Sept. 11 fell on a Tuesday in 2001, as it does today, the 11th anniversary of the terror attacks that shook America to its foundation. The landmark anniversary – the 10th – was last year. There’ll be fewer public ceremonies today, and even fewer in years to come. The nation has other issues on its mind.
Things have changed, to be sure. Because of Sept. 11 and subsequent terrorist attempts, airline passengers now have to submit to a virtual strip search before boarding. And we’re still at war, though the ongoing conflict gets less attention back home than it once did. The U.S. flags that flew everywhere in the aftermath of the 2001 attacks are less ubiquitous now. Osama bin Laden, the ringleader of the suicidal terrorists who piloted three airliners into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon and abortively crashed another into Pennsylvania farm field, was executed by Navy SEALS in a raid last year on his hideout in Pakistan. One of the commandos adopted a pseudonym to author his account of the event in a new book, drawing official protests that he’d violated his oath of secrecy.
The war of vengeance in Afghanistan, so widely supported at its outset, became less popular as the mission grew muddled over the course of 11 years. The U.S. combat role is scheduled to end by 2014 but troops will probably remain there for years afterwards, staying around to train and assist Afghan forces. It will remain a very dangerous job.
Eleven years ago, a nation in shock didn’t know quite what to expect. Around Frankfort, motorists lined up at gas pumps the afternoon following the attacks, anticipating prices would skyrocket and supplies would dwindle. This was a misapprehension. The war that ensued was not in the Middle Eastern oil fields (apart from the misguided invasion of Iraq) and supplies were not disrupted.
Sentiment for a military response ran high but parallels to Pearl Harbor were misleading. The entire nation mobilized to fight World War II. People from all walks of life volunteered or were drafted into military service. Folks on the home front bought war bonds and curtailed shopping to keep ample supplies flowing to the troops overseas.
Incredibly, President George W. Bush called on the public to demonstrate its patriotism with a spending spree. The idea was to defy the terrorists by acting as if our routines had not changed. Otherwise, the terrorists would “win.” Perhaps they did win, in a way, not militarily but by luring us into costly military engagements that ended up on the national credit card. The big issue in this year’s presidential campaign is how to fix an economy that remains on shaky footing five years after the meltdown. The dot-com collapse had already taken its toll and then the housing bubble, inflated by speculation driven by easy money, imploded in 2007.
Now even the National Sept. 11 Memorial and Museum at the World Trade Center is having money problems. The Associated Press reports that the $700 million complex will cost $60 million a year to operate. A proposal to add $20 million in National Park Service contributions to the $300 million the federal government has already spent on the project is running into opposition.
America hasn’t forgotten what happened 11 years ago today, and won’t, but the nation is up against the limit of what it can accomplish without soberly calculating the cost and understanding what real sacrifice is demanded.