Six years ago today, Islamic murderers committed an unspeakable evil against this nation.
I don’t make a habit of quoting myself, but (for reasons that will become clear at the end of this column) I urge you to read the editorial for the following day that I drafted within hours of the 9/11 bombings, on behalf of the Mobile Register editorial board and with the excellent fine-tuning of my board colleagues. I believe the editorial’s themes remain just as relevant today — and if so, there’s a lesson in that relevance that has nothing to do with its author and everything to do with the themes themselves. Before exploring those themes, though, here is the Register editorial from 9/12/01:
Terror will not succeed, and justice will prevail
UNSPEAKABLE EVIL has occurred. Thousands of innocent people have been killed or injured. The United States of America has been targeted because of its strength, a strength that grows directly from its essential decency.
But for those same reasons of strength and decency, the United States will not be cowed. It will respond firmly and appropriately to Tuesday’s vicious assaults; and when it does, those who are responsible will understand that they are no match for America’s military and moral might.
There is, of course, no logical explanation for the terrorist attacks that shook New York and Washington. There is no ultimate logic to terrorism.
Yes, there may be planning and there may be discipline and there may be an odd rationality that tries to calculate the costs and “benefits” — benefits as defined by a sick mind — of the terrorist actions. But logic, by definition, involves reasoning that is correct and principled. And terrorism knows no principle; terrorism is only a twisted, radical hatred that knows no bounds.
Hatred by its very nature seeks out its opposite; hatred seeks to assault that which is built on hope and on the best of human nature. And hatred succeeds only if it spawns more hatred.
The United States is a better nation than one so easily lured into hatred. The United States has a system built not on hatred, but on justice. Justice may demand retaliation, but it is a retaliation based on logic and on principle, and on laws springing from the informed consent of the governed. Yes, justice should be as swift as possible, but it is more important that it be sure.
What this means is that now is a time for intelligence gathering that is rapid, but careful. Now is a time for a massive and thorough search for evidence. Now is a time for a sober assessment of what happened.
Then, as soon as humanly possible, American justice must be visited upon the perpetrators, and those who harbor them, like a terrible swift sword. It is indeed right, as President George W. Bush said Tuesday, that “The United States will hunt down and pursue those responsible for these cowardly actions.”
It is right, too, that Americans ask how such a complicated attack could be launched undetected. The nation’s political leaders soon should undertake a thorough reassessment of the nation’s intelligence-gathering capabilities.
But while justice must be vigorously pursued by the official organs of American government, the rest of this nation must show its resilience by going about its business. This may have been an act of war against the United States, but it was far from disabling to a country as powerful as ours.
Together, we will care for the wounded and for the families of the victims. Together, we will donate blood and supplies. Together, we will rebuild the financial and communications infrastructure that was harmed in the attack.
And together, we will go about our lives in a condition of freedom that the terrorists can only dream of, in a country where strength grows not from brutal command and control but from the free choices of hundreds of millions of individuals.
An unspeakable evil has been perpetrated. But it was not an evil that succeeded at its aims. It aimed to strike terror in American hearts. Instead, it will strengthen our unity and resolve.
And that resolve will again show the United States to be a light among the nations, a land whose justice and mercy are both self-evident truths.
The sentiments expressed in that editorial were, I believe, not at all exceptional, but instead were shared almost universally among Americans in the hours and days after the attacks. But how many of you not just remember but still feel that unity and resolve today? How many of you feel that the rest of the world accepts as self-evident truths the notion that the United States is a beacon of justice and mercy among the nations? How many of you are still absolutely certain of this nation’s might, both military and moral?
If any of those elements are now in doubt — and it is obvious that at least a sizable percentage of Americans believe they are — then that doubt is a tragedy. The truth is that those sentiments not just were, but remain, well grounded in reality. This is indeed a nation whose strength grows directly from its essential decency. This is indeed a nation of justice. This is indeed a nation that is not easily disabled even by attacks as devastating as the ones on 9/11. This is a nation that could go about its business, and do it well, and prosper and flourish because of the free choices of hundreds of millions of individuals.
Yet, from listening to public discourse today, one would have a hard time believing that these truths are self-evident. It is not just on the left-most blogs, but in repeated statements from the majority party within the U.S. Capitol itself, that the notion of American weakness, ignobility, and culpability is put forth.
How, then, can something that is self-evident be not at all evident to so many?
The answer is that the quality of being self-evident is intrinsic to itself, not dependent on the recognition of the observer. If the observer is willfully blind, no amount of evidence will be perceivable to him. Furthermore, even those who are not willfully blind can, by their inattention, allow blinders to be put on them by those whose blindness is more willful.
Forgive the metaphysics here, but this is important: The challenge before us as Americans is to make sure we give each other the ability to remove the blinders from each other’s eyes and the eyes of everybody of good will. Our own strength, decency, and diplomatic morality as Americans should not be in doubt.
The United States is fighting against terrorists because the terrorists attacked us, repeatedly, both on and long before 9/11, not because of any fault of our own but because of their own twisted, hate-filled ideology. The United States is promoting democracy not because we want to “impose” our beliefs and forms of government on anyone else but because we want other peoples to have the chance to choose their own forms themselves — and only a system of representative government can provide that opportunity.
The United States asserts its sovereignty against United Nations infringement thereof not because we are bullies but because the United Nations is not a world government but only a world forum; and because we, as a legitimate republic that does have a state formed through the consent of the governed, have no obligation to be dictated to by member nations at the UN that do not recognize the rights and freedoms of their own people much less ours.
The United States entered Iraq not for purposes of conquest but in self-defense and in defense of time-tested principles of freedom and human rights. We entered Iraq because Saddam Hussein demonstrably possessed weapons of mass destruction and refused to account for their destruction or dissolution, and had used them in the past. We entered because he clearly planned to secure more such weapons. We entered Iraq because Saddam repeatedly fired on our pilots, because he harbored and sponsored international terrorists, because he offered money to the families of terrorist suicide-bombers as an inducement for more terrorism, because he brutalized his own people, because he had invaded two neighbors and remained a constant threat to do so again, because he tried to assassinate a former U.S. president, and because he was, in sum, a mass murderer who promised more of the same.
The United States always rushes to the aid of any nation in the world that suffers a natural disaster. The United States frequently rushes to the aid of nations threatened or attacked by international thugs and totalitarians. The United States has shed more blood and spent more treasure on behalf of the freedom of others, or to secure their human rights or to save them from brutality and murder, than any nation in the history of mankind.
We are not aggressors, but defenders of freedom and justice.
Those who will not recognize those realities are willfully blind, or self-loathing. We should not be swayed by their blindness.
Six years after 9/11, all of us Americans must recapture the feelings that were so near-universally felt six years ago today, the feelings and convictions that were expressed not just in the Mobile Register editorial but in ordinary conversations and almost everywhere in public discourse in the days following those horrendous airplane bombings.
About the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson explained, quite accurately, that it sprang not from his own genius and that he was not “aiming at originality of principle or sentiment,” but rather that the Declaration “was intended to be an expression of the American mind.” The Register editorial of 9/12/01, and so many other similar editorials and public and private commentaries immediately after the attacks, were likewise expressions of the American mind.
We must work to ensure that the American mind continues to express itself in like manner today, and that we act in accordance with it, tomorrow, and forever.