2,977 men, women and children were murdered on September 11, 2001 over the course of a few hours on a sunny Tuesday morning. The victims were distributed as follows: 246 on the four planes converted into flying missiles. Two of the planes flew into the Twin Towers which collapsed and led to the deaths of 2,606 human beings in New York City in the towers and on the ground, and a third struck the Pentagon taking 125 lives. The fourth plane, heading to Washington D.C., never arrived and crashed into an open field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania as the passengers of the flight fought the terrorists over control of the flight.
Hours after the attacks on September 11, 2001 Thomas Fleming posted a prescient essay on what had happened and what would follow over the next decade. Essays by Pat Buchanan and George Will reflecting on the response to the attacks are chastened by failures of American policy makers. Will writes of self-inflicted wounds and Buchanan offered his judgement on the past decade:
Looking back on the decade since 9/11, one appreciates Edmund Burke’s summary judgment of that generation of British leaders who lost the North American colonies. “A great empire and little minds go ill together.”It is not only the pundits and talking heads questioning the response over the past decade but one of the first two warriors to take to the air on September 11 to defend Washington DC. Her name is Major Heather Penney, of the first District of Columbia Air National Guard, in an interview on C-Span reflecting on September 11 a decade later said beginning at 54 minutes and 31 seconds:
"I often wonder if we have forsaken some of what it means to be Americans - some of what it means to be America in our response to try to assure our citizens of security. There is no such thing as perfect security." [..] Have we been overzealous? Has the pendulum swung too far? Such that we are abdicating our value set in terms of what it means to be an American in our desire to be totally safe?Later on in the same interview she seemed to be echoing a sentiment echoed by Benjamin Franklin over two centuries earlier: "They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety." The erosion of civil liberties, and the passage of the so-called "Patriot Act" are just two of the many shadows to emerge from that horrible day ten years ago that has had terrible consequences over the past decade. Terror and war are the tools that revolutionaries have always used to subvert and destroy established orders and do away with long cherished freedoms.
Today is a day to pray, remember the victims, honor those who risked their lives to save others and also remember and process what happened and the response. We owe it not only to those who died on September 11, 2001 but to the long departed and those yet to be born what kind of country will be passed on to the next generation.