Every generation has its seminal moments; times when you recall exactly where you were and what you were doing when the event occurred. My parents could tell you where they were when Kennedy was shot. I was alive at the time, but I was only 6 weeks old and was likely beginning my life long obsession with boobs.
This generation’s seminal moment was 9/11. I venture a guess you know exactly where you were when the first plane hit the towers. I was in Kinkos in Manchester, NH when someone came in and said a plane had hit the World Trade Center in New York, although the initial report was it was a small plane. I finished my copying and went out to my car to listen to the coverage on my way home. It was quickly determined to be a commercial jet and I was home in time to see the second plane hit on live television. I knew then we were at war. With someone.
The rest of the day is a blur in my memory. A third plane hit the pentagon. Another crashed in a Pennsylvania field. At some point all air traffic was halted nationwide. At least I was home. I had colleagues stranded all over the country.
Our family, like so many, went to church that night, trying to make sense of the incomprehensible. In the coming days we reeled as more information came out. I remember Courtney had a doctor appointment at Dartmouth a few days afterward and we saw people standing in line to give blood. We knew the world had changed in ways large and small, but we didn’t yet understand exactly how much.
Fifteen years seems like a lifetime ago and so many lives have been cut short in the wars since. I’m not sure we are any safer for all the blood spilled. We finally got bin Laden who, it turns out, had been hiding in a Pakistani compound spending most of his time playing solitaire on his Kindle and watching PornHub. Qaeda as a global network has been largely dismantled, only to be replaced by something much worse. Islamic State is now a shadow of its former self, thanks largely to the Russians who aren’t squeamish about killing innocents along with the enemy, but not before we got to watch IS burn alive a captured Jordanian pilot.
Even so, not much has improved in the region and if the Iraq and Afghan wars taught us anything it’s that modern and Western solutions like democracy can’t be imposed on medieval tribal cultures. You can beat them into submission no problem. It’s winning the peace that’s the hard part. We think in election cycles. They think in centuries and they’re STILL pissed about the Crusades, which like so many more recent foreign interventions, seemed like a good idea at the time.
I wish I knew the answer. I don’t think there is a single overarching strategy that can bring peace to the region and whoever wins in November will still be responding to events rather than shaping them. He or she will be the one living with whatever happens in Syria and Libya and whatever happens in Iran as a result of the nuclear deal. The Palestinians still don’t have a state. Neither do the Kurds, who desperately want to create one out of parts of Iraq and Turkey; neither of whom are particularly enamored with the idea. And should the House of Saud ever lose control of their eponymous nation , I’m not sure anyone could put the lid on THAT clusterfuck.
What is the lesson of 9/11? This is probably the one that I think resonates most for me: Americans remain a decent people. We love Lady Liberty enough to shed our own blood and spend our own treasure to help you gain yours. But keeping it is on you. We don’t have the heart to run an empire. Americans don’t view themselves that way. In fact, we invite you to leave us the hell alone, thank you. If you don’t, make no mistake. Americans will unite, at least long enough to punish whomever we think is responsible. After that…. Well, the next fifteen years will answer that question.