I remember where I was, as I’m sure you do. I remember the feeling of knowing our country was under attack the instant the second plane hit. The feeling grew and hardened when we heard by phone from someone in Washington, before any media reported it, that there was a huge plume of black smoke coming from the direction of the Pentagon. Then there was the news that there was a fourth plane, unaccounted for. I lived between New York and Washington, and therefore very much in the general zone of attack. We didn’t know what else might be in store for us. I hadn’t been this worried about my own personal safety since I’d been in the Air Force and stationed in Japan in 1994, when the North Koreans were rattling their nuclear sabre at the world and it seemed like war might be around the corner. This time I had a family to think about too. But more than fearful or sad on 9-11, I was livid.
I remember a conversation with my wife that day on the phone, after the Pentagon strike. “There’s going to be a war,” she said fearfully. “There had better be,” I replied.
Then the towers came down and dread, sorrow and anger filled our souls. We all feared that the loss of life would reach into the tens of thousands.
I remember saying to a friend a day or two later that we would see the use of nuclear weapons before the coming war was done. I don’t recall saying who would use them, or where.
There was unity in the weeks after 9-11. Nearly everyone recognized the threat for what it was and wanted it dealt with. You couldn’t escape it. Liberals I knew talked of opening up the ANWR for drilling oil, anything to get us to become less connected to the region that had spawned our assailants. The invasion of Afghanistan to topple the Taliban and al Qaeda enjoyed widespread support.
But there were cracks even then. Before I began blogging, I would troll the internet looking for chat boards and other places to read the reactions of average Americans others around the world. I guess I just wanted to see what others were thinking. The press was already talking about the “brutal Afghan winter” and the “graveyard of empires” to the point that the legacy media outlets had already become little more than useless to me. But the defeatist media was obviously even then playing to an audience. On the European boards, President Bush’s “you are either with us or you are with the terrorists” line struck a strange nerve. Over and over, Europeans said (behind the veil of anonymous handles) “then I guess I am with the terrorists, because I hate George Bush and I hate America and cannot side with them.” From all I could tell these weren’t jihadis or even Muslims, just average European lefties venting among friends. I trolled some board or other out of San Francisco, I think it might have been an Indymedia site (I didn’t even know what Indymedia was back then, or what it would become, it was just seemed to be a place people were gathering to talk about events). I spent more than a few late nights there trying to come to grips with the burgeoning anti-America movement (it wasn’t anti-war yet, properly, since the invasion of Iraq was still in the future and the Afghan campaign had barely begun). I tried explaining to a few there that, for all their talk of Bush as Hitler and Republicans as Nazis–talk that also pre-dated the Iraq war–that al Qaeda’s anti-Semitism, its persecution of non-Muslims and gays and in its violence and will to power, it bore much more resemblance to Nazis than any American president ever had or probably could. But I soon realized I was wasting my time there, and left.
Five years on, the most striking change I see having taken place is the stridence and apparent insanity of war critics. We were attacked by a brutal enemy on 9-11, a fact they either dismiss or refuse to acknowledge and understand. The actual changes to civil liberties have been marginal and don’t compare to what Lincoln or FDR did to civil liberties in the course of war. But in this war a coalition of Stalinists, mainstream lefties, some on the right, jihadis, moderate Muslims, cranks and kooks has blown its irrational fears of our own leadership out of all proportion and made 9-11 denial acceptable. They have made it more acceptable to hate Bush and Cheney than bin Laden and Zawahiri. On Fox News, Alan Colmes can say that he is agnostic about what happened on 9-11 and be back the next day to criticize Bush, as though what he had said the night before didn’t qualify him for the looney bin.
Five years on, a psychosis has gripped millions who can’t and won’t fathom the true nature of the war we are in. For many of them, having been born and raised in an essentially post-Christian West, they can’t imagine that anyone might be motivated to kill and die because of something a warlord wrote down centuries ago. They cannot imagine any religion other than the one they believe they have outgrown being violent or causing violence. They cannot imagine anyone fighting for a cause that offers no material gains and therefore cannot be negotiated away. In our essentially materialist West, millions lack the imagination to believe that bin Laden’s pining for the return of Andalusia to Muslim rule is in his mind a legitimate reason to wage war on America now. They can imagine their own countrymen being so motivated, though, and I think that’s key to understanding their state of mind. They can imagine the Rotary Club member down the street plotting mayhem because he goes to church and votes Republican, but they can’t imagine that the Muslim in Karachi is a real, live enemy who is actually plotting an attack.
This lack of imagination has bred the anti-war madness we have now. Rather than accept the reality of an enemy that cannot and therefore will not negotiate away what he believes to be the will of God, and rather than accept that this enemy will understand nothing outside total victory or total defeat, and rather than understand that this enemy’s goals include enslaving the entire world in a global caliphate, and rather than accept that this reality necessitates the use of all tools including military might to defend ourselves, millions have embraced an alternate reality. The reality of the enemy outside the West and its motivations being too terrifying and too far beyond their own control, millions now imagine that the enemy in this war is within. The enemy, to them, isn’t the turbaned man behind the plot to hijack multiple airplanes and crash them into multiple buildings in America. The real enemy, to these millions, is the man in the Oval Office, and the man or men behind him.
