Fifteen years ago today, Islamic jihadists executed the single deadliest attack on U.S. soil by a geopolitical foe since the War of 1812. The jihadists were largely trained and funded by nefarious Wahhabist/Salafist Sunni zealots in Saudi Arabia, with no small degree of aid from Shi’ite sharia supremacist radicals in the Islamic Republic of Iran. The civilizational clash between barbaric jihad and free West, which Israelis had dealt with first-hand for decades but for America had previously largely been confined to Marine barracks attacks in the Levant, African embassy bombings, and the USS Cole tragedy, had finally struck a deathly blow to the American mainland.
It is surely now deemed hackneyed to say this, but the jihadist attacks of September 11, 2001 served as the seminal moment in my nascent political development. I will never forget where I was—sitting toward the upper-left section of David Benedict’s seventh grade science class—when our school principal came onto the loudspeaker to announce what had transpired in Lower Manhattan, and to make the office available in case students wished to contact loved ones working in the area. I will never forget the first time I saw searing television footage of the collapsing towers, and when I first heard about the truly heroic actions of so many of New York City’s finest first responders. I will never forget the candlelight vigil that my suburban hometown soon held in the local park. Donald Trump may have disingenuously distorted Ted Cruz’s stance when it came to “New York values,” but Trump was spot-on in noting how New York came together in those trying first few weeks. President George W. Bush’s speech with the megaphone in the World Trade Center rubble still gives me goosebumps, to this day—ditto his beautiful strike right down the middle of the plate before Game 3 of the 2001 World Series between the New York Yankees and the Arizona Diamondbacks.
September 11, 2001 was for me the first time I developed a Manichean understanding of the world. It was the first time I came to viscerally understand that evil truly does exist in this realm—and that the only way to combat existential evil is with large doses of unapologetic, relentless good:
Speaking to Cheney, Bush said, "We're at war Dick and we're going to find out who did this and we're going to kick their ass."
— Ari Fleischer (@AriFleischer) September 11, 2016
For years, I actually conscientiously avoided visiting Ground Zero. The memory was too vivid—the emotions still too strong. I finally overcame that fear and visited, for the first time, this past April. I uploaded a two-part photo to my social media accounts: the top photo is the view of Lady Liberty from the observation deck at One World Trade Center, and the bottom photo is of the 9/11 memorial. I intended the symbolism of eternal liberty triumphing over cowardly jihad to be explicit.
But such symbolism, alas, is insufficient for the seriousness of the task at hand.
Fifteen years later, entering high school students in America were not even alive when the jihadists perpetrated their unspeakable atrocity. High school students today learn about 9/11 as if it were an amorphous historical event—akin to Vietnam or, perhaps, Pearl Harbor. And, in 2016, high school students learn this in the context of a presidential election between one woman who likely belongs in jail due to her systemic betrayals of American national security and, on the other hand, a catastrophically uninformed, disturbed man who explicitly dabbles with “Bush lied and people died” demagoguery and who has no small share of “alt-right” supporters who probably think 9/11 was a Mossad act. While post-Iraq War intellectual sobriety and recalibration is sorely needed for classical pro-democracy promotion/nation-building neoconservatives, it is also nothing less than tragic that the one-time serious “peace through strength” Reaganite party has nominated a man seemingly less interested in the nuances of combating existential jihadism than he is in defending his manhood size during nationally televised presidential primary debates.
For those of us who remember well the events of 9/11—and, especially, for those of us who both remember it and were substantially impacted by it in either a direct or a more ethereal sense—the burden is thus high. It is our responsibility to ensure subsequent generations do not soon forget the blow the jihadists struck on that day. In the longstanding—but winnable—clash between free West and the global jihad, there is a right side and a wrong side. We are in the right. They are in the wrong. The onus is on us to eschew the false temptation of feckless moral relativism, to recognize the stakes of this conflict, and to preach the enduring necessity to bring the damn fight to the radical Islamic jihadists who seek to destroy us and our way of life.
Never, ever forget September 11, 2001.