Where is America 12 years after the 9-11 attacks?

It has been an interesting week when you consider that a majority of the headlines are still being shaped by events that occurred 12 years ago. Of course I’m referring to the tragic events of September 11, 2001 when our country was invaded by cowardly assassins who murdered close to 3,000 Americans in New York, Washington, D.C. and Pennsylvania.

I find it interesting that over the last several years the major broadcast networks have decided not to show footage of the attacks on New York’s World Trade Center skyscrapers or the carnage at the Pentagon in the nation’s capitol when the anniversary is remembered. I suppose it could be a form of political correctness as not to offend our country’s Muslim brothers, or perhaps they choose not to broadcast the carnage out of deference to the surviving family members of the 9-11 victims.

Whatever their reasons, this distancing ourselves from those events on 9-11 has spawned a generation of Americans who will never appreciate the cosmic shift the country’s psyche experienced as a result. The changes in the United States over the past 12 years since those attacks on American soil have been transitional. The way we view ourselves as Americans and the way the world sees us has forever changed.

It had been more than 60 years since the United States had experienced such a heinous blow to its sense of invulnerability. When the Navy’s Pacific Fleet was attacked at Pearl Harbor in 1941 there was a visible and accountable enemy, specific and tangible countries to target. Citizens had a battle cry to rally around as America went across the world to defend itself. There was a mission and a goal – and there was world consensus that evil could not be allowed to fester.
As much as we wanted to latch onto those same ideals, that same vitriol in the aftermath of 9-11, we could not – we did not. This time there was no prime objective or “Remember the Alamo” moment for us to grasp. While the outrage was palpable, this time we were struck by faceless villains from disparate regions espousing venomous rhetoric that made it difficult to understand why.

Instead of partnering with the world to invade Germany and Japan with a unified spirit and an end game in sight, our generation’s Pearl Harbor was all about chasing ghosts and fighting a demented ideology. Sure, President Bush created an “Axis of Evil” for convenience but we were never battling Iran, Iraq or North Korea. This war was with menacing despots, misguided guerilla warriors, and a regional nest of terrorists.

We chased Saddam Hussein down a rat hole to capture him and then let his countrymen hang him. We spent a decade stalking the boogie man Osama bin Laden, who not only became the symbol of America’s outrage, but of its inability to truly define its mission in its war against terror. It was only fitting that bin Laden was found living in a safe house certainly provided by our trusted allies in Pakistan and summarily disposed of by U.S. Special Forces.

As the missions in Iraq and Afghanistan supposedly draw down, has the U.S. destroyed Al-Qaida and brought Western democracy to a region of still warring tribes? We have not. There was no illusion that Al-Qaida would be eradicated, with all due respect to the current administration. The goal was to cut off the multiple heads of its hydra-like organization and cripple the movement. That has been accomplished.

Unfortunately there are also no illusions as to what will occur once the American departure in the region is complete.

Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds will return to their civil wars undeterred and unrepentant. Al-Qaida will surely enjoy resurgence as civil unrest in Syria and Egypt stokes the fires of discontent. The Taliban will return as the dominant force in Afghanistan. And, the United States will keep its presence in Iraq, hunkering down in the world’s largest and most expensive embassy that employs 15,000 people and cost U.S. tax payers almost $800 million to build and secure.
While the Middle East returns to normal once we leave, the aftermath of 9-11 has left our citizens with the new normal.

Wars on two fronts will have cost the nation’s tax payers more than $2.5 billion over the last decade, not to mention certain custodial costs that will surely be incurred. Citizens will never again take the mundane for granted. Events such as marathons, civic functions, and sporting events now require armed security. Air travel entails invasive body searches and scans. The motto of the day is now “see something, say something” as the Department of Homeland Security, the largest government bureaucracy in country’s history, has enlisted us all as citizen soldiers.

Policy decisions to extend the Patriot Act have also led to some unintended recent consequences and some future issues that will need to be addressed. Internet surveillance by the National Security Agency (NSA) seems to have overstepped its boundaries, capturing much more than suspected terrorist chatter. While the looming specter of unmanned surveillance aircraft use by law enforcement and other agencies yet unnamed, have officials at the ACLU twitching in unison.

While many Americans now paint, in broad strokes, the landscape of September 11, 2001, capturing faded images of collapsing buildings, distraught families, endless flag-draped coffins and funeral processionals, for me, it continues to evoke a gut-wrenching feeling of helplessness. Granted we have undoubtedly improved our country’s situational awareness and have reportedly thwarted dozens of potentially deadly terrorist threats. Cities like New York have been the beneficiaries of millions of DHS funding dollars to expand security video surveillance and harden vulnerable infrastructure with elaborate security technology.

Physically our nation is perhaps more secured than at any time in our history. Yet the fact that some national media would rather not expose us to visceral reminders of that day only serves to diminish the event and cheapen the lives lost. We need to remember. We must remember.