With the 12th anniversary of the 9-11 attacks this week, I’ve spent way too much time in front of the TV, steeped in stories of heroism and tragedy from that day.
Only a few weeks ago we stood at the 9-11 memorial in New York City – huge squares of water cascading into pools in the footprints of the twin towers, both framed in steel panels bearing the names of the victims. It’s a somber and beautiful place.
Sept. 11, 2001, was a day unlike any other in the history of this country.
Not since Dec. 7, 1944, when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, had war and its destruction occurred on U.S. soil – not since the end of the Civil War in 1865.
It’s ironic that just this week we’ve been engaged in a national debate over whether to attack Syria because of the use of chemical weapons – the same threat we cited when we went into Iraq in March 2003 and overthrew Saddam Hussein.
As my colleague Brandon Evans argued in the midweek Messenger, if we did it then, how can we not do it now? Aren’t we still the same country, with the same conscience?
Polls say Americans want to stay out of Syria’s messy civil war, where good guys are scarce on either side. Polls say we’re “war-weary.”
It got me thinking about that term.
We’ve sent troops into two world wars. We’ve shipped soldiers to Korea, Vietnam, the Bay of Pigs, Grenada, Panama, Somalia, the Persian Gulf, Bosnia/Herzegovina, Afghanistan and Iraq.
But aside from a two-hour attack on Pearl Harbor, none of those wars came here.
Most Americans not in uniform have never experienced war. Indeed, one of the reasons we cite for sending our troops abroad is to keep war from coming here.
Refugees come to America to find peace, to sleep at night without the distant thunder of bombs, the fear that soldiers will pound on their doors and their lives will be swept away in violence and destruction.
That’s what made 9-11 so shocking. In New York City and Washington that day, people feared for their lives. They had no idea how much more was coming, how wide it would spread, how long it would last. Some said it felt like the end of the world.
That’s what war feels like.
Imagine day after day like that, for weeks, months and years. That’s what Berlin and Dresden, Hiroshima and Tokyo, Sarajevo and Mogadishu experienced.
War destroys businesses, churches and schools, homes and hospitals. It mangles babies, leaves mothers weeping in the dust. It snuffs out the promise of youth and the hope of progress.
Sure, Americans are tired of reading about it, seeing it on the evening news before the sitcoms come on. But that doesn’t qualify as “war-weary” if you ask someone from Baghdad, Beirut or Benghazi.
I want the United States to join the community of nations in stopping things like the use of chemical weapons or the development of other weapons of mass destruction, stopping genocide and mass atrocities. I believe we should play a key role as the world rises up to punish monsters like Assad, Saddam Hussein before him, Idi Amin before him, Stalin before him, Hitler before him – and all who will come.
It’s not our job alone, but it is our job, as long as we have a conscience.
But the American people need to understand that it’s not enough just to keep war elsewhere. War is an expression of mankind’s worst nature, and its real victims have always been the innocent – whether they work in a rice paddy, a bean field, a fishing boat or the 98th floor of an office tower.
The world needs to work together to strike war at its roots: poverty, ignorance, racism, despair and despotism. Any war, anywhere, is too much.
War is hell. We experienced 102 minutes of it, and in 12 years we’ve cleaned up, rebuilt buildings, raised monuments and moved on.
Meanwhile, millions are still living among the ruins.
We should all be a lot more war-weary.
Bob Buckel is executive editor of the Messenger.