It has been 14 years since the dreaded attacks known to history as 9/11. The sad thing is, as I sit and reflect on all that has happened the last 14 years I am struck by the disturbing reality that Osama bin Laden may actually be winning.
In the days immediately following the tragic attacks there was a genuine sense of American pride and unity—but it was very short-lived. We grieved as a nation and the world grieved with us at the inconceivable evil that had been launched against so many innocent people. Before long, President Bush stood at Ground Zero and proclaimed those responsible would soon be running in fear.
In a groundswell of vengeful fervor Congress quickly abdicated their constitutional responsibility to hold the authority of war declaration. Then, with shouts of patriotic zeal and flag waving prowess, we rallied behind our President to send volunteer soldiers to fight wars of revenge paid for on credit. We blindly trusted in the idea that that guns and bombs alone would somehow right the wrong that had been done to us.
Predictably, and perhaps appropriately, the emotional zeal that started these tragic wars quickly eroded. Our national life returned normal. Patriotism was redefined as simply sporting a “we support the troops” bumper sticker or flying the American flag. As a nation we were genuinely happy to honor the brave men and women sent to Iraq and Afghanistan and thank them for their service, but the vast majority of eligible young Americans would never see combat, never know a draft, and never truly sacrifice for the war effort. Contents to accept the lies that a war could be fought on credit, America cruised ignorantly along rejoicing that in some ways the wars had added catalyst to the American economy and people became richer. Tragically, those who had been heavily invested in war industries became exceptionally rich off the carnage and devastation of our revenge.
Yet, as we were getting a stronger economy and patting ourselves on the back for supporting the troops that were fighting for us, brewing beneath the surface of our American culture was an increasingly heightened sense of fear and anger. Like a festering wound, this hatred and fear was slowly growing in its infectious waste and preparing to release its toxic venom into the nation as a whole. Traditional political divisions between left and right became significantly wider. A politics of triumphalism usurped the capacity or willingness for leaders to work in bipartisan partnerships for the good of the nation. Those who increasingly opposed the war were loudly shout down by those who felt it was our national obligation to destroy our enemy. Fueled by populist media and grounded in fear that “those people” would ruin “our way of life,” the hatred slowly festered as the economy grew by leaps and bounds.
Ultimately, our national economy collapsed and the hate-filled political frenzy that followed saw the election of President Obama and the bitter retaliation of all who opposed that election. On a level of epic and historical proportions the political discourse became increasingly more divisive and polarized. “Patriotism” became fundamentally married to political affiliation and the only “true” Americans were then decided according to political preference rather than our shared national heritage.
Today we live in America that is more divided than at any time since the American Civil War. Yet rather than divided strictly along geographical lines of North and South, we have bifurcated whole communities into absolutist combatants for control of our nation. Racism continues to destroy lives on epic levels. Hatred is destroying the lives of police officers murdered simply for wearing their uniform. Schools, movie theaters, and urban highways have become random grounds of senseless violence and hatred. Economic inequality deepens as the nation’s most wealthy increasingly divide from the most impoverished and the vast middle becomes stretched thinner and thinner.
Among the sorted goals of Osama bin Laden was to divide America in his evil hopes that such division would bring about our collapse as a nation. It would be naïve to think that the 9/11 attacks alone created the catastrophe in which we live today. But it is also historically relevant to note that this 14th anniversary marks the definitive beginning of a long, fear-driven, and hate-fueled slide into our own national disgrace.
Rather than simply “never forget,” as the saying goes, perhaps it is time that we do forget a few things so that we can truly reclaim what Osama bin Laden took away from us.
Let us forget the rage. Our anger and rage over something tha t happened 14 years ago does nothing to either resolve the issues at hand or bring healing to the land. All it does is serve to fuel further hatred, fear, and animosity.
Let us forget the revenge. Our violent revenge has ravaged 2 countries and left them more unstable than they were 14 years ago. Our revenge has put us at odds with many nations that would be our friends. Our revenge has cost countless billions of dollars and, much more seriously, hundreds of thousands of innocent lives. Our revenge only played in to the evil that was unleashed upon us 14 years ago.
Let us forget the stereotypes. It is a sad commentary to realize that the majority of Muslims killed in our wars of revenge were not enemies of the United States but were actually those who also, bin Laden himself considered to be less than pure Islamic. Yet, stereotyping entire races, ethnicities, and religious preferences as being evil, we have actually emboldened those who would find reason to hate Americans.
Let us forget the hate. It was hatred that brought upon the 9/11 disaster. And that hatred so the seeds of a national hatred that not only launched two unnecessary wars, but is also a hatred that has worked its way inwardly and is destroying the very fabric of our nation. Once such hatred was unleashed without impunity, it was only natural that like a cancer it would begin to destroy us.
The 14th anniversary of this epic moment in American history gives us the perfect time to remember, and perhaps most importantly, to forget. In forgetting let us hold fast to what God calls us to remember—we are to love one another as Christ first loved us. In forgetting the rage, revenge, stereotypes, and hatred, we will begin to not only embrace God’s love a new but will turn the dangerous slide of Osama bin Laden’s victory into a greater victory for all that is good, holy, and decent.
14 years ago today the power of hate changed the world. As we appropriately remember this tragic anniversary it is vitally important that we remember hatred is not the means by which we may overcome the devastating power of hatred. If God's love is not allowed to prevail then hatred will win the day.
What is your choice?