My son was almost eight years old on September 11, 2001. In the days and months after that terrible day, it became more and more apparent to many of us that we were heading down a long and dark road. During the run-up to the war in Iraq in 2003, I had a conversation with a friend of mine. Our sons were the same age. We talked about how worried we were that our boys would end up being called on to fight the war. It seemed very likely to us that the war could end up dragging on for ten years or more and that our boys would be fighting age long before the end.
And we were right, although even then I don’t think we would have predicted that it would go on this long. Seventeen years later we are still fighting.
It was clear to us that this war, with it’s vague and shifting justifications, would turn into a quagmire. Even then it was impossible to get a real handle on the war’s causes and objectives. It was sold to America and to our allies alternately as retribution for 9/11; as necessary to prevent another attack on our soil; to bring democracy to the Middle East; to prevent Saddam Hussein from getting Weapons of Mass Destruction; to “take out” a brutal dictator; to finish the job of the first Iraq War. It was a “War on Terror.” To many, it was the ultimate war between good and evil: between Christianity and Islam.
The enemy was never well-defined. Over the years it morphed and changed. It was the Taliban. It was Osama bin Laden. It was Al-Qaeda, Saddam Hussein, Terrorism, ISIS, ISIL, the Islamic State, Radical Islamic Terrorism.
We couldn’t predict how long the war would go on. And we could never have predicted how much our country would change as a result. American is now a country that is defined by fear. Our goverment justifies trampeling on its citizens’ rights and its military excesses around the world by citing “national security.” The ongoing war has damaged America’s reputation throughout the world, strained our relationship with allies, cost trillions of dollars and countless lives, left the Middle East even more unstable than it had been, and accomplished nothing. Terrorism is a fact of life in every corner of the world.
September 11th scarred America’s psyche and changed us forever. We will never forget. And it seems we don’t want to forget. Not just the lives lost and the heroic acts. It seems that America refuses to let go of its anger and its fear.
America is unrecognizable to those of us who knew what it felt like to be American before the attack. Seventeen years after the September 11th attacks those boys are now 25 year old men. An entire generation has grown up knowing nothing but a post-9/11 America of fear and anger.
The political climate, the deep divisions in our country, the strain on our international relations, our economic troubles, even the current occupant of the White House, are a direct result of the events of seventeen years ago. I think it’s fair to say that the terrorists have won.