Anniversary time for remembering, not protesting

Published 12:00 am Saturday, September 11, 2010

Nine years ago today, the unthinkable happened. America was attacked at home, in a way she hadn’t been since the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor.

Only this time, she wasn’t attacked by a nation on the offensive, but by members of the terrorist group al Qaeda. The prevailing image of that day is of planes crashing into Manhattan’s Twin Towers; of continuous coverage of a smoky, fearful city; of heroic efforts by rescue workers.

The long shadows of the Twin Towers sometimes hide from our memories the simultaneous attack on our military headquarters, the Pentagon, and the planned attack on the U.S. Capitol that was thwarted by brave passengers of the fourth flight hijacked that day.

The attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, plunged America into World War II, which formally ended less than four years later, when Japan surrendered on Sept. 2, 1945.

Nine years later, America is still fighting her War on Terror in response to the 9/11 attacks. First, we invaded Afghanistan, whose Taliban government harbored al Qaeda.

“Our ‘war on terror’ begins with al Qaeda, but it does not end there. It will not end until every terrorist group of global reach has been found, stopped and defeated,” then-President George W. Bush told us.

By March 2003, the War on Terror led us to combat in Iraq. And while the Iraqi government was toppled in May of that year, it was only this month, on Sept. 1, 2010, that U.S. combat operations officially ended in Iraq. Still, 50,000 U.S. troops remain there, charged with providing support for Iraqi locals.

The attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, happened in the seeming blink of an eye, yet they have shaped our course for almost a decade. If intelligence had allowed us to stop the attacks, the 3,000 people who died that day would be with us; the thousands who have died in the War on Terror would be alive; what good might have been done with the untold dollars and lives spent in this effort? Conversely, what would have happened if we had not responded aggressively? Would the attacks have continued?

Yes, 9/11 shaped us, continues to shape us, and will into the foreseeable future. Perhaps the best lessons learned are those taught by the heroes of that day who selflessly worked to rescue others before and after the towers fell.

Let us today remember those heroes and all of those whose lives were lost nine years ago and in the days since rather than be distracted by the rhetoric of those who would use the anniversary to burn books and mount protests. There are 364 other days of the year in which to do that.