Commentary Magazine


Remembrance With a Purpose

Today, Americans are remembering the events of ten years ago and mourning the victims as well as honoring the heroes of that tragic day and its aftermath. It is, as Abraham Lincoln said when he dedicated a memorial to the heroes of another time, “altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.” Though much time has passed, the wounds of the families who lost loved ones are still fresh. And for all of the efforts by some to distance themselves and our country from the memory of that awful tragedy, the nation’s trauma is also still easily relived as the tears many of us shed this morning while watching the services of commemoration prove.

But as much of our thoughts must be with the families of the victims today, as a nation we should understand our remembrance must have a purpose that goes above and beyond mere sympathy. The Islamist attack on America on 9/11 was not a bizarre one-off event. It was part of a war that did not begin that day and has not ended.

Partisan politics ultimately distorted the unity Americans felt ten years ago, when the nation came together in our determination to avenge the attack.

The truth about the attacks is not easy for some of us to assimilate. For those who prefer to live in a fantasy world, where evil is just a word and all conflicts can be wished away with talk, the need to fight back against the Islamist is dismissed as a primitive urge that reflects our lack of sophistication or America’s own moral flaws. There are those who have sought to delegitimize America’s war on terror. This morning, New York Times columnist Paul Krugman blogged that what followed the atrocity was “years of shame.” With that obscene suggestion, Krugman gave voice to a sentiment that sees the efforts to take out al-Qaeda, the Taliban and Saddam Hussein as somehow morally equivalent to those of the terrorists and their allies. He is not alone in believing America was wrong to hold the Islamists and tyrants who aided them accountable. But if there is anything we can be sure of, it is that history will ultimately vindicate our post-9/11 counter-attack against the Islamists.

It would be easier for us if we could remember 9/11 today the way Americans remembered the Pearl Harbor attack on Dec. 7, 1951. Unfortunately, this war can’t be won as definitively as World War II. Americans often lack patience, and many of us have grown tired of a generational war against Islamism that has more in common with the long Cold War than with the war against Germany and Japan.

The forces of evil that carried out the attack have been damaged, and many of the plotters were apprehended or killed. But the ideology of hate that spawned them is still very much alive. It is alive in Afghanistan, where the Taliban and their Islamist allies are waiting for American forces to leave before resuming their tyrannical hold on that country. It is alive in Iran, where the ayatollahs seek nuclear weapons with which to terrorize the world. It is alive in Lebanon with Hezbollah and in Gaza with Hamas. It is alive in mosques around the world, where hatred of the West, of democracy and of Jews is taught.

Those, like Krugman, who want the country to stop fighting back against this evil, will not prevail. We must remember 9/11, but with a purpose. As much as it is right that we should build shrines that will give physical form to our grief, the only proper memorial to 9/11 is the vigilance with which we protect our freedom and our nation. To mourn 9/11 while forgetting what brought it about and the necessity to keep fighting evil would be pointless. On this day, as we recall the victims and the heroes, we must understand the battle is not yet over.