Have you forgotten how you felt that day?
To see your homeland under fire
And her people blown away
Have your Forgotten when those towers fell?
We had neighbors still inside going through a living hell
Have you forgotten?
Daryl Worley ‘Have You Forgotten?’
The war on terror has been unlike any other war. It has ambled on relentlessly for 20 years, sometimes unseen except for periodic developments that forced themselves into the nation’s consciousness. Memories of that sunlit morning of September 11, 2001 had begun to fade and an entire new generation of Americans has since been born.
Had we forgotten? To a large degree we had. The national unity spawned by the terrorist attacks has been replaced with partisan rancor. Concern over national security takes a back seat to a “woke” agenda. Removal of obscure confederate era statues receives more media coverage than the ongoing terrorist threat.
But events of the past few weeks have dramatically – and tragically reminded us of the challenges that remain even as we prepare to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the attacks on the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and yet another plane which heroes ditched into a field in Somerset County.
Flight 93 is first and foremost in my memory of September 11, 2001. At the time I was serving as a Dauphin County Commissioner and the first plane flew into the World Trade Center just before we convened our weekly meeting. At that moment it was not yet clear the crash was not an accident, but rather an act of terrorism. By the time we ended our meeting there was no doubt America was under attack – and Flight 93 was rumored to be heading south.
We now know the terrorists on Flight 93 were trying to get to Washington, D.C. For what seemed like hours, but was actually just minutes, we were concerned the Three Mile Island nuclear plant located just down river was a target. Then Flight 93 disappeared from the radar screen.
The nation responded in anger – and resolve. In the weeks and months, even years after the attack we were focused on finding and killing the mastermind of the attacks, Osama bin Laden, and destroying the Al-Qaeda training camps many of which were in Afghanistan. In that initial mission we succeeded.
Rather than leave Afghanistan the mission changed to one of nation building in the vain hope a reasonably rational government could be established and hold another terror group, the Taliban, at bay. That fight resulted in over 2,000 American military deaths and more than 20,000 wounded in action. Add in civilian contractor deaths and the toll rises to over 4,000. The financial cost exceeds $2 trillion.
The war had been winding down. Until last week there had been no military deaths in over 18 months with the number of U.S. forces greatly reduced to about 2,500. But it was time for America to leave and put an end to our longest war.
How you leave, however, matters. And tragically President Joe Biden triggered the greatest foreign policy disaster in a generation by botching the final withdrawal. We are painfully aware of how 20 years of blood and treasure was squandered by the politicians as the Taliban swiftly reclaimed control of Afghanistan.
We watched in horror as American citizens and Afghan nationals who had aided our effort frantically tried to get to the airport in Kabul as scenes eerily reminiscent of the fall of Saigon at the end of the Vietnam War flashed across our television screens. To this day there are Americans still trapped in Afghanistan – they are now essentially Taliban hostages – because the Biden Administration has left them behind.
Clearly more time was needed, but Joe Biden bowed to the Taliban and stubbornly refused to delay the August 31st withdrawal deadline. The weakness projected by the American President then reached its inevitable end: suicide bombers attacked the gates of the airport and a nearby hotel.
Thirteen American servicemen and women died in the blast.
Have your forgotten how you felt that day – September 11, 2001. If you have the events of August 26, 2021 should bring those memories flooding back.
Thirteen of our finest.
Killed by terrorists.
Brought home in flag-draped coffins.
We must never forget.
(Lowman S. Henry is Chairman & CEO of the Lincoln Institute and host of the weekly Lincoln Radio Journal and American Radio Journal. His e-mail address is [email protected].)
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