Let us move beyond memorials and monuments

Paul Evans

By Paul Evans of Scappoose, Oregon. Paul is a former senior policy advisor to Governor Ted Kulongoski for emergency management, military, and veterans' affairs. Paul is the former mayor of Monmouth, Oregon, and an Iraq and Afghanistan veteran.

All of us carry our own memories of 9/11.

In a blink of an eye images of collapsing towers, smoke billowing from the Pentagon, and the Pennsylvania crash site can be vividly recalled.

Those memories are fresh enough to stir our emotions, mature enough to echo and float through our consciousness.

For our generation that day stands as an example of something that cannot be denied - even though it stills feels impossible to believe.

Few events in history have held such power: America is quite literally a different country now, than it was then.

Many of us wearing the uniform, especially those of us wearing it at the time of the 9/11 attacks, remain bewildered, even frustrated.

We swore an oath to defend our country. And in so doing we willingly spent our time, talent, and treasure traveling the world to stabilize emerging international development.

That world vanished in the smoke enveloping the rubble pile at Ground Zero.

For all our might, for all our global reach - we failed to prevent the catastrophe of 9/11. It happened on Our Watch, before our eyes.

Minutes following the collapse of the second tower, I was controlling multiple flights of F-15s scrambled to patrol the skies of the Pacific Northwest.

Surreal as it was, we were sustaining combat air patrols over our homeland: because they were needed to deter potential follow-on threats.

Within a few days our unit was mobilized for twenty-four months of active-duty service. Not long afterwards, we were scattered across the country to implement a new strategy for homeland defense.

Since then I have served twice in Iraq, once in Afghanistan, and at cities and events throughout the US in support of national security priorities. It has been an unexpected rollercoaster ride that changed my life - and the life of my family and friends - forever.

Looking back, I remember the genuineness and sincerity of the moment. We stood together, and much of the rest of the world stood with us.

In common cause we acted against the growing danger of unrestrained fundamentalism. The Taliban fell, with friends and foes alike supporting our efforts to weaken the scourge of Al-Qaeda.

After the fall of the Taliban, we were given an opportunity to showcase our ideals in Afghanistan.

We were handed a chance to demonstrate how we could foster institutions and order in a troubled land.

What happened afterwards is a topic for another time - another day. However, the message of that pregnant moment remains: the US was once, and can be again, a trusted agent for good.

When we are faithful to our ideals, when we live what we what we believe - others will follow, even into treacherous circumstances.

Whatever the eventual outcome of our wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, we must remember the courage, devotion, and sacrifice of all who perished on 9/11 and afterwards.

This past decade has been a remarkable period of history. We have become numb to hope and weary of change - we are walking wounded trying to recover our footing.

After a decade at war, America is struggling to find our way out of the labyrinth. For each step forward we stagger a half-step back. And yet, we continue to move forward - as is our purpose to do so.

America has always been more than the sum of our Armed Forces.

America has always been more than the influence of our GDP.

America has always been more resilient, more idealistic than the rest of the world believes us to be.

Since the beginning, America has been a people that rise to the challenges of our times.

Informed by our values, we have changed - and continue to change - the world for the better through the power of our ideas.

For too long we allowed fear to captivate our politics: we did to ourselves what no other nation could - or would dare - to do.

Today we must stand as one nation: strong enough to face our adversaries as a democratic republic, assured enough to do what we need to do while simultaneously celebrating our civil liberties and the values that make America unique among all nations.

When we act as one nation, we cannot fail.

If we fail to act as one nation, we will not succeed.

Today is for remembering the lost, reflecting upon the meaning of 9/11 and the shadow it cast, it is for considering what kind of America we can become - tomorrow - so that we honor yesterday.

The scars of 9/11 will heal: the pain will continue fading with time.

But the meaning shall not be forgotten. Let us renew our commitment to honor the sacrifice made through turning adversity into good.

Let us move beyond memorials and monuments, and let us reinvent Our America - a nation worthy of the hope and trust of a global community.

It is a time for us to remember what makes us similar, a time to move past petty differences, it is a time for us to celebrate the values that once built and will rebuild Our America.

As sunlight replaces shadow, let us make today the beginning of a new chapter of greatness.

Comments

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    I heard war correspondent Edward Giradet on the PBS news hour last week- Girardet has been in Afghanistan since the Soviet invasion.

    He said that large segments or whole tribes in that loosely-contrived country have always resisted outsiders coming in to try to organize their society.

    So I don't see how the events of 9/11/01 allow the US to leap from what should've been a police operation to nab people who were actually involved to a long-scale attempt at nation building.

    9/11/01 was horrible. But so was 9/11/73 in Santiago, Chile and the fallout from that crime might've caused more casualties than did the crime on 9/11/01.

    Who had the power to arrest and prosecute the criminals who committed the 9/11/73 acts? (No one did).

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    (Couldn't resist one more): Ironically, the main criminal behind the 9/11/73 acts was the first choice to head the commission to investigate 9/11/01 . It doesn't get any better than that!

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    This article is deeply ambivalent, torn between patriotic celebration and historical accuracy:

    "traveling the world to stabilize emerging international development." the people of Vietnam, Cambodia, Chile, and numerous other countries would not characterize the US interventions to "stabilize" their countries in this bland way.

    To term "evasive" the references here to the two endless wars is to be tactful, considering that one of the wars was begun based on the abuse of intelligence by the Bush administration following 9/11 in order to carry out the neoconservative plan to invade Iraq.

    "flights of F-15s scrambled"--in order to shoot down our own airliners if thought necessary. Would pilots have obeyed that order?

    Which recalls the historical fact unmentioned in current 9/11 publicity, that President Bush let 9/11 happen to us even after being personally handed the intelligence report in August, "Bin Laden Determined to Strike in US" (9/11 Commission Report, p. 260). And afterwards his so-called National Security Advisor Condi Rice exclaimed "who could have imagined" the attacks.

    But it appears that the time is past to expect much historical accuracy to be involved in this 9/11 anniversary.

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