- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 8, 2011


The 10-year anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks is a watershed event. It will be the first commemoration since U.S. special operations forces took out Osama bin Laden four months ago. It will mark the conclusion of an era that has not really closed.

The war with Islamic extremism began before Sept. 11, but then only one side was fighting it. The decade after the end of the Cold War was the era of the “peace dividend” and the “end of history.” Conflicts abounded, but at base there was a sense of complacency that the big issues had been confronted and solved. All that was left was dealing with the post-Cold War residue on the periphery of the former Soviet Union and mitigating periodic humanitarian crises in places like Somalia and Haiti.

Muslim radicals in al Qaeda and other groups believed history was just waking up. Their declarations of war against the “Great Satan” were ignored, and their periodic attacks overseas were met with lukewarm responses that conveyed weakness instead of resolve. The “Holy Tuesday” attacks were the product of committed extremists seeking to bring their war to American soil and to a country that had forgotten that great-power status is something earned, frequently through violence.

The 9/11 Commission concluded America’s greatest failure was one of imagination. The Sept. 11 attacks changed all that. The national response was immediate, resolute and far-reaching. Things that would have been unthinkable before the attacks became vital. The futures envisioned by utopians were replaced with sharp and deadly conflict.

It is increasingly hard to remember the days when America was not at war. To children starting high school this year, the fact that U.S. troops are waging conflict overseas is accepted as normal. Taking off your shoes at an airport is just something you do. For most people, little else has changed since before the attacks. We talk about being a nation at war, but this is not like World War II, with ration cards, conscription and gold stars hanging in windows in every neighborhood. For the vast majority of Americans, the war’s day-to-day impact has been minimal. Afghanistan could vanish from the face of the earth and they would never know it. To some people, that seems like a good idea.

For the military families and defense workers, the war is a daily preoccupation. The vast American national security apparatus grinds on tirelessly in hundreds of locations and thousands of different ways, planning, recruiting, training, supplying, fighting, analyzing, assessing, strategizing, repairing, sustaining, healing and mourning. The heroic effort involves millions of people and billions of dollars, but to the average American, it is invisible. This war will continue in one form or another for the foreseeable future.

On the 10-year anniversary of the 1941 Pearl Harbor attack, World War II had ended. The world had changed, and the United States had assumed a new mantle of leadership. The country’s challenges were very different from those before the attack. That cannot be said today. The conflict continues, the future is uncertain, and America’s crown is increasingly heavy. The 10-year anniversary of Sept. 11 will come and go, but the war against Islamic extremism will remain.

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