Today is the 12th anniversary of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks against America, and it would be inappropriate to begin this post with anything other than sincere prayers for those who died both on that terrible day itself and later due to injuries or damage suffered that day. May the Lord welcome their souls into eternal rest and grant them peace.
Rather than make this a memorial post, though, today I want to ask a question: what have we learned since 9/11?
Some lessons are obvious: we learned that some Islamic fundamentalist terrorists want to kill Americans, and want to kill us badly enough to plot and carry out an attack that left thousands dead on a single bright September morning. That came as enough of a shock to many of us. I think for me, 9/11 was the day that the last dregs of the Cold War died out in my heart: it was no longer the now-gone Soviet Union we had to fear, but handfuls of men taught hatred in shadowy mountain caves by fanatical extremists who viewed, and still view, America as The Enemy. As the plot unfolded and we read and heard on the news about Osama bin Laden's role, I recalled having read a magazine series about Bin Laden back sometime in the late 1980s or early 1990s, along with an analysis of why he was so dangerous and what ought to be done about it. It seems little short of astonishing to ponder now that some foreign policy analysts recognized the potential danger at least a decade before the attacks; and yet more attention was being paid in official channels at that point to domestic terrorism. Given the Oklahoma City bombing of 1995 it is understandable why that was the case, but hindsight shows with terrible clarity that there were warnings that were missed.
But some lessons are less obvious and/or more alarming to ponder. How much freedom have we given up in the wake of 9/11? Have we really exchanged freedom for actual security, or are we being pacified by the illusion of security while our government intrudes more and more into our lives? Have we learned anything about the danger of being manipulated into supporting wars that really don't further American interests? If we actually are safer now then we were on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, has it cost us too dearly not only in our cherished independence but also in the lives of those men and women sent to fight in Iraq and Afghanistan?
We owe it to our much-mourned dead to ask these kinds of questions seriously, and to think about what we have learned in the last 12 years, and what we still need to learn.