As 2009 comes to a close I’ve been thinking a great deal about the past decade. I think many of us have forgotten that it began with a terrorist threat. The terrorists, happily, were caught coming into the United States and their plans to celebrate the millennium by setting off explosives in California were thwarted by the FBI and other law enforcement agents. But, alas, that didn’t stop them.
Just 18 months later the tragedy of 9/11 took place. A few dedicated, insane fanatics destroyed the World Trade Center, damaged the Pentagon, and, had it not been for the brave airline passengers who stopped one group, might have destroyed either the White House or the Capitol.
The country came together in the months after 9/11 and most of the world was with us. Two years later, the invasion of Iraq seemed, miraculously, for a moment to have been entirely successful and al Qaida and their minions around the world appeared to be on the run. But we were wrong; we had won a battle, but the war was far from over.
Since 2003 thousands of American men and women have given their lives in this difficult, complex, and often confusing war. One president has left office and another has taken his place. Our troops have left Iraq in large numbers, but only to be shifted to the even harsher, more dangerous battlefields of Afghanistan.
The spirit of al Qaida seems unbroken. Osama bin Laden is still free and still plotting against Americans. The fanaticism that bin Laden represents is certainly not gone. Over the past ten years, terrorist activity has not stopped; perhaps it has increased.
Certainly, more tragedies would have happened but for the efforts of our military, our law enforcement, and our intelligence services. There’s no question that we’ve made many mistakes as a nation in the pursuit of terrorists, but I suspect that it is easier to learn about the mistakes than it is to learn about our victories. The war against terrorism is a secret war, fought in the shadows, and the heroes of that war never gain public applause.
I find it frightening that we end this decade very much as we began it: Another fanatic, trained, we are told, by an al Qaida cell in Yemen attempted to set off an explosive on an airplane landing in Detroit. The good news is that the crew and passengers stopped the attack. But there is a lesson here.
The threat of religious and political fanaticism remains real. There are millions of people around the world who hate what the United States stands for. To them, we are not a shining city on a hill; we are the “devils” to be exterminated.
If there is a lesson to be learned from the past decade, it is that America and all it represents is still gravely at risk. We must never let down our guard. We must hold steadfast in our beliefs and remain committed to preserving freedom, liberty, and the American dream. We can never lull ourselves into thinking that we have won this war because, unfortunately, it will not end anytime soon.
I don’t think that we should be depressed or fearful; we have won more battles than we have lost. Our military and our law enforcement agencies have done a remarkable job in protecting us. Our fellow citizens have put themselves at risk to stop evil acts. We can survive and triumph as a nation. That is what we should take into the new year and the new decade. We shall overcome.