This weekend, America will mark the tenth anniversary of the attacks of September 11 , when a small band of murderous Islamists seized control of four jet aircraft and suicidally crashed them, killing thousands. Part of the process of remembrance for the American people is to repeatedly ask others, “Where were you when it happened?” We then relate stories of how the news came to us, what we thought, how we acted, where we went – and so the mystic bond of common memory is confirmed. 9/11 is imprinted upon our consciousness like a seal upon a letter, and so long as we live, so lives its effect. Yet, the question I would prefer to ask is not “Where were you then” but “Where are you today?” – the stubborn insistence of the present. 9/11 may be indelibly seared in our minds however the same could not be said for 9/10. th And 9/12 is only marginally more memorable for the average citizen. The two dates – September 10 and th th September 12 – could not possibly be further apart in their meaning for the country. On September 10 , America was almost universally oblivious to the homicidal designs of Al Qaeda, and equally ignorant of the name Osama Bin Laden. American government, from the White House to the local town hall, focused its interests on petty minutiae of regulations, taxes and procedures. Round-the-clock cable news services reported the soap opera-style details of the death of Chandra Levy, or chose sides in the debate over federal funding for stem cell research. To possess a th September 10 consciousness, then, is to willfully deny the bloody consequences of worldwide terrorism, and correlatively busy oneself with the mundane fluff of ordinary life. Others, however, adopted a September 12 consciousness: an overwhelming concern for the well-being of their neighbors; a renewed respect for police, firefighters and paramedics; and above all, a steely resolve to hunt the perpetrators of this crime and bring them to summary justice. In the decade following 9/11, President George W. Bush pursued an enormous slate of counterterrorism policies that included significant growth in defense capability, the consolidation of intelligence services and the creation of the Department of Homeland Security. Countries like Iraq and Afghanistan which had supplied material and fiscal support to the now-infamous Al Qaeda were invaded. Their dysfunctional, totalitarian regimes replaced (however imperfectly) by democratic ones. In all, some 41 publicly-known terrorist plots have been thwarted, an untold number of others were abandoned at their start, and in the crowning event of the War on Terror, the despicable Osama Bin Laden himself was shot and killed. President Obama’s record on prosecuting the War is notable for how often he has been compelled to extend Bush policies while simultaneously railing against them in public speeches. In direct contradiction to his own rhetoric, the detention center at Guantanamo Bay remains open and active, troop withdrawals from Iraq and Afghanistan have been frequently delayed, the PATRIOT Act permitting stronger domestic intelligence acquisition has been renewed, and the horrific notion of granting civil trials to captured terrorists has been – for now – suspended. The th practical realities of the jihadist threat have forced the President into a September 12 posture – but when th allowed to develop his own security policies, Barack Obama exposes a dramatic September 10 psychology. The debt ceiling debate of early August produced a bipartisan deal which slashed some $500 billion out of defense spending. Current defense budgets are significantly below their historical averages, and according to a report by the General Marine Corps Office, two-thirds of non-deployed Marines are not at acceptable combat readiness. Conversely, spending on government entitlement programs has exploded, devouring nearly seventy percent of the federal budget. To correctly remember September 11 , then, is to re-discover and revitalize our Constitutional obligation for common defense. While lighting candles, singing songs, or saying prayers will warm the collective souls of our citizens, the strongest, richest legacy we can bestow to the future is national security. And as we pray that no th September 11 ever happens again, we would do well to make certain of it.
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