Yesterday was of course the 15th anniversary of the attacks of 9-11. Like most people, I remember that day, that moment when I realized the nation was under attack like no other day in my life. I remember walking into a practically deserted Kroger supermarket near midnight to get some food as I hadn’t eaten much of anything all day and had nothing in the house. It was somber and no one really spoke other than some torpid greeting and a forced smile.
It was literally like the foundations of one’s being had been shaken. War was something you read about in history books… something FDR or LBJ talked about, not something you watched live on your TV on some random Tuesday morning in September. War was something that happened on battlefields in other countries in places where Americans often can’t pronounce or sometimes can’t find on a map, not in New York City and Washington, DC. We had won the Cold War and peace was overtaking the planet. The booming economy of the 1990’s was said to be the direct result of the “Peace Dividend” brought about by Ronald Reagan’s victory. How was something like this even possible?
On Monday America was a bustling marketplace of ideas and commerce combined with might and virtue that was leading the world into its post history phase, one where freedom and free trade and prosperity were things to be striven for, if not always achieved. On Tuesday America was on her knees having been sucker punched in the head and gut while leading the parade of nations towards prosperity. As is often the case with history, it sneaks up from behind and takes hold of your world and rips you from your path and puts you on hers.
Here, fifteen years later I can say that the attacks of 9-11 are one of the most defining moments of my life. Not because I lost any members of my family or any friends or even had my way of life changed significantly. No, the thing I lost was my innocence. For me, September 11th was like some macabre combination of discovering there is no Santa Claus, Easter Bunny or Tooth Fairy all on the same day that you discover that you’re adopted, your wife’s cheating on you with your best friend, your religion is actually a cult and your accountant has stolen all your money. Having grown up on living on military bases around the world and been in the Army myself, I had this illusion that the United States was surrounded by some force field of grace that protected it from such attacks. Of course that force field was made up of the soldiers, sailors, Marines and airmen who worked diligently to protect the country, but those were the machinations that went on behind the curtain while we citizens celebrated holidays, watched football and went about our daily lives.
After 9-11 that all changed. As the truth about the origin of the attacks became clear, as the realization that the United States was not unambiguously seen around the world as a force for good, it became necessary to do some introspection. And I did. And the result is probably not what Osama Bin Laden wanted… at least not with me.
I started writing my blog in 2009 soon after our socialist / fascist president, Barack Obama, began his quest to destroy the United States as the leader of the world. I was sufficiently motivated to do so largely because of 9-11. Why? Because 9-11 forced me to reexamine what I “knew” to be true about my country. I’d grown up saying the Pledge of Allegiance every morning in school, I’d grown up saluting or putting my hand on my heart whenever the National Anthem was played, I’d grown up reading about the United States twice saving the world from world wars that were started elsewhere. I’d grown up knowing that the United States was a force for good.
But having someone viciously attack your country’s two most important cities makes you wonder about that. Watching as millions of people around the world cheered that attack and support its motivations makes you wonder about that. Having millions of Americans agree with the basic premise behind the attacks – although in most cases not the attacks themselves – makes you wonder about America’s goodness.
For me that introspection forced me to question everything that I had believed my whole life… but the funny thing is, that introspection didn’t lead me to hate my country. It didn’t cause me to decide that America was in reality a dark force seeking to pillage and control the entire world. No, in fact, 9-11 forced me to examine the history and nature of the United States and as a result, while I recognize that she is indeed imperfect, it turns out that the United States has been the greatest force for good in all of human history. (Read Paul Johnson’s A History of the American People)
The American Constitution and the freedoms protected within, along with the theory of free markets championed by our founders have brought about more freedom and more prosperity than has ever existed. The history of man is largely one of war, bare sustenance if not abject poverty and of course, oppression. The United States has – as a part of, then the leader of the “West” – helped change that reality for billions of people around the world. The United States has indeed saved the world from two hot world wars, won another cold one, and provided a beacon of hope to people around the world. Millions of people have come to America seeking her freedoms and prosperity while tens of millions more are inspired to try and reproduce some aspects of our experiment in their own nations.
And so it goes that, thankfully, for myself and millions of others, the attacks of 9-11 did the exact opposite of what they were intended to do. They inspired many Americans to reexamine their history and rediscover the moral good that the United States stands for, the economic opportunity she stands for and the framework for freedom our Constitution supports. While I cannot be thankful for the events that occurred 15 years ago or for the carnage that has followed, I take joy in the fact that they reinvigorated a patriotism that had become mundane, they forced me to cherish not only our freedoms but the mechanisms by which they came to be and how they are secured. And perhaps most of all they forced me to recognize that such freedoms, while granted by God, exist in a world of men and must be prized, protected and promoted in order to endure. And I’m not alone. That’s what you call a silver lining…