Twelve years ago this morning I was sitting in a seminary classroom, beginning work on my Master’s degree when our class was interrupted with urgent news of an attack on United States soil. Within the hour all students were released for the day to be with their churches, and the rest is history. Looking back on the infamous 9/11 attacks, here are some lessons we’ve learned in the intervening years:
1. Religious extremism has always and will always exist. There will always be those who distort religion to further their own twisted ends. Today we struggle with an extreme version of Islam that espouses martyrdom for a just cause. Before we cast judgment, we need to remember that 1000 years ago it was the Christians through the Catholic Church that promised eternal life to any Crusaders who would join the cause and kill the infidel.
2. The world is unbelievably complicated. With the attacks of 9/11, our complicated relationship with Saudi Arabia was strained as the majority of the airplane hijackers came from one of our closest allies in the Middle East. With today’s situation in Syria, the United States is forced to choose sides between Assad and the rebels, of which neither are good sides for America.
3. The results of our actions in Iraq and Afghanistan are mixed at best. Our impetus to invade Iraq was faulty, but years later Iraq has at least a hope of stability. Our impetus to invade Afghanistan was entirely justified as the home base for Al Qaeda, and yet a dozen years later we’re looking to negotiate peace with some of the very factions we were intent to drive out. Our invasions of the two countries will most likely be saddled with Vietnam as examples of wartime failures by the United States.
4. Americans are now learning the tension between freedom and security. With the recent revelations of the NSA eavesdropping program, Americans learned that their ‘privacy’ is now a thing of past. And yet that lack of privacy understandably foiled numerous attempted attacks on the United States. There hasn’t been a major attack on American soil since 9/11, but at what price?
5. Politicians who run are different creatures than politicians who govern. With no small sense of irony Fox News has been relentlessly playing clips of candidate Obama railing against George W. Bush’s rationale to invade Iraq, because President Obama is now using those same arguments to try and persuade America that intervention in Syria is necessary. Whether Democrat or Republican, political candidates are different creatures than political office holders.
6. George W. Bush’s presidency will be viewed differently as time goes on. At the end of his presidency, Bush had some of the lowest poll numbers in history, universally reviled for his handling of the wars and his seeming disregard for the will of the people. Contrasting President Bush with candidate Obama’s themes of hope and change seemed to doom Bush’s legacy to the ash heap. Now in the second term of his presidency, Obama’s themes of hope and change have gone by the wayside as he faces the grueling realities of governing. All of this will shine a much kinder light on Bush’s presidential legacy.
7. The presidency is the most demanding job in the world and the President needs our prayers. Whether you voted for Obama or not, he’s faced with an unbelievably difficult job, juggling impossible tasks while all the while being sniped at from both sides by armchair presidents. Instead of criticizing, let’s pray for his wisdom and discernment as he leads this nation.
8. There are no easy solutions to terrorism. In 1998, Al Qaeda bombed two of our embassies in Africa. President Clinton chose a limited response of a missile strike. It did not deter or destroy Al Qaeda. In 2001, Al Qaeda conducted the 9/11 attacks. President Bush chose a full-fledged response with invasions in Afghanistan and Iraq, for which he has received horrific vilification. As President Obama deals with Syria, all of his options have been employed recently by past presidents without success. There are no easy solutions to terrorism.
9. There hasn’t been another major attack on American soil since 9/11. You can revile President Bush’s response to the 9/11 attacks. You can disagree with the NSA’s invasion of our digital privacy. But the results are the same: there hasn’t been another major attack on American soil since. We will debate whether the price is too high, but our response has worked.
*10. Most Americans have moved on from 9/11. The passage of time has naturally reduced the shock of the moment, reducing 9/11 to another unfortunate event like the assassination of JFK and the Holocaust: unbelievably tragic, but historical footnotes to most. Life has moved on. We now have Facebook, the iPhone, and are trying to recover from the Great Recession of 2008.
*11. Some families will never recover from 9/11. For 2,977 families, 9/11 wasn’t a faceless tragedy. It was the unspeakable loss of a husband, a mother, a grandfather, a wife. There have been twelves years of birthdays and anniversaries missed, of grandchildren born without a grandparent. While most of us move on, some never will. On this day, they deserve a moment of our prayers.
QUESTION: What other lessons can we learn from 9/11?