Like many people I’ve been viewing and reviewing the images of the September 11, 2001 attacks. And,
Until today I had made a conscious decision not to review those images of shock and fear, of pain and of loss. Frankly, I’ve had enough on my plate just dealing with my own life and the monsters that populate my personal nightmares without adding even more visions of horror.
Still, with all that has happened since, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the hunt for those responsible and the death of the architect of that terror; I decided that I would try to revisit those days of fear and death. I have come to the conclusion that everyone involved did the very best they could given such an inconceivable situation. We all did what we had to do.
There has been much talk about how our government and we as a nation responded to the attacks and, in hindsight, what should have been done or not done. There is no primer for how to live in a country that is suddenly thrust into a war of smoke and shadows. It’s a war against fanatics and cowards who shoot us in the back from the security of dark alleys. I don’t think we could or should have done anything different.
What President Bush said and did occurred in a crucible of fire and blood and none of us are qualified to judge his actions, particularly in the days and weeks immediately after the attacks. There is no briefing for a president whose country is suddenly subject to cowardly attacks by a largely unidentified enemy whose goals and agendas don’t follow any kind of reasonable political or military pattern.
The American people needed explanations and reassurances that simply were not available in any form that the general public was prepared at that time to understand or accept. We needed an identifiable enemy and we needed to know that those responsible would pay for their actions. We needed someone to tell us that, while the horror we experienced was beyond our understanding, it was not beyond the president’s understanding or that of his advisors. We needed to believe that he knew what to do and how to do it. But in the immediate aftermath, he didn’t; nobody did. Nobody could.
However, he did what he could, he did what he thought was best in a situation that no one, anywhere was trained to deal with. The comparisons to December 7, 1941 are inevitable but the situation is not even close to comparable. While FDR was also faced with a “sneak attack,” that attack came from an immediately identifiable enemy with a specific and known location. There is no way that anyone, any one, could have done any better. Perhaps someone else would have done things differently, although the situation itself limited the available alternatives.
Should our government have anticipated the attacks? Yep, but we should have too. Despite our fatuous, self-satisfied complacency and belief that we were somehow immune to realities the rest of the world lived with, that probability was brought home to all of us in 1993 and the use of commercial airliners as weapons of terrorism became commonplace back in the halcyon days of sky-jacking in the 1970’s. Any American citizen, to say nothing of any American politician, alive after December 7, 1941 could have and should have anticipated the possibility of another sneak attack. Any adult even remotely conscious after February 26, 1993 should have anticipated the probability of this specific type of attack. An indictment of President Bush and his administration is unfair, inaccurate and just plain stupid.
Were things done that turned out to be wrong? Yeah. Were actions taken that had unforeseen results or consequence? Absolutely. Were decisions made that might have benefited from a delay for more information? Maybe. But, remember what life was like immediately after the attacks, we wanted answers, explanations, reassurances and we wanted vengeance. Oh, I know it’s now fashionable to say otherwise and many people try to deny it but, if we are honest with ourselves, we wanted revenge on whoever was responsible for the murder of our people and, perhaps more importantly, the murder of our sense of security. We wanted them publicly paraded and summarily executed in a way that was both painful and prolonged.
So, I come back to what led me to write this in the first place, the assorted replays of that time and the visions of horror and my current reaction to them. Perhaps being a military veteran affects my perspective and my reaction, I don’t know and, really, I don’t care. Even now, knowing what I know now, my reaction is exactly as visceral and exactly the same as it was that bright day in September 2001: “They don’t get to win!”
Saddam Hussein and, by extension, the nation and people of Iraq; Osama bin Laden, who was sheltered in Afghanistan and welcomed, admired and supported by the Afghani government and most of the Afghani people had not been shy about how they felt about the US and what they wanted to do to us. They hated us, they wanted to bring us down, they wanted us gone and they still do.
That there were actual weapons of mass destruction in Iraq is not open for debate, Hussein himself admitted to them on various occasions. That they were moved, and perhaps removed from Iraq, once we carried the war to them is also not open for debate. That bin Laden designed, facilitated, ordered and, later proudly claimed responsibility, for the unwarranted attacks on the US is also not up for discussion.
There are large numbers of people in the Middle East and the rest of the world who still feel exactly the same as Hussein and bin Laden. Many of them have said so publicly and repeatedly; they are still our enemies and they have not abandoned the goals and agendas of Hussein and bin Laden and, as we have had cause to know, will still do whatever they must and whatever they can to destroy the US.
We have not found specific WMD’s in Iraq, it took us years to get bin Laden and now he’s dead and can’t be questioned (if one believes what we have been told about that operation) or brought to the bar and held accountable. We have had the so called “scandals” of the Abu Ghraib prison and that at Guantanamo Bay with its “mistreatment” of detainees and waterboarding or other forms of what some people call “torture”. Some of it is torture but it is also sometimes the only recourse in the exigencies of war. There have been military missteps and scandals both overseas and here at home. All of which have been decried by various factions including celebrities most of whom have no experience with military service let alone actual combat or functional politics, rather than that of the pretty pink ponies and pixie dust variety, in an unfriendly world.
Here at home we’ve got Homeland Security, the Transportation Security Administration and the Patriot Act. All of which, I will admit give me cold chills. But there has always been a tradeoff between national security and national freedom as well as personal security and personal freedom. Personally, in the case of the former two, I watch the watchers and if necessary take evasive action. In all four cases, I maintain a balance between them by being careful, owning weapons and practicing with them.
We have learned to live in a new, unsafe world. Oh, it was always unsafe but now we all know about it because it has come to roost on our own doorstep. All the hand-wringing and knee-jerking by Fluffy, Muffy and Steve will not change the fact that a large proportion of the world just doesn’t like us and they would prefer that the US be a vacant lot or a large, empty hole in the ground. That being the case, while I am not thrilled with what must be done to keep unfriendly strangers from maiming and killing our citizens, I’m ok with it. I’m ok with all of it. I would far rather that it be our enemies that are killed and/or tortured than our people.
So, whatever it takes; They don’t get to win!