The day has come when I usually post my old reflection on the terrorist attacks of 9/11. But I think I’ll pass this year, for a couple of reasons: one, the feedback from posting it on the St A’s blog/Portraits blurb makes another posting seem superfluous, and two, eleven years later, I’m finally in the place where the evil of that day was plotted.
What to say? In some ways it’s been anti-climactic, though really only for me; I’ve been here a little over two weeks, and only flown maintenance flights. The squadron has been here six weeks, and has moved troops and supplies, inserted and extracted grunts for kinetic operations, and helped interdict millions of dollars worth of drugs used to support terrorism. That will come in time, for me.
But in other ways, this closes the circle for me. 9/11 gave me focus and solidified my decision to join the Marine Corps. I’ve traveled around the world several times before to fight like-minded terrorists, be prepared for contingencies in global hot spots, and generally fly the flag to remind both our allies and enemies that we’re still here, and still lethal. At last, after eleven years, three prior deployments, and the loss of many friends along the way, I finally get to do my part where it all started.
Now what? Where do I go from here? Where does the country go? Some thoughts:
“Eternal vigilance”: the Taliban hides in the hills, al Qaeda has been effectively shattered, Osama bin Laden is dead, and tens of thousands of terrorists have been killed well away from our homeland, rather than caught – or, worse, not caught – on our streets. But the ideology that drives them is not dead, and will have to be fought for years to come. And the nations of the world haven’t always been successful in stopping them: the dead of Madrid, London, Mumbai, Bali, Fort Hood, and innumerable other places bear sad witness to that fact. Radical Islam is driven, energetic, and uncompromising. The lengths to which its adherents have gone to try and strike us are remarkable, with bombs placed in everything from trucks to shoes to underwear, all with the intention of killing as many unbelievers as humanly possible. Until a moderating influence pervades the Islamic world – or until we have killed so many and pursued them so far that they finally quit from sheer exhaustion – we must be vigilant, because they are waiting, with fanatic patience, for us to slacken.
“Never forget”: not just the names of the dead, or the heroes who picked up the pieces afterward. Not just the terrible images, and images of compassion and humanity. Not just the names of those who decided to put their own lives on hold, pick up the rifle and bring the fight to those who committed the acts, and never came back. But never forget that there is true evil in this world, evil that cannot be explained away by circumstance, personal, socioeconomic, or otherwise. Do not forget that evil is always on the hunt. Do not forget the righteous anger we felt afterward, for we should be angered by injustice and driven to correct it. And – though I probably won’t get this wish – do not forget how we were in the days immediately following. For a little while, we were truly a United States.
“We’re still here”: yeah, we’re still here. Many people have forgotten, but there are tens of thousands of Americans still fighting the fight started on 9/11. I know it’s been eleven years, and this country has been through two long wars, lost thousands of its best, and is tired. I understand this. But we’re still over here, doing what you, the people, sent us to do, because you elected leaders who said they would do precisely this. Don’t forget that, or treat our presence here as an inconvenience, or wish that it would all just go away. I’d love for it to all go away, because that means I could get back to my family, and the States, and not be out here sweating my butt off, trying not to touch the edges of the port-a-john when I go to the bathroom, popping malaria pills every day that make you sick if you don’t eat something within ten minutes, and sucking down the fumes from the poop pond and burn pit. But unfortunately Afghanistan will not simply go away, nor will the type of enemy we’re fighting here (see point one). So, because those things won’t go away, we’re still here. And we will continue to go to places with poop ponds, dust storms, and malaria pills, because we believe that’s necessary on our part to keep things like 9/11 from happening again. But do us the courtesy of remembering us, the living, whose war isn’t over, and won’t simply ‘go away’ because you don’t like reading about it in the headlines. We have all spent too much time away from our loved ones, and lost too many friends, for you to forget us, or allow the people who sent us here to forget us. Remember us. Remind those leaders about us too. Ask them about what they plan to do with us, and this place we’ve occupied for eleven years. Make them answer. Make them uncomfortable if they don’t.