By now, all of us have already been witness to print, radio, and/or television programming about the historic nature of today’s date.
For Americans, September 11th has become a symbolic enigma.
On this date eleven years ago the United States of America was attacked by the unconventional forces of Al Qaeda.
It was a successful military operation.
The mission resulting in the total destruction of the World Trade Center facilities in New York City as well as a significant portion of the United States Department of Defense headquarters.
The mission claimed over 3,000 souls.
It was also a dramatically successful psychological operation.
Most importantly, the mission brought fear into the hearts and minds of Americans – with unanticipated consequence.
In 2001 the United States was the most powerful cultural, economic, military, and political power on the planet. More than hegemony, we were the 21st Century Colossus bestriding the global markets without equal – or concern.
During the months leading up to the attacks the most prescient “news” items included the unfortunate death of a DC intern, the unusually aggressive behavior of sharks in the Gulf of Mexico, and the seemingly endless vacation of our new President – a man that until that moment appeared “on track” to lose ground in the Congressional mid-terms a year in the future.
We were enjoying relatively good economic times, our sails were more full than not, and we were numb to the global economic exigencies that would come to define us a decade later.
We were also the shining city on the hill – a haven where civil liberties and personal freedoms – reigned supreme. For a brief shining moment, America was a place where people of all cultures come, collaborate, and prosper together.
In a matter of a few hours everything changed, everything.
By the early evening civilian flights across the nation were grounded; American fighter jets were on “Combat Air Patrols” over every major city; our military was on full-alert preparing for defensive actions at facilities across the face of the Earth.
Our America felt betrayed: it had never occurred to most Americans that catastrophe could be delivered so effectively and/or with such hatred.
We began to question everything we thought we knew about our world and ourselves: we asked questions that sometimes we should probably have left well enough alone.
Our hearts and minds turned from the warm memories of a lazy summer – to the cold, focused “groupthink” mentality of revenge.
Sadly, in these days our fears nearly extinguished our hopes. And for a while, we reacted out of instinct without the counsel of our conscience.
In the dark shadow the largest enemy-caused disaster in our history, we set into motion a complex response strategy: to seek out, uproot, and destroy anyone (read everyone) associated with the attack).
It was a straightforward mission – to find our enemies and kill them with a swift, overwhelming series of interconnected actions.
Few then, or now, question the appropriateness of targeting Al Qaeda and the nations that harbored them.
Afghanistan remains a just cause for just reasons.
In similar fashion, our ongoing operations against enemies hiding in the jungles of the Philippines, the horn of Africa, and the deserts of the Middle East remain just – for we have enemies that will not cease their sworn duty to destroy our America – and our Ideals.
The price of survival in the 21st Century is indeed eternal vigilance.
We learned (the hard way) the limitations of military might in wars of choice – Iraq is the measure of those constraints – it is an enduring lesson for those of us responsible for keeping our Democracy safe: from enemies both foreign and domestic.
We were attacked, we responded, and we set about reshaping the world in the wake of these actions.
Now, at this moment in time, we must recognize a solemn truth: military operations against legitimate enemies (legitimate though they may be) are defensive actions.
The United States must develop an offensive strategy for the remainder of the 21st Century and beyond.
We must establish an offensive strategy for expanding the blessings of freedom, liberty, and responsibility – a strategy that reflects our aspirations, not our fears.
We must develop a strategy for sustainable peace: a plan for governments that collaborate – more; a plan for economic models that share wealth – more; a plan for an idealistic vision for peace and prosperity – more.
Once upon a time the people of the world looked to the United States for the security that our Marine Corps could provide; for the progress that our Peace Corps could teach.
Once upon a time the people of our nation looked to each other for inspiration; we celebrated the value of work, the meaning of community, and the duty/special privilege of citizenship.
And once upon a time the people of our Oregon understood that public enterprises built a foundation for private dreams.
This day is a tough one for many of us.
We have relatives lost in the towers, we miss friends forever transformed by experiences that would never have occurred, had the attacks failed.
We are together, even when – especially when – we begin to believe the false prophets of division and decline.
America in not the greatest country on the Earth because of our military might. We are not the greatest country because of our political system – not even because of our investments in freedom and liberty.
America remains the greatest country on the Earth because of our promise: we are great because our people learn from mistakes made, take comfort in the values and virtues of diversity, and we are great because in our hearts we realize that tomorrow is yet unwritten.
We have real problems.
We have structures and systems that appear to be failing us.
We have an apparent void at all levels of government.
And yet, we have a special commodity unique to our experience: we have an unfailing sense of will – when (and only when) associated with a national purpose worthy of our ideals.
This September 11th let us renew our national purpose.
Let us begin to dream again – to envision again – to believe in something beyond this moment of challenge and frustration and pain.
We must dust ourselves off and stand up again – for those that cannot do so without our help.
We must remake our America into the kind of nation we have been, the kind of nation we know possible.
We must remake our Oregon into the kind of community that empowers our citizens – to sustain and strengthen Eden for the generations to come.
Start today; start in your own community.
Reach out to a neighbor.
Help someone start a new business.
Spend a little extra time with your local PTA and/or church benevolent society.
Do something this week. Be it large or small, public or private – do something that will make an undeniable impact in the life of someone near you.
Honor the past – celebrate the sacrifices made – through making our shared future worthy of its price.
By Paul Evans
Sept. 11, 2012
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