Twelve years later, the impact of the 9/11 terror attacks continues to shake the nation and the world. It’s less today about terror – about the looming fear of another devastating attack, though that remains a possibility – as it is about political and social upheaval that could send the United States into a war in Syria.
Those events are connected. The deaths at the World Trade Center, at the Pentagon and in a Pennsylvania field led to the American invasion of Afghanistan and, more precipitously, to sending our troops into Iraq. That action destabilized the Middle East, changing the balance of power and emboldening rebels – some of them al-Qaida fighters – who wanted change in their own countries, including Egypt, Libya and Syria.
That makes this a day with twin imperatives. Not only must Americans pause to remember the victims and events of what remains the worst day in the nation’s life in decades, but also to consider and respond to current events precipitated by that day in 2001.
First and foremost on this day is remembrance. It has, thankfully, become difficult to relocate the enlarged sense of fear that those attacks engendered. That only makes it more important to remember those we might otherwise forget: the airplane passengers who became human sacrifices to the terrorists’ lust for blood; the victims in the towers of the World Trade Center, at the Pentagon and near Shanksville, Pa., where United Flight 93 crashed after passengers, alerted to what was occurring, tried to retake control of the plane. It crashed, killing all on board but preventing the hijackers from flying the plane into its intended target, believed to have been the U.S. Capitol.
Remembrance is also a work in progress. The National Sept. 11 Memorial & Museum is still taking shape in the spot where the twin towers stood. Part of its solemn display is what is called the “survivor’s staircase” – a flight of steps that hundreds of people used to escape the doomed towers. The museum is expected to open this spring.
In Pennsylvania, the Flight 93 National Memorial was officially dedicated and opened on Sept. 10, 2011. Ground-breaking for the memorial’s visitor center complex took place Tuesday.
In a world that sometimes seems to want to memorialize everything, these are appropriate and even important projects. They mark, in one way or another, turning points in the nation’s life.
Also, we do well to remind ourselves of the price of ignorance and lack of vigilance, even as we debate the government’s programs of monitoring electronic communications. Do those programs go too far? Maybe. But before 9/11, they didn’t go far enough. The challenge is to strike the right balance.
As for Syria and the Middle East, the challenges in that part of the world are growing, in part because of what we did there.
We may yet avoid missile strikes on Syria, but we have been drawn nonetheless into the ancient conflicts of those lands, not exclusively because of 9/11, but partly. In that way, the legacy of terror continues.