As Friday’s parade winds through downtown Sacramento, honoring the three local men who thwarted the French-train gunman, the city and nation will take sober satisfaction. Spencer Stone, Alek Skarlatos and Anthony Sadler acted boldly in a very dangerous moment. Clearly, theirs was one battle the terrorists didn’t win.
But on this Sept. 11, clarity is otherwise in short supply in this world, which has been so upended by geopolitical fallout. Fourteen years after Osama bin Laden sent nearly 3,000 Americans to their deaths through a coordinated airline hijacking, we’re still reconciling the human toll and reeling from the aftereffects of one of the greatest tragedies on our soil.
The two airliners hit the iconic World Trade Center twin towers, bringing both down in an hour or so, cascading to earth in a blue-gray ash plume. Millions of pieces of paper fluttered in the wind and drifted for miles around ground zero. Fathers and mothers, sons and daughters, friends and lovers frantically called loved ones for help, for solace, to say goodbye as the worst happened. Office workers leaped to their deaths to avoid being immolated, and hundreds of firefighters and police died trying to rescue the victims and escort thousands more to safety.
In Washington, D.C., at the Pentagon, an airliner slammed into the side of the Department of Defense headquarters and killed more than 100 people in an instant. Privates and corporals worked side by side with colonels and generals to save others.
In Shanksville, Pa., another plane bound for the U.S. Capitol was recaptured by its passengers, only to be flown into the green farmland below. All on board died.
Stone, Skarlatos and Sadler were 8 and 9 years old when these things happened, yet 14 years later, the facts remain vivid. The wounds are still fresh, and the memory of those who were later to sent to fight and die or be grievously wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan still haunt us. And our mission there is not accomplished. Far from it.
Syria is riven with Islamic State terror threats, and millions have fled to Europe and elsewhere. The sister gulf states have done far too little to aid the refugees from their region.
But with only 1,500 Syrian refugees accepted in the U.S. since Syria’s meltdown, and President Barack Obama waiting until Thursday to announce, finally, that this country will make room this year for only another 10,000, the Middle East won’t be alone in answering for this massive sin of omission. So, we are sorry to say, will we.
Afghanistan and Iraq remain unstable. Iran is at the table pledging to halt its nuclear weapon production, and that’s a good start. But the rest of the region has so far failed to live up to the now-stale promise of an Arab Spring.
Our national debate about internal security and civil liberty is ongoing, and how we continue to respond continues to be at issue. Sept. 11 consumed George W. Bush’s presidency, and only after the death of bin Laden, at the hands of the Obama administration, did Americans begin to feel anything approaching a sense of justice.
So much pain, so little closure. So let us give thanks, at least, for the uncomplicated salute we can give on this day to the three young men riding in open cars in downtown Sacramento. Give them a cheer. They, along with the rest of us, could use one on this murkiest of anniversaries.