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Monday, September 11, 2006
Thoughts on September 11

Miscellaneous thoughts on September 11, five years later.

It was early evening before the day's labors receded and my thoughts turned to September 11. When they did, they -- that is, my thoughts -- did not array themselves in a coherent, logical, structured essay. I wrote such a thing once and later published it here at the blog in two parts: Looking Back: 9/11, Part One and Looking Back: 9/11, Part Two.

But if you only have time, patience, or fortitude for one article about September 11, on this fifth anniversary, you should read Peggy Noonan's from last Friday, not mine from yesteryear. (Now I tell you.)

The Home Field Disadvantage

Unless I have forgotten some essential history, no one now alive can remember the last time -- prior to September 11, 2001 -- there was a major foreign attack (military or terrorist) on one of the states of the Union, let alone three. (Hawaii and Alaska were not states in 1941.) And no one alive today can remember anyone who could remember the last time a foreign army occupied part of the United States. (I'm not counting territories such as Guam, which the Japanese occupied in World War II.)

There's an important home field advantage in sports. In war, the opposite is true. Fighting wars in someone else's country devastates families, the economy, and political life. Fighting wars on one's home turf destroys everything. Ask Japan or Germany or Russia, or read the history of our own Civil War. Far better to invite terrorists to fight us in Iraq than Indiana.

Making a habit of fighting wars abroad (as opposed to doing it at home) requires some extra airplanes and ships. But it also includes the real risk that the public, which does not see the enemy firsthand, will lose its will to win, or even lose interest, before what must be done has been done. I'm not at all sure that we have the intelligence, historical sense, and moral courage for a long war. We'll see.

Twin Necessities

Any war which must be fought -- like the current one -- is also a war which must be won. This is true even if -- perhaps especially if -- it is against an unusual enemy who defies definition and who is motivated by a religious agenda which is medieval in every uncomplimentary sense of the word. And who flies airplanes.

Lincoln, Gettysburg, Ground Zero

Is it possible that the shade of Abraham Lincoln hovers over Ground Zero in Manhattan, silently intoning familiar, slightly edited words from Gettysburg?

Four score and seven years ago [now eleven score and ten], our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great . . . war, testing whether that nation, or any nation, so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate -- we can not consecrate -- we can not hallow -- this ground. The brave men [and women], living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. . . . It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us -- that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion -- that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain -- that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom -- and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

If . . .

If the enemy of my enemy is my friend, is the friend of my enemy my enemy? Is the enemy of my friend my enemy?

Ahem. Did I just question the loyalties (or at least the judgment) of much of the BMA and the vocal, Bush-hating, antiwar part of the Democratic Party?

Yes, I do believe I did. Maybe you should, too.

Not all the enemies are abroad or here under deep cover. What will it take to frustrate the ones that are here in the open? Is persuasion sufficient? Or will we have to see one of our cities destroyed by a nuclear weapon?

More Things to Read

Finally, if you're looking for more of the recent commentary on 9/11, and you don't want to wait for my Saturday reading list, here's what I've liked so far on the subject. (Peggy Noonan's essay is still the best.)

  • Chuck Colson lists things we've learned and things we haven't since September 11.
  • Leonard Pitts, Jr., writes: "That's the lesson of these last five years, that there is no vacation from history, no finish line you cross where you can raise your arms and lower your guard. Chaos is not the aberration. Respite from chaos is. And being human means molding yourself to that reality, finding a way to live in the spaces chaos leaves."
  • Kevin Hassett looks at the economic aftermath of September 11, closing an intelligent analysis with this: "Regardless of the damage Bin Laden inflicted on western economies with his heinous attacks, the harm he has done to the standard of living of the Muslims throughout the Middle East is far worse. If 9/11 had never occurred, we would all be better off, but the biggest economic winners might have been the world's Muslims."
  • Jed Babbin looks ahead to the tenth anniversary of September 11.
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