This Sunday is the 10th anniversary of 9/11, the shorthand we have chosen to describe the complexity of events and emotions that consumed us all on September 11, 2001.
The shorthand does not do that day justice of course, but in a very real way it works because to try to describe it any other way is just too much for many of us to easily bear. The sadness, anger, grief, confusion and determination remains. It’s just not necessary, expect perhaps on an anniversary such as this, to go into it in depth again.
The four things that stand out most about the monstrous events of that day 10 years ago are these.
We were attacked by an “enemy” lacking the morals that prevent decent people from killing random men, women and children for no reason except that they are not part of the killers’ world.
We were attacked directly on our mainland, the first time this has happened since the War of 1812.
We were attacked by surprise, the first time this has happened since Pearl Harbor in 1941.
And we responded as one, with a focused determination to find and bring to justice the maniacs who would do such a thing.
I call to your attention three items in the news. One month ago, an 8-year-old girl in Afghanistan was detained after trying to get through a checkpoint wearing an explosive belt. She was told by those that put it on her that after the belt exploded, she would be able to return to her mother. Everything would be fine.
The assassination of the madman behind all of this—Osama bin Laden—happened on May 1 with a shot through the head, and in recent days, several other lieutenants in his group.
And on October 5 last year, Judge Miriam Cedarbaum said to the Times Square Bomber Faisil Shahzad after sentencing him to a jail without parole, “I do hope that you will spend some of the time in prison thinking carefully about whether the Koran wants you to kill lots of people.”
Shahzad replied: “The Koran gives us the right to defend.” This is true. “And that’s all I’m doing.” Not true.
Perhaps the answer has finally come in what we currently call “the Arab Spring.” The young people in much of the Arab world began last year a revolt against their leaders, expressing outrage at the brutal behavior of many of these leaders, religious and otherwise, and a determination to embrace personal freedom and democracy. This is the Arab young people’s answer to some of their elders’ disregard for human life.
Finally, there has been our reaction to 9/11. It has been swift, effective and relentless. There are two parts to it. We have raised our defenses, set up alerts, invoked “if you see something, say something,” and have, during these past 10 years, dramatically reduced the number of attacks on us that otherwise might have occurred.
And we have gone on the offensive. After some debate about civil laws and personal freedoms, we have come to the conclusion as Lincoln did in his time and as F.D.R. did in his time, that if a certain group of people want to kill us for sport or zealotry, we will kill them before they can get a chance to do that.
Finally, it is worth noting that at no time in modern history has a group of fanatics ever had their way with civilized society. Different cult groups, egged on by religious leaders, have sprung up and randomly killed people in Japan, in Egypt and in Russia in recent years, and they have at every turn been attacked by existing governments, their leadership destroyed, their followers discouraged and come to their senses and, in the end, all of it went away.
That shall happen this time too.
And yet, we shall not forget 9/11. We will re-live it in the next few days, revel in the bravery of our police, firemen, medical teams and the heroic passengers on United Flight 93 in Pennsylvania, grieve for those gone, and will come once again as we did back then, to the conclusion that we live in a good country with good values and a respect for God’s Ten Commandments, that we will defend it and that we must in the end rid this earth of those who would kill people at random for little more than what amounts to sport.