On the 20th anniversary of 9/11, America honors, remembers and learns
Most Americans can still recall the horrible, gut-wrenching events and images from Sept. 11, 2001. Four commercial airliners were hijacked and turned into deadly terrorist weapons.
The 9/11 casualties included almost 3,000 people killed, over 6,000 injured, a significantly damaged Pentagon, and two demolished World Trade Center towers. We actually watched some of the gruesome carnage as it happened.
For 20 years our military has engaged the enemy, costing trillions of dollars and over 7,000 military and Department of Defense civilian lives, including 164 Tennesseans.
Their sacrifices were again made all too real on Aug. 26, 2021 when 13 service members were killed at the Kabul airport during the disastrous withdrawal, including Staff Sgt. Ryan Knauss of Corryton, Tennessee. In a sense, he became one of the latest 9/11 casualties.
Greater scrutiny of future armed conflicts is essential
We mourn the lives lost on 9/11 and honor those heroes whose bravery awed us then and inspires us today – like those of United Flight 93 who attacked their hijackers; like the first responders who rushed toward the danger; and our military heroes who have fought and all too often died to keep us safe.
Perhaps the best way to honor those we’ve lost is to assess what we’ve done well and what we haven’t. Then, incorporate the lessons learned as we move forward.
One lesson is that even though our wars are fought overseas and largely out of sight, they can never again be fought largely out of mind.
Such insufficient scrutiny by the American public breeds inadequate accountability, leading to wars driven by bureaucratic inertia rather than rational thought, resulting in more mistakes, greater costs, unnecessary deaths, blurred goals, inadequate measures of success, and insufficient motivations for closure.
I believe this could be avoided in future conflicts if Americans paid for such ventures in real time. This would incentivize greater scrutiny of any future armed conflict and force ongoing justification for the action.
Imagine if next to FICA in the deductions line on our paychecks we also saw “War on Terror Tax” for the past 20 years. How many more questions would have been asked of our elected officials?
Would Afghanistan and the war have been a topic of conversation in every Presidential debate since 2001? I think so. I think we should commit as a nation that any war we enter should touch everyone. It sure touches our military and their families.
We must reclaim the unity Americans felt after 9/11
Another lesson is how unstoppable America becomes when we’re united, and how debilitating it is when we’re not. Even before the day was done on 9/11, the powerful seeds of unity began growing, and armed with the might that American unity brings, we cleared away the rubble, rebuilt our structures, stabilized our economy, and crushed our adversaries, all relatively quickly.
There was seemingly nothing we couldn’t accomplish.
Unfortunately, we see the exact opposite today. Our country is afflicted with extraordinary disunity, and our federal government is riddled with dysfunction, making it difficult to accomplish much of anything.
But there is hope, and it lies in the spirit of the American people, which was on vivid display as America responded to 9/11. The fundamental American values of freedom, opportunity, ethical institutions, the rule of law, and an environment where all voices may be heard still form the bedrock on which common ground may be found and an unlimited American future can be built.
That is our American birthright, which we can reclaim if, like the 9/11 generation and many before it, we’re willing to nurture, protect, and fight for it. What a great way that would be to commemorate Sept. 11, 2001 on its 20th anniversary.