As we all arose and anxiously turned on the news to see the latest on the natural disaster in Florida, many of us couldn't help remembering another Sept. 11 morning 16 years ago. We awoke and turned on the news, unsuspecting, only to be confronted with a horrific manmade disaster.
In a plot orchestrated by Osama bin Laden, leader of the terrorist group al-Qaeda, 19 radical Islamic terrorists hijacked four passenger planes and turned them into deadly missiles. They crashed two jets into the World Trade Center and one into the Pentagon. The third might have destroyed the White House or the U.S. Capitol, if the heroic passengers of United Flight 93 hadn't realized what was happening and stopped the attackers themselves, at the cost of their own lives when the plane crashed in a field in Pennsylvania. In just one day, the 9/11 attackers murdered nearly 3,000 innocent people and injured over 6,000 more. It was the deadliest attack ever on U.S. soil, and there were more casualties than at Pearl Harbor.
There were 9/11 memorial services all across America. But those of us who lived through that day will never need a reminder of what it was like. Many images from that day, of planes exploding into buildings and people leaping to their deaths to escape the fires, were later banned from the airwaves as too disturbing to see. But to those who lived through it, censoring those images was pointless, because they're seared so deeply into our memories. To us, 9/11 will always seem as recent as yesterday. We tell ourselves, "Never forget," but the truth is, we couldn't forget that day if we tried.
Because it will always seem so fresh in our minds, it's easy to forget that with the passage of 16 years, a new generation is rising that has little or no personal memory of 9/11. Children who were only four or five when it happened and were shielded from the horror by their parents are now in college. To them, 9/11 is something they learn about in history class. Sadly, too many are learning anti-American, revisionist history from agenda-driven leftist professors who believe that America "had it coming," and who think it's bigotry to suggest that America's culture of freedom is superior to other cultures, even the oppressive, deadly culture of radical Islamism.
That's why, if we want such a nightmare never to happen again - or something even worse, if, say, we stupidly allow Iran to develop nuclear weapons as we did North Korea - it is our responsibility to ensure that younger generations learn the truth about 9/11, and not some skewed, anti-American propaganda.
Immediately after 9/11, there was such a wave of patriotism and togetherness that the usual blame-America voices scurried into hiding. Censoring those horrific images proved to be a strategic blunder, because as the shock and memory of 9/11 faded, the anti-American termites crawled back out from under their rocks and went back to work eating away at our foundations. As painful as it is to remember 9/11, we need to keep that memory fresh and pass it on to our children and grandchildren, because it's obvious our media and higher education system can't be trusted to do it.
It is amazing how much we've forgotten about the enemy we're dealing with, even as they give us daily reminders of their limitless brutality. Yet we keep repeating meaningless gestures of security while ignoring clear and present dangers. We have built a massive, invasive, time-consuming airport security system that has to prove it's politically correct by hauling 90-year-old grandmothers out of wheelchairs and patting down toddlers. Yet we're blasted for our lack of compassion if we object to foreign nationals streaming into the country across our open borders or suggest even a temporary halt to refugees pouring in from terrorism-plagued nations that are incapable of vetting them.
Is that really the lesson we learned from 9/11? To make it harder for law-abiding Americans to get onto an airplane than for terrorists to get into America? Or to believe that we can actually negotiate with terrorist-supporting radicals who chant "Death to America" even as we rely on a nuclear agreement that they've repeatedly signaled they have no intention of obeying?
On this 16th anniversary of the darkest day in American history, we must rededicate ourselves to keeping alive the memory of that day and to teaching our children and grandchildren what happened, what it means, and especially, who were the attackers and who were the victims. But let's not just teach them about the horrors. Let's also teach them about the incredible bravery of the many heroes who gave or risked their lives to save others, both on 9/11 and afterward: the firefighters, police officers, first responders, citizen volunteers and soldiers. They also deserve to be part of our prayers and remembrances, and part of the legacy of 9/11 that we pass on to future generations. That American spirit of heroism and selflessness is not dead. It's still alive and on display again right now in Texas and Florida.
In his farewell address, President Andrew Jackson warned that eternal vigilance is the price of liberty. Some Americans today scoff at that idea. They've always enjoyed the liberty secured by the sacrifices of others, and foolishly assume it can be taken for granted. 9/11 should have shattered that fantasy forever. But as it recedes into history, the cozy fantasy that America can safely let its guard down has taken hold again. We need to remember both 9/11 and philosopher George Santayana's warning: that those who fail to remember the past are doomed to repeat it.