us. I believe in America and that for which we stand. I believe that we will unite to destroy this evil. I believe we have no choice.
Now is the time to take our greatest asset, our definition as a nation of individuals and prove to the world what we have proven in the past – that we are a nation united, in purpose and deed. We value individual freedoms above all; now we must unite as individuals to fight this evil. It is time for us to do what past generations have done for us – sacrifice today so that future generations will be better off.
We have been lucky for the past thirty years as we were able to rely on small groups of Americans to sacrifice for all of us. It is now time for each and every one of us to shoulder this burden, for all of us to lead each other and for all of us to follow the righteous road that will allow us to eliminate this evil from our children’s world.
Many of us will falter along the way. Some of our leaders will falter as well. It is not the time to criticize and point out shortcomings. It is the time to aid those who falter, to stand with them shoulder to shoulder and lead with them. In times of crisis we want to look to someone who will have all the answers. No one has all the answers for today’s problems. We must find the answers together. We must stand united, we must keep our focus on the target, we must eliminate this evil – we have no choice.
We are at a turning point for our nation and for the world. We can allow this evil to continue to exist or we can choose freedom and civilization. We are at war. We have been attacked repeatedly. We didn’t choose to enter this war. We must not shrink from our duty to end this war.
I hope and pray that we will have the strength to enter into this conflict united and to have the endurance to see it to its end.
Today, on September 11, 2009, I fear that we do not "have the endurance to see it to its end."
I hope I am wrong. I will never forget.