Breathing room: Using lessons from 9/11 in the face of international crisis
I was a senior in high school when two planes flew into the twin towers in New York City on this morning in 2001.
I distinctly remember the confusion that morning in hearing that “someone had flown into the World Trade Center.” I was just getting out of gym class. I thought it had been a mistake: maybe an instrument malfunction or human error. The circumstances that I was imagining were tragic, but not terrifying.
The truth, as we all know, was very different from what I had imagined. It was terrifying and tragic. I looked around my classroom on that morning and knew that the United States would have to retaliate somewhere, against someone. The United States could certainly not suffer a loss like that and not react.
I was old enough to remember the first Gulf War a little bit, and certainly old enough to remember Bosnia. I knew the role that the United States had been playing in the international field for some time.
12 years after that confusing and tragic day, I am left wondering what lessons we take away from the last decade-plus of a post-9/11 world. In the last dozen years, we have seen two wars with little result. We have seen more and more violent outbursts in the middle east. As a nation, we have poured money into military operations that have at times resulted in the deaths of civilians. As private citizens, we have given away many of our rights to privacy, either knowingly or not, out of fear and deference to “security.”
What have we learned from these years?
Today, as a nation, we find ourselves in a suspended moment. On Monday, it appeared that we were going to be involved in yet another military conflict. After the Assad regime in Syria allegedly used chemical weapons (Sarin gas, specifically) on their own people, including children, the Obama administration insisted that something must be done. The first impulse? "Bomb the suckers."
Of course, we have learned lessons from the past decade of foreign wars. We would use limited air strikes. There would be no American “boots on the ground.” President Obama has been hard at work getting both Congress and the international community on board with the plan to "bomb the suckers."
And then John Kerry made a seemingly sarcastic, off-the-cuff remark about how a military intervention in Syria could be avoided: If Syria turned over all of their chemical weapons, a military strike would no longer be necessary. To everyone’s surprise, Russia and Syria seemed to come to the table and said, “OK.”
John Kerry will meet tomorrow with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. We will see if the United States will move forward, compelling Syria to turn over its chemical weapons to international authorities for destruction.
This development appears to be genuinely surprising to all involved.
No one knows with any certainty what tomorrow will bring. For today, though, we are left waiting. We are in the eye of the storm - the day of inaction and calm amidst global chaos and fear. So for today, we can mourn the losses from the last twelve years. We can honor our past while contemplating the kind of nation we want to become. Do we really want to be the kind of nation genuinely surprised when a non-violent solution to a volatile situation presents itself?
No one knows what tomorrow will bring, but today we have been given the gift of a little breathing room. Let us use that gifted breath to pray and mourn and reflect.