Falling Through Fire
posted at 12:50 am on September 11, 2009 by Doctor Zero
When someone told me a plane had just hit the World Trade Center, I thought they meant a Cessna. I would imagine a lot of people had that reaction on 9/11. The truth was difficult to comprehend. The fear we inflict upon ourselves is electric with anticipation. Real horror, dropped before our eyes without warning, is dry and hollow. It can be difficult to focus your eyes on something you never saw coming.
In the afternoon hours of 9/11, everything became possible, except what actually happened. No one could have guessed that al-Qaeda’s attack on America would be defeated aboard United 93, only minutes after it began. I hope, with all the ferocity of a broken heart that will never mend, their defeat came as a stunning surprise to those animals. I hope every one of them died with a passenger’s hands around his throat.
United 93 may have crashed in the fields of Shanksville, but it came to rest in the sands of Omaha Beach, after gliding over the snow of Valley Forge, and it sleeps beneath the quiet midnight stars of Ia Drang. The American Revolution has raged for over two centuries, and one mighty company of heroes has fought through every battle. The proposition that free men cannot be broken by the will of tyrants is a challenge. No one can look at the rowdy, mismatched, vital, beautiful sea of Americans, and doubt that challenge will forever roar beyond our borders. We will liberate the world, eventually, if the tyrants don’t stop us. The enemy keeps returning to that conclusion… usually a few bloody days before we do.
It’s really not surprising that the united American spirit of the days after 9/11 proved to be short-lived. Beneath the political disputes of today turn vast gears of philosophy and doctrine, forged generations ago, by people who looked beyond their own lifetimes. We like to trivialize political disputes, perhaps because most of us understand the love of a single friend is more valuable than a million pages of ideology… and how many people lack at least one friend who disagrees with them? Maybe we also look down at politics because we retain a little of the Spirit of 1776, and dislike the notion that our lives should be shaped by the agenda of others. No matter what we think of them, those vast gears are still there, and nothing could have stopped them from grinding for long.
The idea that we should have given Saddam Hussein the benefit of the doubt on his weapons of mass destruction, and cease-fire violations, always seemed strange to me. In the hours after the World Trade Center fell, a great many Americans wanted to do a lot more than invade Afghanistan or Iraq. We certainly have the power to do a lot more. It is to our eternal credit that we did not use it. In the aftermath of an unspeakably brutal attack, we could have done our worst, but we did our best instead. The flag-draped coffin of an American soldier blazes with the glory of a man or woman who sacrificed everything to defend American lives, while also cherishing the value of innocent foreign lives.
If we are to defeat the evil that brought down the World Trade Center, we must do more than dig a handful of vermin from the mountains of Afghanistan. Brave men and women have made a breathtaking start in Iraq. Celebrating the honor of their achievement does not require us to forget the mistakes our leaders made along the way. Failure to learn from the mistakes made in war is a sin against the fallen. As we measure those mistakes, we should consider that changing a people without destroying them first is the undiscovered country of warfare, and Americans are its lonely pioneers.
Eight years later, it’s a lot to ask people to think about 9/11 every single day. On this one day, at least, we can remember three thousand people who began an ordinary morning, and ended it by falling through fire. It was not a natural disaster, or a “tragedy,” and by God I am weary in my soul of people who amuse themselves by pretending it was a government conspiracy. It was an attack. It was murder. Across the Middle East tomorrow, there will be people who celebrate the murderers. Don’t turn away from the sight. We cannot afford to allow this enemy to become invisible. We can’t afford to let our heroes become invisible, either. The savages with box cutters were real. So were the men who ran into those collapsing towers. In their name, with love for their memory, and luminous with their spirit, we will prevail.