As the 20th anniversary of Sept. 11 approaches, and we are inundated with competing narratives about what should be remembered and learned from that day, it is important to take a moment and reflect on a few things.
Given the proximity of the anniversary to the completely avoidable disaster in Afghanistan, some will want to use the anniversary as a cudgel against the deeply flawed and cynical Biden administration. That is understandable. But it is a disservice to the men and women who had their lives taken – or who sacrificed their lives — on Sept. 11.
Some will want to use the anniversary to wave the flag. Some will want to use the anniversary to dredge up all of the nation’s deficiencies. The day and the heroism it called forth deserve better than the usual.
As you think about Sept. 11, take a moment to think about the people caught in that awful day. Think about the 3,000 dead, each of whom had other plans — some great, some trivial — for their lives as they went to work or boarded a plane that morning. In each instance, they had loved ones, friends and families who expected them home that evening, much as we all expect our loved ones to return home each evening.
In many instances, they would do heroic deeds.
Remember the police officers, firefighters, medics and others who went toward the World Trade Center as part of their everyday work helping people.
Think about those inside the towers who tried their best to help their fellow human beings – friends and strangers alike — escape from the inferno or make their last moments on this side of the divide as calm as possible.
Finally, remember all those who went to war in the wake of the attack. To those veterans who may be questioning whether it was all worth it, it is important to remember that nothing a politician does or can do will erase or disfigure what you accomplished. They don’t have that power, and you should not give it to them.
While the government may not have honored your service by leaving behind a safe and stable Afghanistan, many of your fellow citizens most certainly do honor your sacrifice.
There is an ocean between the federal government and the American people. Recently, Sen. John Barrasso, Wyoming Republican, said that he “had much more faith in the American people than … the president of the United States, right now.” His faith is well-placed. The federal government is mostly indifferent to sacrifice. The government takes little notice of the valor and daily courage of the nation’s citizens, even though such valor and courage is the sine qua non of our civilization.
Thankfully, the American people understand this and have a deep, abiding and quiet respect for those who have and continue to serve.
To all those who have worn the uniform and to all of those who are considering it, please do not give up on the American experiment. This nation will not be rejuvenated, rebuilt and restored without the contributions of men and women like you. We need you more now than ever.
On this anniversary, all of us should remember that good men and women in each generation have to struggle and strive to preserve and extend all that has been gained. How else can one justify oneself to their children and grandchildren? For better or worse, this generation has been called to the great task of renewing the American spirit and American exceptionalism.
On Sept. 11, 2001, we had no way of knowing that the day would set in motion events that would send a succession of soldiers, sailors and Marines (including many of my relatives) to the Middle East. That parade of young people continues right up until today; a nephew is deployed out near Afghanistan.
The most important lesson of Sept. 11, 2001, is that history is made and happens to individuals. Each person is called upon in their own way to some portion of greatness. How and whether they respond is what makes nations rise and fall.
The 11 marines, one soldier and one Navy corpsman recently killed in Afghanistan responded to their call. Their sacrifice serves as a tangible and terrible reminder of the burden borne each day by people who wear the uniform – a burden shared by their families — and as a spur to each of us to respond to our own call.
• Michael McKenna, a columnist for The Washington Times, is the president of MWR Strategies. He was most recently a deputy assistant to President Trump and deputy director of the Office of Legislative Affairs at the White House.