Adult Americans recall when they heard the news. “9-11” has become part of the American lexicon. We all have that searing visual imprint of the clouds of smoke, falling buildings, desperate people jumping, heroes rushing to the rubble… never to return. We endured the various speculations that the 24/7 news media offered about the perpetrators. Some even accused the U.S. government. More than 3,000 Americans lost their lives in that brutal, pre-mediated act of terrorism. As a nation, there was a collective pause of sorrow. On this day every year those feelings well up again – the single chime of the firehouse bell for each American murdered reminding us of their sacrifice. We must not only remember what was lost, but what we stand to lose and what these killers have slowly eroded from our life. They may not have been able to successfully attack again, but they stand to gain ground as we steadily cede our individual rights to government control, in the name of security and short term national interests.
The killers who boarded the planes did not care about the American values of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. The value of life is foreign to a deranged band of terrorists, intent only on death. Liberty, a distant term to a person indoctrinated by the single-minded ethos of a radical idealism, hell bent on revenge and destruction. What type of happiness can one derive from suicide and the murder of unknown men, women, and children?
What do they teach our enemies in school to graduate terrorists? American students learn about George Washington and the Revolutionary War. Our forefathers sacrificed their lives to establish a nation founded on values of equality and democracy. They escaped persecution and poverty in the lands they left. We stand proudly on the shoulders of these great founders who had the foresight to develop two documents which have altered the course of human history – the US Constitution and the Bill of Rights. In both the ever present theme is personal freedom. They were not created so we could create more institutions. This nation fundamentally believes that all people are free to choose their destiny, as long as it does not harm another.
On 9-11 the terrorists targeted not only the glorious World Trade Center. They are intent on destroying the very American notion of personal freedom. While they have failed to launch successful attacks since 9-11, our lives look very different today. The incursion of government intervention further and further into the minutia of our lives represents a victory for the terrorists. At the airport, we must remove shoes, empty pockets, toss liquids, expose laptops, and now, subjected to the full body scan. Laws provide the government with increased power to tap our phones, access our email and trace our online activity. From the daily manipulation of the money supply, interest rates, taxes that giveth and taketh away, bailouts, new incentives, national health care, trade impositions, job creation tactics — the average American is deluged by the tidal wave of government intervention.
While it would be difficult to directly argue that some of these government actions were precipitated by 9-11, it is not difficult to argue that on that day, we, as a nation, became more accepting of the government as our protector. The shock of a direct, home frontal attack with innocent American bloodshed and no public warning, opened the door, just enough, to begin the slide. That mandate has extended with tentacles into areas never intended, or equated with the original need to preserve our personal freedoms.
As we memorialize those killed on 9-11 and the service of the thousands of brave men and women protecting us in foreign lands, we must keep in mind what we are really fighting for. America is the only nation in the world formed to protect the personal freedom of its citizens. Other countries may enjoy free societies, but the engineering of their basic framework is not grounded in these precious ideals. The terrorists don’t care about life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. They care about the death of Americans and destruction of American society.
The memory of brave heroes and innocent victims should not be tarnished by the diminution of the strength of freedom. We must move forward carefully, balancing the role of government while preserving personal freedom. We must be sure that the laws passed are not just enacted out of expedience or fear, and must be considered in light of their impact on American values. We must ensure that our leaders understand their fundamental role in protecting those freedoms. If we do not understand the battle within our society today and fight to hold on to the truly American value of personal freedom, there will be no battle to fight tomorrow. The terrorists will have won.