Sept. 11, 2001, is not simply a historical date in America. Like Dec. 7, 1941, it is a line of demarcation.
There is Before 9/11 and After 9/11. We are now 15 years past that dreadful day. More than 3,000 people died in coordinated attacks by Islamist terrorists who hijacked airliners and flew them into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, and would have crashed into the Capitol or some other iconic edifice but for the heroes who forced the terrorists to crash United Flight 93 into a field in Pennsylvania.
There are people who will vote for the first time on Nov. 8 who have little or no memory of the attacks. Future generations will have to be reminded about what happened.
Sept. 11 changed our world on many levels. Wars were waged in Iraq and Afghanistan, resulting in more than 4,400 deaths of American soldiers. Much of foreign and domestic policy since has focused on preventing another 9/11. The Department of Homeland Security, a post-9/11 creation, is the second-largest Cabinet department. Each terrorist attack, whether at home or abroad by al-Qaida or the Islamic State, becomes a 9/11 signpost.
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Americans traveling by air are asked to remove their shoes, their belts, their laptops, their larger-than-3-ounce liquid bottles, their coffee cups, their nail clippers and their pocketknives. We put up with it, though resent it, so that we can be relatively certain that no one flies with so much as a boxcutter, the tool that helped enable 19 al-Qaida hijackers to seize control and turn passenger jets into bombs. As our military and CIA wage an air war with drones, we periodically hear of another al-Qaida or IS leader obliterated.
There is Before 9/11 and After 9/11. We are now 15 years past that dreadful day.
The death of Osama bin Laden, ordered by President Barack Obama and executed by SEAL Team Six, was the punctuation mark of the 9/11 era, not the banner hanging prematurely from an aircraft carrier proclaiming “Mission Accomplished.”
Politicians of both parties employ whatever rhetoric matches the moment in the echo chamber of 9/11. Are they tough enough? Nimble enough? Prescient enough? Presidential candidates focus on who would be the best defender in a post-9/11 environment.
Hillary Clinton, who represented New York in the U.S. Senate when the attack occurred, is seen as a hawk in the post-9/11 world. Donald Trump amps up the hyperbole, but the New Yorker did not bother to visit the new 9/11 Memorial until a few months ago.
The United States was not an innocent place prior to 9/11, but we may have naively believed in our invulnerability. We have been spared another catastrophic direct attack, but that doesn’t mean that one won’t happen. As we recall that deadly Tuesday in 2001, the attacks incongruously set against a morning sky across America, our vigilance, 15 years later, is still warranted.