Today is September 11. 9-11. There is no one in America and very few in the world who need to be told of the significance of this date. On this day eight years ago some 3,000 innocent lives were lost and countless more were destroyed beyond understanding in an attack that was, itself, beyond understanding for most people. There have been many debates, many arguments even, about the causes, the results, and the meanings of that attack, but what stands out the most is that 3,000 people died and one of the mightiest nations in the world found itself afraid, confused, and in pain like never before.
I have seen comparisons to December 7, 1941, the "day that will live in infamy" and that is, probably, the only date in American history that can compare but, at the same time, there are significant differences. In 1941 there was a major war in progress that included nations with whom we were on friendly terms if not in outright alliance. Despite the isolationist tendencies of the American public of that day, these nations were people with whom we had only recently joined in war once before and it was the general, global consensus that we would join again. We were already actively involved in supporting and equipping the Allied forces and the only real question concerning our military engagement was how long we would wait before committing.
Also, Pearl Harbor was a military installation. I do not dismiss nor downplay the deaths that happened there - quite the contrary! - but there is a difference, as any soldier will tell you. In fact it is one of the defining differences between a military engagement - even a guerilla military engagement - and an act of terrorism. The Japanese in 1941 attacked a military target. Those responsible for the 9-11 attacks specifically chose and attacked civilian targets. (Before I get hate mail from nitpickers, I am fully aware that not all of the targets on 9-11 were of a civilian nature, but where was the intended highest concentration of deaths?)
There is certainly a comparison between these two events in American history and they both shook the feelings of American security to the foundations, but there are also important differences and it is these differences that must be remembered.
We cannot forget that those 3,000 civilians who died on 9-11 were not casualties of war. They were not collateral damage. They were the intended targets. Remember that, if you are one of those inclined to make excuses for the attackers.
We cannot forget the brave men and women - many of whom joined that 3,000 - who ran into harm's way to try to help those who were hurt and dying. Yes, it was their job, but how many of them had ever been called upon - or even expected to be called upon - to perform that job in so heroic a fashion and under such hellish circumstances? Remember that, if you are one of those inclined to call Americans selfish and venal.
We cannot forget that we stood as a nation, and even as a world, in shock, in horror, and in anguish. We wept, but we did so together. Remember that, if you are one of those inclined to believe that we are an island, untouched by and untouching toward world events.
Most importantly, however, we cannot forget that it was our very way of life that was attacked that day. The targets that were chosen were chosen because they would shake us, because they would scare us, and because they would hurt us. They were chosen as targets that would cripple our belief in ourselves, our ideals, and our identity. The purpose of those attacks was not to destroy America, but to cause us to destroy ourselves. Remember that, if you are one of those inclined to respond to 9-11 by making America something other than the Land of the Free.
We must never forget, but we must never forget exactly what it is we need to remember.