— President George W. Bush, Sept. 12, 2001
In most verifiable ways, the United States has won the war that began on Sept. 11, 2001.
On that day, al-Qaida terrorists hijacked four commercial jets and killed 3,000 Americans. The deep scars still exist: memories of the victims, families without loved ones, and memorials in multiple cities and states, including here in Calhoun County.
Yet, in the 11 years that have passed, the United States, its leaders and its military, as President Bush described it, have been “steadfast in our determination.”
Technically, the war that 9/11 brought — the war in Afghanistan — is not over. American troops have fought more than a decade in a barren, rocky nation; bombings and insurgent attacks are weekly occurrences. The U.S. presence in Afghanistan is dwindling, with the last American troops scheduled to leave in 2014.
But al-Qaida’s founder, Osama bin Laden, is dead thanks to a U.S. Navy SEAL raid in Pakistan in May 2011. Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the purported mastermind of the 9/11 attacks, has been in U.S. custody since 2003. Other secondary al-Qaida leaders have been either captured or killed, as well.
If retaliation is a guide, the United States has responded to the horror of 9/11 with substantial and justified force.
Time continues to place images of the World Trade Center and recollections of September 2001 farther in our past. That day, like the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, will eventually become a bloody historical event children study in history classes and scholars examine for undiscovered facts. Today’s 10-year-old kids have no memory of 9/11. In another decade, no one aged 20 or younger can say they remember where they were the day the Twin Towers fell or the Pentagon was attacked.
It is, then, the legacy of 9/11 that will endure. For more than 200 years, the United States confidently felt oceans buffered it against most attacks from the east or the west. No more; the world and its evils have changed. The Internet has opened borders and revolutionized the exchange of information. Distance and technology no longer impede those who want to do harm.
Sept. 11, 2001, taught the United States that anything is possible.
It also, as President Barack Obama said on the attacks’ 10-year anniversary last year, taught the nation much about itself and its people.
“We offered our neighbors a hand, and we offered the wounded our blood,” he said. “We reaffirmed our ties to each other, and our love of community and country. On that day, no matter where we came from, what God we prayed to, or what race or ethnicity we were, we were united as one American family.”
For a nation so often divided over its politics, its policies and its direction, that unity is no insignificant matter. America survived 9/11. More than a decade later, it will do well to reinvest in the unanimity that day brought, as well.