I was a witness to September 11. I saw the smoke rise from the Pentagon – not on my television screen, but through the windows of my office building. I didn’t just hear the explosion of Flight 77, I felt it when the building shook. I was fortunate; no physical damage, no one close to me lost. However, it is a day I couldn’t forget even if I tried. It was the day “everything changed.”
At least, that’s what the rest of the country told itself. Those of us who lived and worked in the Washington, DC, and New York City areas knew better. We knew this wasn’t the first time al Qaeda had hit us. New Yorkers felt it in 1993 when the World Trade Center was hit the first time.
Denizens of the national capital region knew about the 1998 Nairobi embassy and the U.S.S. Cole. We knew this was an escalation of their war against us, an escalation that would grow in blood and treasure unless it was prevented. Twenty years later, this weekend – and the events in the month proceeding it – make me wonder if the rest of the country ever got the memo.
I’ve seen friends from outside Virginia and the Tri-state area watch with anger and bewilderment at the coverage of the fall of Kabul. Variations on the theme of, “Why is the media so critical of Biden for ending the war?” have filled my social media feeds. I’ve hesitated responding, self-aware enough to know my own experience can cloud my judgment. Now, however, it is clear to me that the lack of experience from outside those two metropolitan areas is the bigger problem.
The “media” that criticized Biden so heavily did it because they know the war didn’t start on 9/11, but eight years earlier. Whether from NYC or DC, anchors and pundits either lived through the earlier attacks or worked with those who did. They knew of al Qaeda before 2001; they knew it was still around in 2021.
Indeed, if anything, I think the “media” pulled its punches. There was far more criticism of the method of the withdrawal from Afghanistan rather than the decision to withdraw. The supposed addiction to presenting “both sides” of an issue was largely absent from the decision itself.
More to the point, for most of the nation, 9/11 was a one-time deal. It happened. It shocked Americans. It moved us to action. Thankfully, nothing like it has happened to Americans since.
But it was not the first time al Qaeda attacked us.
That simple truth has been forgotten – or more likely, never realized in the first place – by far too many Americans. Critics of the decision to liberate Afghanistan seem to assume we could have somehow prevented subsequent attacks without recognizing 9/11 was itself a subsequent attack. Critics of the amount of time we spent there seem to think that al Qaeda was weakened beyond recovery as they kept attacking Americans around the world. The overwhelming majority of Americans just want to “move on” when al Qaeda and the Taliban have no intention of letting us.
To assume the war ended in 2021 is to assume it began in 2001. Neither is correct. Our enemies adapted, waited us out, and have triumphed. They are adapting again – finding friends and partners in the world’s tyrannies …
… and if left to their own devices, they will hit us again after 2021.
How do I know that, you ask?
Because they hit us, multiple times, before 2001.