The Turning Point

Note: I will be continuing to post during the day today, but new entries will appear below this one, not at the top of the page as normal.
One year ago today the world changed not at all, but our comfortable perception of it shattered forever. And now, those of us who survived — who were spared — find ourselves here, a year older; perhaps slightly wiser; grasping for the right words to honor those we have lost; the right gestures to express our sorrow. To find some way to give meaning to an event beyond comprehension at a human scale; an act so monstrously powerful that in a moment, it cleaved history irrevocably into before and after.
What rituals are appropriate to commemorate the memory of thousands of your fellow citizens murdered on live television as the world watched?
What words can we say; what symbols can we invoke that that can possibly lend meaning to an act of barbarism so grotesque that in its rejection of life; its utter, ultimate futility it defies the very concept of civilization itself?
The task seems impossible. Were there any alternative, the wise course would be to yield; withdraw from the field entirely, and leave the inexplicable unexplained.
There is no alternative. We are here; they are gone, and we are left to make sense of it. And there is still much work to be done.
And so, here I am. To post nothing today would be its own statement, would it not? And not the one I’d care to make. And so… I make my own attempt at meaning, and in my hubris, hope that perhaps I can shed some light into the darkness.
What do I expect on this day?
I fear that our remembrances this year will be dominated by resignation and passivity; will avoid the hard reality that the deaths of our fellow citizens were not accidents, but rather deliberate acts of murder by an enemy whose forces are still at large, and continue to covet American blood.
As you watch today’s ceremonies, ask yourself: if you did not know the truth, could the speech you are watching; the ceremony you are witnessing, be equally appropriate if those two towers had collapsed in an earthquake?
If the answer is “yes”, then my fears have been borne out.
Perhaps I will be proven wrong, but the track record up until this point is not good. We seem to be embracing the role of victim; not just commemorating it, but celebrating it. We are in danger of remembering what occurred a year ago today as a tragedy that just “happened”.
But what is being overwhelmed in the cult of victimhood is that forty men and women refused to accept their role as passive victims. They saw the face of the enemy; they learned the evil it had done already and the work it still had left to be done on that day.
And they said “no more”. They drew the line: this far, and no farther.
Flight 93.
And suddenly, there it is. Amid the senselessness of that day, a clarity appears: a meaning that can be drawn from the death and madness.
The conflict we face now did not begin last September. Whether you define the war against Islamic fascism as beginning in 1979, or in 1993, it had been with us for years; we simply failed to acknowledge that there were indeed fanatics who were sworn to kill us. And so, as horrible as the loss of life was in the Towers and at the Pentagon, as events were unique only in degree, not in kind.
But something unique did happen that awful day. Something the murderers did not expect; something they had not planned.
We began to fight back.
It deserves a name of its own. Whether you call it the “Battle of Shanksville”, the “Battle of Flight 93”, or just “The Turning Point”, it was an event inexorably tied to — and yet distinct from — the black sorrow of the rest of that day. And it should not be subsumed under the easy grief that we have come to associate with “9/11”.
For it marked the first time in this war that Americans had fought back. In those few scant minutes after the first hijackings, American society finally woke up, analyzed the threat, and acted. Forty people gave their lives in the effort, but the battle was won. There would be no third target on that day; the only harm that Flight 93 would do would be to a deserted field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania.
Years from now, I hope the emphasis with which we commemorate the events of this year past will have changed. The loss of life and grief should not be forgotten or minimized. But I think that given time, and perspective, it will become clearer that the event that we should remember most keenly on this day is not the massive loss of life that the terrorists inflicted on us.
It is that one, small battle that occurred over the skies of Pennsylvania, where a group of unarmed American civilians stared their murderers in the face, and in refusing to quietly accept their fate, earned our nation its first victory in this war.
Driving yesterday, I was listening to NPR’s Talk of the Nation. In the midst of a panel discussion on American Empire, the inevitable comparison to Rome was raised. And one guest, Victor Davis Hanson of California State University, was asked of the fall of that great empire, and how it had been dragged down by its foes. He said this:
“The problem wasn’t the number of enemies. It was the attitude of the people… there was a level of lethargy and there were a lot of people who were asking themselves ‘What is it to be a Roman’? And they didn’t have an answer for that… When a culture doesn’t believe that their civilization is unique, or it’s worth fighting for, then it ceases to exist.”
I have faith that we, as a nation, will not succumb to the malaise that doomed the Romans. Our time may come: but not now. Not yet.
But the risk is there. If we fail to remember the victory of this day last year — if we fail to recognize that we must choose between the cult of victimhood or the brave example of the heroes on Flight 93 — then we may well lose “what it is to be an American”.
To my fellow citizens: I ask you to remember this day not just as a time of mourning, but as a celebration of victory. A small triumph; won at a price far too high; but a victory nonetheless. The first, we may hope, of many to come. A turning point in a war that has been waged against us for years; a war that we did not choose, that we do not relish, but one that has been brought upon us. A war that we now find it our responsibility and duty to finish.
To those who lost loved ones on that day: Should any of you read these words, I can only say that my grief is yours. Nothing I can write here will erase your loss; it would be arrogance and presumption for me to try. I can only hope and wish that each of you will find your own way to move forward with your lives, and to remember those that you lost.
And to those who attacked my nation and murdered my countrymen, I say: Hide well. Find the dark places where your empty souls can take solace in the absence of the light. Enjoy your victories where you may.
Because we are coming for you. And no matter how many battles you win; no matter how you have wounded us — how you will wound us — you will lose this war.
We have cleared a special place in the dustbin of history for Islamic fascism; tucked gently between the strident, shrill cries of Nazism and the sickly-sweet lies of Communism. It is waiting for you, and it will not have to wait long.
The brave Americans on Flight 93 were the first to see your evil for what it was; were the first to be willing to wager their cherished lives to defy your worship of death; were the first to defeat you in battle. They will not be the last.