Come Sunday, millions of Americans will relive that day — Sept. 11, 2001. Its billowing images of horror are etched forever in our minds.
We will recall where we were. We will remember the feelings that coursed through our minds and bodies as we watched — stricken, helpless and in shock. And when we see, again and again, the surreal, horrific images on television of the World Trade Center buildings collapsing, the airliner slamming into the Pentagon and the bomb-like hole of Flight 93 in Shanksville, Pa., the pictures will rekindle a sense of near-unbridled anger over the 2,977 innocent lives lost on that day.
And in spite of the death of Osama bin Laden, 10 years later, we still want justice, we still want revenge.
One of the remarkable aspects of this story is how our little corner of the world — Longboat Key, Sarasota and Venice — were direct participants in that tragic Day of Infamy. Of all the places in the world, our three little towns and cities, nestled on the balmy, peaceful Gulf Coast of Southwest Florida, were among the launch points and starting points of the events of the day.
The Venice airport, we subsequently learned, served as a flight-school for a few of the terrorists. Longboat Key’s Colony Beach & Tennis Resort was the overnight home base for President George W. Bush the night before the attacks. It was also a target, the Longboat Observer later learned from witnesses, of a van full of Middle Easterners posing as TV journalists who wanted to film the president, but who were rebuffed at the Colony’s guard gate. To this day, the speculation is they were terrorists who wanted to assassinate President Bush the same way disguised Al-Qaida terrorists two days earlier assassinated Ahmad Shah Massoud, the Afghani government’s top anti-Taliban general.
And, finally, Sarasota — in particular, the second-grade class of Sandra Kay Daniels at Emma Booker Elementary School — was where President Bush’s aide, Andrew Card, interrupted the president’s reading class and whispered in his ear that the United States was under attack.
President Bush recalled for National Geographic TV that in those minutes Daniels’ class and went into a makeshift holding room, where he quickly scribbled a statement to be delivered to a worldwide audience. He told National Geographic that he reminded himself that he needed to appear calm and in control. History undoubtedly will remember that the way Bush responded and led in the days and weeks that followed were truly heroic.
Still no definitive victory
Almost 10 years later, on May 2, 2011, U.S. Navy Seals killed Osama bin Laden, the most-hated man in America, the diabolical bearded leader of the terrorists.
In the hours after his death, many Americans celebrated in the streets of the nation’s capital. Justice at last.
But with so much time and the subsequent events in between 9/11 and bin Laden’s death — the Iraq war … no Iraqi weapons of mass destruction … Saddam Hussein’s capture and death … free, democratic votes in Iraq … the succession of terrorist attacks around the world … Mumbai, London, Madrid, Bali, Israel … attempted but foiled attacks on the United States … Fort Hood, Texas … the Arab spring … and the continuing war against the Taliban in Afghanistan — for many of us, there still is no sense of victory, no vindication, no sense of complete justice.
Sadly, the “war on terrorism” persists.
Indeed, it’s remarkable to think how so many churches and Masses around the world have offered the same “prayer of the faithful” every day for the past 10 years: “We pray for the end of the war on terror and the conversion of the terrorists from the worship of death and destruction to the worship a God of love and peace.” But it goes on.
As noted in the box, the Washington Post this week assessed this state of affairs as the new norm — endless war.
It’s not like World War II, when we confronted government-sponsored enemies and decided there was one definitive option — them or us. The way to end it all was mass destruction of the enemy empires, even if it meant thousands and thousands of civilian casualties.
This used to be how nations’ leaders viewed war. Indeed, the belief went, when a nation’s political leaders chose to be violent aggressors, they in turn chose to put at risk their nation’s entire population, sacrificing the innocent lives of their citizenry, all because of their selfish desires for power.
And even though President Bush vowed after 9/11 that those nations harboring terrorists would not be spared, our political and military leaders have adopted the view that the war on terrorism is not a war that can be confined to political and geographic borders. To paraphrase retired Marine Col. John Saputo of Longboat Key, it’s a war of killing one terrorist at a time.
Time is running out
Perhaps this is the new norm. But we also know, definitively, we are living in denial. Everyone knows the roots and money behind this worldwide terrorism is centered in one place: Iran. And time is running out. The most crucial question in this post-9/11 era is whether the United States and its allies will let Iran complete its development of nuclear weapons.
In the recent memoirs of Reza Kahlili, author of “A Time to Betray,” a book about his double life as a CIA agent in Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, Kahlili (a pseudonym for his protection) states definitively:
“Now, we are running out of time because the Iranians — with the help of North Korea and China — are developing nuclear warheads. They now have over 1,000 ballistic missiles, including missiles that can hit every capital in Europe, and they’re working with North Korea to develop intercontinental ballistic missiles.
“Once they get the bomb, all bets are off. It’s checkmate. They will arm Hamas, Hezbollah, Syria, Venezuela and others. Every U.S. ally in the region and throughout the world will be a possible target. Israel will be destroyed. America will either be hit or live in constant fear of it. And Iran will substantially control the world’s energy resources … ”
Come Sunday, we will mourn again the 3,000 lives lost on 9/11 and the 4,000 American soldiers’ lives lost in the war on terror hence. Justice will never be served for them. But we will honor them, especially those who have made and continue to make the ultimate sacrifice.
And we will continue to pray — for the end of the war on terror, the end of “the era of endless war”; and for the courage to do what must be done to preserve and ensure what we cherish most: our life and our liberty.
“This the American era of endless war …
“In previous decades, the military and the American public viewed war as an aberration and peace as the norm.
“Today, radical religious ideologies, new technologies and cheap, powerful weapons have catapulted the world into ‘a period of persistent conflict,’ according to the Pentagon’s last major assessment of global security. ‘No one should harbor the illusion that the developed world can win this conflict in the near future,’ the document concludes.
“By this logic, America’s wars are unending and any talk of peace is quixotic or naive …
“One lesson of today’s endless war seems to be that Americans will have to learn to live with the a certain amount of insecurity and fear.”
Sept. 5, 2011
Read more East County 9/11 coverage here.
Read more Longboat 9/11 coverage here.