Seven Years On With Nothing To Show

Hard to believe it’s already been seven years.

This year, I came home to Colorado to visit my family over the 9/11 anniversary. On the Tuesday shuttle from Denver Airport to where I met my brother, I spoke with the driver. We remembered back to where we were that morning seven years ago.

He’d been an ambulance driver at the time and was in a home helping an old man. The TV was on and as they loaded the man on the stretcher, he’d watched the famous images from New York. “Are you seeing this?” he asked his partner. They watched out the corners of their eyes.

When they arrived at the hospital, it was eerily quiet. Everybody who wasn’t saving lives at that moment was watching lives disappear on TV. The same shock that descended across all of America gripped the hospital staff, too. They were told to stay on 12-hour shifts in case something happened nearby in Colorado. Remember, we all thought it was the beginning of an invasion at first.

By the time he left on the next call, air traffic had been grounded nationwide. A small plane at a local airport didn’t have its radio turned on, and took off after the grounding was in effect. The ambulance driver and his partner watched as an F-15 and F-16 screamed across Longmont no higher than 500 feet, he thinks, to escort the small plane back to the airport.

“They followed right behind him to either side. If he’d deviated from the flight pattern one bit, they’d have shot him down,” he said.

I told him my 9/11 story, which I first shared with readers in Remembrance From Afar at the one-year anniversary. I was in Los Angeles on the morning of 9/11, driving downtown on the 101 freeway when I heard the news on the radio. At first, I thought it was a comedy routine in poor taste, so I switched channels only to find the same comedy routine on every channel. Traffic slowed to a halt. I noticed all around me every driver punching buttons on their radio. Then, the entire commute exited the freeway, crossed to the other onramp, and reversed direction to go home for war. I’ve never seen that before or since.

The shuttle driver was a veteran and now has five family members in Iraq. We agreed that it’s unforgivable to find seven years on that:

  • We still don’t have Osama bin Laden.

  • Intelligence agencies report that Al Qaeda is stronger now than at any time since 2001.

  • Despite all the hassle imposed on innocent airline passengers, airport screeners still miss concealed weapons in undercover tests, and seaport scanners still miss the emission of deadly radiation from cargo containers.

  • We still haven’t built the Freedom Tower at Ground Zero. Now, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg is hoping that it’s ready in time for the tenth anniversary.

What have we been doing? It’s no great mystery, actually. We’ve been trying to stabilize the country we invaded that had nothing to do with 9/11. It’s not unpatriotic to point that out today. In fact, it’s just the opposite. America’s frenzied, misdirected response to the worst attack on our soil since Pearl Harbor has been a disgrace.

Let’s think back to Dec. 7, 1941 for a moment. How did our grandfathers — now great grandfathers for many — respond? After Japan bombed the naval base at Pearl Harbor, the U.S. declared war on Japan. Germany, Italy, and others of the Axis then declared war on the U.S.

The situation was dire. By spring of 1942, Japan controlled nearly all of Southeast Asia, German submarines wreaked havoc on America off the Atlantic coast, Germany had overcome the British in the desert, and the Soviet Union’s winter campaign had petered out. Yet, over the next three years, our grandfathers and great grandfathers won World War II. Germany surrendered in April 1945 and Japan in August.

In three-and-a-half years after Pearl Harbor, America and its allies won the largest war in history. In seven years after 9/11, we haven’t even caught the one guy responsible for the atrocity, much less made progress against terrorism. Instead, we invaded a country that never attacked us.

Sure, there was the momentarily plausible reason of searching for weapons of mass destruction, but when they failed to turn up we failed to get out. Now there seems to be no point to any of it except to trumpet triumph when the surge succeeds in lowering the violence that we created by invading in the first place. Our grandfathers and great grandfathers called victory winning WWII. We call victory lowering the monthly U.S. casualty count in Iraq from 84 soldiers in August 2007 to 23 last month.

Am I being disrespectful to our soldiers? Am I failing to “support our troops” by mentioning these facts on the morning of the 9/11 anniversary? Not at all. Fear of being accused of that keeps too many people silent.

I don’t care what politicians say, it is not patriotic to wave a flag and offer bromides of troop support as we expose those troops to fatal danger without a cause.

Does anybody anywhere know why we’re in Iraq anymore? I thought I knew back when we were on the hunt for WMD. I tuned in to President Bush’s speech following the acknowledgment of WMD absence, naively expecting to be told that we hadn’t known if the weapons were there, we had to check, and now that we know they aren’t there we’ll be initiating an orderly withdrawal from the country.

Nope, instead he talked about our mission to bring democracy to the Iraqi people. That’s the moment he lost me forever. Not one of us signed up for bringing democracy to the Iraqi people, and he knows it. What a fool’s errand that’s been, and continues to be.

So, here we are seven years on with more than 4,000 soldiers dead, a trillion dollars spent, and a terrorist enemy stronger than before we began. What a tragic seven years it’s been and what an ignominious anniversary this is.

Let’s do what we need to do to see by the time we get to the tenth anniversary that Mayor Bloomberg now keeps in his sites as the date we’ll finally have our act together, that we actually do.

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