Editorial: Remembering 9/11
As we watched the horrors unfolding on our TV sets 15 years ago this morning, we knew instinctively that life in this nation had been permanently been changed.
The attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, and the failed attack that resulted in an airplane crashing in a Pennsylvania field, claimed the lives of 2,996 people and injured nearly 6,000 more. Time has done little to soothe the feelings of shock and anguish that washed over us on that day.
But the changes to our nation since then are many.
A new Cabinet-level department was created in the name of homeland security. Congress passed the Patriot Act, giving the National Security Agency expanded powers to collect information on both citizens and noncitizens alike. A new government agency called the Transportation Security Administration was created to tighten security at airports.
We have essentially been at war ever since that day, against a variety of enemies. First the Taliban, then al-Qaida and now the Islamic State, all motivated by a perversion of Islam.
The United States invasion of Afghanistan began in October 2001, with the goal of removing the Taliban from power, after they had provided training sites for the al-Qaida terrorists who had attacked us. A second U.S. invasion, this one of Iraq, began in March 2003, with the goal of removing Saddam Hussein from power.
In both cases, removing the nation’s leader proved to be easier than filling the leadership vacuum that followed. A ceremony in 2014 marked the end of the official combat mission in Afghanistan. But fighting continues, and this summer President Barack Obama said he expected some 8,400 troops to remain in that country on the day he leaves office.
In Iraq and Syria, the rise of the Islamic State has presented a new threat to both our troops and our homeland. By the end of 2014, the group had control of about one-third of both countries. Working with allied forces, we have been able to reclaim much of the territory. But the refugee crisis created by the fighting, especially in Syria, has created a humanitarian disaster.
Here at home, the Wounded Warrior Project estimates that 52,448 soldiers have been wounded in foreign wars since 9/11. Another 320,000 are estimated to have suffered traumatic brain injury, and 400,000 are dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder. An overwhelmed Veterans Affairs health system has struggled to provide the services needed for these troops.
And now, there are new challenges posed by those who have never stepped foot in Iraq or Syria, but are nonetheless inspired by Islamic State propaganda on the Internet. Attacks in San Bernardino, Calif., in 2014 and Orlando, Fla., this year have brought the battlefield to the streets of America.
As a nation, we were united by a common enemy 15 years ago when members of Congress joined together of the steps of the capital to sing “God Bless America.” That common enemy remains today, even as we are divided by an incredibly bitter national election.
The winner of that election will inherit a number of challenges, but none will be greater than what is now a 15-year battle against those who brought death and destruction to American soil on this date and those who share their ideology.