Remembrance, resilience, resolve define Patriot Day
On this Sept. 11, Americans will pause to remember precisely where they were and exactly what they were doing when an unfathomable torrent of terror wreaked unprecedented havoc on this nation 16 years ago.
Today’s 15th Patriot Day marks the string of al-Qaida-inspired terror attacks that rattled New York City, Washington, D.C., and Shanksville, Pa. The hijacking and crashing of four commercial jetliners by a band of extremist militants killed 3,000 and injured more than 6,000, the highest toll for a one-day attack on Americans since World War II.
It is fitting then that this Sept. 11 be observed as a day of remembrance, but it also should be recognized as a day to celebrate America’s resilience to overcome evil in any of its forms and our nation’s resolve to thwart new threats. None looms larger today than that posed by the regime of North Korea’s Kim Jong Un.
To be sure, today is first and foremost a day to remember the brutality of the hijackers and the destruction and devastation they inflicted on the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in New York and on the Pentagon in Washington.
Today is also a day to remember the courage of passengers aboard United Airlines Flight 93 who fought off the hijackers and crashed the plane in a field in Pennsylvania before it could hit another intended target in the nation’s capital.
It is also a day to recall the valor of first responders whose quick and skillful actions saved the lives of hundreds of people trapped in burning buildings or knocked out by noxious fumes.
Their selfless heroism and commitment to duty and country served as a microcosm of the national resilience that coalesced on that day of horror and in its immediate aftermath. The catastrophic tragedies of 9/11 resurrected patriotism, strengthened national unity, and illustrated vividly the risks and costs of freedom.
From that resilience, constructive action was born. In the weeks and months after the attacks, Congress acted with uncanny speed and purpose to prevent any repeat of the invasion. It adopted the Patriot Act, which greatly expanded intelligence capabilities while instituting some reins on individual liberties for the greater good of beefed-up national security.
The attacks also catalyzed creation of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to put an unparalleled focus on anti-terrorism, border security, immigration and customs, cyber security and disaster prevention and management growth.
Those and other actions paid off. Though communities large and small throughout the country continue to be targets of violent terror-inspired attacks from both foreign and domestic sources, nothing remotely approaching the scope of carnage of 9/11 has recurred.
SUCCESSES IN WAR ON TERROR
Indeed our national resolve to undercut extremists and rein in terror has grown increasingly mature. Perhaps the most successful illustration of that resolve came in May 2011, when al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden was captured and killed by U.S. Navy SEALS deep inside his hideout in Pakistan. That resolve also has played out in our nation’s leadership in engaging a vast coalition of foreign powers to fight al-Qaida, the Islamic State group and other terrorist organizations in theaters of war in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria.
Yet despite such progress, anxiety lingers. Sixteen years after the historic coordinated attacks and the onset of the War in Afghanistan in response to them, a growing number of American troops continue to fight there in this nation’s longest war. In addition, no end appears in sight to the spread of “lone wolf” terrorists who have unleashed deadly mayhem in Boston, Orlando, San Bernardino, Calif., and elsewhere.
The gravest threat today, however, to our nation’s collective security comes neither from radical Islamic extremists nor from home-grown U.S. terrorists. It comes instead from the grand halls of leadership in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
The North Korean communist leader Kim has markedly increased tests of dangerous intercontinental missiles and nuclear armaments. Over the weekend, North Korean state media reported, “As the U.S. escalates the confrontation with the DPRK and wastes time to find out a solution, the striking capabilities of the DPRK’s strategic forces, which puts the whole U.S. mainland in their strike range, will rapidly increase.”
To stave off any worst-case scenario, the U.S. would do well to marshal the lessons of 9/11. We can again engage world leaders against a common ruthless enemy and strengthen our resolve to protect the peace and preserve the freedoms that those 3,000 Americans gave their lives for on that somber September morning 16 years ago.