Imagining the enemy as a Westerner who has a Western worldview and essentially Western motivations gives these millions the comfort of thinking that they can understand and defeat the enemy easily. They can expose him in the press or on their blog. They can spread the word through a bumper sticker or a sign in their yard. They can vote against him and encourage others to help vote him out. They can impeach him. They can shout and rail at anyone who supports him. They can destroy his political party and ruin his name. They can, in their own minds, win the war on their own terms without exposing themselves to danger. Because they have imagined their own enemy from before that day to be the enemy of civilization. And because it’s not really a war at all, just a made-up threat some evil neocons conjured up to scare everyone into giving them power. And that being the case, the deniers imagine that they can save civilizaton at the ballot box. They don’t have to find out what makes the enemy tick, they don’t have to fight him, and they don’t have to change their fundamental and now obviously flawed assumptions about humanity and the world.
If only it were that easy.
Five years on, the illness of replacing an implacable, indeed alien enemy with one from our own civilizational family has spread and metastasized through the majority of one of our two political parties, and may yet claim a majority of the country itself. History has a way of fading out as the day’s current noise rises in volume, and to them 9-11 is either history or a historic lie. The loudest voice, though not always or even often right, is often the one that gets the last word. And the 9-11 deniers and their allies across the left are nothing if not loud.
Five years on, it’s hard to take a positive look at the war because we are failing to comprehend it. The mass denial of reality is taking half our arsenal of unity and morale away from us. Those of us who see the threat for what it is still say that we will prevail because we are right and because we are America, but that’s just letting the others off the hook. If we’re going to prevail anyway, why should they snap out of their fog? And why should we demand that they do? The truth is, we need the denial to end and we need our countrymen to understand and help, but since we’re powerless to cure it with reason we shrug or laugh at it. But it’s eating away at our ability to defend ourselves.
Five years on, the mistakes are starting to pile up. For a rising dictator, President Bush did precious little to mobilize the masses who once gave him more than 90% approval ratings. He got the Patriot Act and Homeland Security but didn’t increase the overall size of the military to deal with a war that by his own statements would be global in scale. He didn’t ask the American people to sacrifice. He didn’t demand that his earliest critics put up or shut up, when he commanded the political heights. He didn’t take the Democrats seriously when they openly planned to use Congress to sabotage him and the war at the same time and still doesn’t defend himself when they smear him and the troops and undermine the war. And for all the great and grand things he said and did in those days and the days since, he didn’t secure our border and he didn’t even name the enemy.
Five years on, the Democrats have become a party of repulsive clowns who pretend the entire decade of the 1990s never happened. Or their psychosis includes a great deal of convenient amnesia. They remember a photograph with Rumsfeld shaking the bloody hand of Saddam but conveniently forget everything they said in the public record about Saddam Hussein in the 1990s, and about al Qaeda during that same period. They remember and grossly inflate the American relationship with Saddam during the Iran-Iraq war but conveniently forget who bombed a Sudanese pharma factory on suspicion that it was manufacturing WMDs for al Qaeda in partnership with Iraq. They conveniently cut and paste intelligence reports to demonstrate “no link” between Saddam and terror but conveniently forget that the two Abu’s of terrorism–Abu Nidal and Abu Abbas–both resided in Iraq prior to 2003, and that there had been high-level meetings between the Baathists and the jihadists during the 1990s and right up to 2003. They accuse the current president of lying our way into war in Iraq but conveniently forget that a president from their own party tried to convince America that Saddam was a major threat worthy of very serious military action in 2000. They are the party of “never mind.” Or perhaps they said all that back before Bush because they knew all along that as long as one of their own was in the White House, nothing would actually come of all their hot rhetoric. They knew they could count on inaction. They knew Clinton’s public boldness on Iraq was fed more by his own scandals than any real threat, which freed them to talk and act tough in ways that they would never do if they thought it might lead to more than talk. They knew their own words were empty.
Whatever their motivations, roughly half the country and counting refuses to understand the war and its causes. The rest of the West is in worse shape. Europe is all but gone, with sharia in de facto force in many European cities. Britian’s last anti-terror lion is spent and is almost sure to be replaced by someone with anti-American leanings, no matter which party wins the next elections. A majority of Germans would rather see the terror masters in Iran obtain nuclear weapons than see the world use military force to stop it. A majority of Canadians believes we attacked ourselves on 9-11. Mexicans chant “Osama, Osama!” at a soccer match against the American team, Venezuelans join citizen militias to prepare for the American invasion that their dear leader promises is coming, and Latin America is swinging swiftly into the Chinese and Iranian spheres of influence.
Five years on, the West is tired of a war that the jihadis promise is only beginning.
Five years on we seem to be seeing the enemy’s fight to break out of the box that the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq had put him in. Iraq’s slide toward civil war because of Iranian instigation and the Taliban’s resurgence in Pakistan and Afghanistan along with what looks like the end of the Cedar Revolution in Lebanon could be a set of temporary setbacks. They’ll become permanent if we let them, and I worry that war fatigue will keep us from pushing back hard enough to defeat our enemies. Jacksonian American may be fighting hard overseas but it’s flagging on the homefront. The spectre of 9-11 isn’t enough to keep us unified and focused.
So five years on here we are, battle weary and divided across the West and with too many millions of us not even believing that there is a threat that thinks and acts independently of anything we understand as a reasonable motive. Iran is rising as a threat and we’re not rising with enough resolve to counter it. We’re too hung up on moral equivalency, legalism and cultural guilt to defend ourselves against an obviously evil enemy. Too many nurse their own pet nightmares and refuse to look the real nightmares in the face and deal with them. For too many, “We will never surrender” has been replaced with “We will never remember.”
But we should remember. We should remember our dead, look after those they left behind, and do all in our power to make sure no one ever dares strike us again. We have done a good job at the first two for these five years, but the third is a work yet incomplete.