When the towers fell fifteen years ago, the world changed. We couldn’t know then how profound the impact of those despicable terror attacks would be, or that all these years later the United States and the world would still be reeling from the consequences.
In the years leading up to 9-11, I was cynical about politics, to say the least. I recall the embassy bombings in Africa and the attack on the U.S.S. Cole, and at the time, I wondered whether this was something our own leaders had cooked up to distract the country from the investigation into the Clinton administration, in some sort of “Wag the Dog” scheme.
But watching the Twin Towers crash down against the crisp September sky, I saw evidence that evil existed, and that it was here. Those attacks pierced our collective sense of imperviousness to attack, destroyed our security, and kept us awake at night. There was much fear during the first few weeks. I was on an empty flight from Nashville to Charlotte the day that commercial flight was opened up. There were about ten people on the entire plane. A middle-eastern man boarded ahead of me, and I sat directly behind him. Another pretty big guy sat across the isle from me, and we looked at each other and nodded without speaking. If that guy with a beard even coughed wrong, we’d have beaten him to death. After we landed, the poor guy turned around and smiled at us, and I saw that he had a shirt with “I love Jesus” written on it.
When President Bush gave a speech from the still smoking ground zero, I thought to myself, “Thank God Bush won, and not Al Gore.” For evil must be defeated; it cannot be ignored. When the President talked about a war on terror, that sounded right, a call to action backed by force and resolve.
I was watching a Gator football game with friends when the news broke that the bombing had begun in Afghanistan, and I cheered along with the rest of the bar to shots of entire mountainsides going up in flames. There was a certain fulfillment in seeing that, a kind of gratfication. People started chanting “USA!” I was probably one of them.
In March, when the United States began bombing Baghdad, I was riveted to my television, hypnotized and thrilled by the images of flames blossoming into the night sky. When the President landed on an aircraft carrier, I applauded the swift and just victory.
I was swept up in the drama and the patriotism like most of the country at the time. The yellow ribbons and bumper stickers. It cost me nothing.
A price too high
I was writing songs in Nashville at the time, but in my day job I was a salesman, and many of my long-time customers were soldiers with the 101st Airborne. I met wives who lost husbands, children who lost their daddies. The toll continued to rise over the years, and I met men who suffered from PTSD after multiple deployments. Folks I’d known for years saw marriages crumble around them.
Those men and women paid a price that I did not. For most of us, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were wars we watched on television. I had a friend of mine who came back from his second tour of Iraq, and he wasn’t the same man anymore. He’d gone in full of enthusiasm, and emerged with something taken from him. I never pried, because I wasn’t there, couldn’t share that particular bond with him. One night, though, after a few too many drinks, he told me. He talked about the boredom, the fear, and the intense adrenaline rush of combat, how it’s almost addictive. And how he’d watched some of his brothers die in front of him, and how he couldn’t stop seeing it.
America’s longest war is still being fought, and our men and women who served the country are not being taken care of properly. It is shameful.
The 9-11 attacks lead directly to the invasion of Iraq. Clearly, that war was a mistake of catastrophic magnitude. Without proper intelligence, we destroyed the infrastructure of a country that posed no significant or direct threat to the U.S. The Bush-Chenny administration went to war assuming that democracy was the solution, and that if we rebuilt what we destroyed, we would have a new ally in the middle-east, in the same way that after WW II Japan and West Germany became allies.
Those assumptions ignored the history of sectarian violence in the region and the vast cultural differences between the East and the West. The fighting between Suni, Shia, Kurd, and Jew dates back more than a thousand years. What hubris to think for a moment that democracy and tanks could solve the underlying issues.
Now, with Iraq and the entire region destabilized, ISIS poses more of a threat than Al-Queada ever did. With systemic bombings and attacks throughout Europe, ISIS has proved to be resilient, resourceful, and deadly. They continue wage a war of terror on the west, escalating and improving their tactics.
Unfortunately, the United States played directly into the terrorist’s hands. Terrorists win by instilling fear. The west is convulsing with fear at the moment, with nationalist movements sweeping Europe, and Trump’s rising popularity in the U.S. Terrorist’s win when we loose our civil liberties and change our way of life. We are now openly debating unraveling the Constitution of the United States by doing things like banning Muslims, restricting free speech, and allowing survailance at unprecedented levels. Torture, drone strikes against American citizens, and impeding upon the freedom of religion are diametrically opposed to the values our country was founded upon. That’s what the terrorists want.
Furthermore, when we begin to use language that makes it seem that we are at war with an entire religion, the terrorists celebrate. This plays directly into the terror handbook. They want to convince recruits that the west is bent upon another crusade, because it makes recruiting easy.
The Next War
I pray that before we send our citizens to fight again, we will have all of the facts straight. I hope that my sons don’t fall in some far-off place because people like me cheered from bars. And I pray that when we go to war the next time, the reasons will be just and true.
I pray that history does not remember 9-11 as the beginning of the end for this great nation.