September 11, 2006
It hasn't felt strange -- Bellingham, Washington is a great little city, and my family and I have slipped right into place here -- but this weekend I noticed that I'm really not on the east coast anymore.
We watched the ABC television special, part one, last night about "The Path to 9/11". The show lasted two hours and forty minutes. Immediately after the final scenes they switched over to the local ABC affiliate, "Komo 4", and the news anchor previewed the local newscast that was about to come on. She mentioned a "local 9/11 survivor" who had consented to be interviewed.
She ran a clip from the interview, and introduced the clip by explaining how the man was trapped on the 51rst floor of the north tower of the World Trade Center. She mentioned that he was in the tower for over an hour, just until the south tower was attacked as well, and then he escaped.
I noticed her timeline was off, because I knew the south tower was attacked less than a half hour after the north tower. My reaction was, "Wow, how could she say something like that? How could she not know?" And I soon realized that perhaps she wasn't such an unusual person in her ignorance.
I remembered that at 8:45 am New York time, when the first plane hit, it was only 5:45 am Washington time. By the time the twin towers had both collapsed, a lot of people in Washington were still just starting their morning routines. When you also consider that 9/11 survivors are not such a queer animal back in New York, you can see how attitudes and just the simple impact of the attacks on people's consciousness might be very, very different out here than back in New York.
For a long time after the jihadi attacks, I had a hard time looking at the skyline in New York from various angles and not noticing that the WTC is no longer standing there where it used to be. It always registered for a couple of years in my brain that there was an empty space. But now I feel a mildly raw numbness in my mind in that part of my mental map of New York City where the WTC used to be, and I no longer actively think about the gap in the skyline every time I see it. I think a lot more about Iraq and Afghanistan and Iran nowadays than I think about the September 11th attacks and the WTC and the damaged Pentagon.
Steven Den Beste (see this post for some background) has a post up today at the "Chicago Boyz" group weblog. He titles the piece "The Disunited States of America". It's a good summary of what the impact of the jihadi war has been on the U.S.
The U.S. didn't pay a lot of attention to Islamist terrorists before September 2001. Since the jihadis are attention-seeking murderers, a policy of just trying to keep a lid on them seemed like a logical, even reasonable response. We didn't want to feed the martyr-wish of the fanatical foot-soldiers, or play the role in their script that was allotted to the Great Satan.
Even if some people wanted to ruthlessly attack the terrorists and their sponsors, the U.S. political leadership had not tried very hard to mobilize the country. President Clinton didn't even do much to make the country pay attention. When the jihadis bombed the WTC with a rental van back in 1993, his decision not to visit Ground Zero seems to have been part of a broader decision to keep up a public display of business-as-usual. Yet without some kind of mobilization, there wasn't a lot we could do beyond intelligence work, manhunts, and criminal prosecution.
If the strategy of containment-but-not-engagement had not been truly discredited in the years and decades leading up to 9/11/01, it certainly lost most of its remaining credibility afterwards. The jihadis were not going to go away unless we were going to make them.
Five years later, I'm optimistic that we are doing a good job in fighting the Islamo-fascists. The widespread, although mostly passive, opposition among Americans to our soldiers' fighting in Iraq may have emboldened the Iranians to challenge us and our allies. But if that is the worst thing that happens in the War on Islamic Terror, then we are probably in pretty good shape.
In any case, we can only do the best we can and adapt to whatever the enemy throws at us. We seem to have the strength, the raw resources to handle most any problem. We just need to be brave, to figure out the right things to do, and then have the confidence that we're doing the right thing.
Update: Victor Davis Hanson is a military historian who has written a lot of commentary about the War on Islamic Terror. He recently wrote a post about the need to have confidence in the correctness of our fight: "The Will of the President".