I wrote the following on September 13, 2001. At that point in my life, I was much more “libertarian” in my perspective than I am today and I was still relatively early in my ongoing process of trying to understand what it meant to be Christian. If I were to write something in response to similar events today, I’m sure it would take a different shape. Still, I decided to share my thoughts from that time as I expressed them then.
My perspective on my central point below remains unchanged. Unfortunately, the events of 9/11 did change our nation in significant and fundamental ways. It’s too early to say if those changes will endure forever, but they have certainly been profound. As a nation we embraced aggressive war in Iraq. We embraced torture as an acceptable tool of the state. Out of fear, we sacrificed or constrained many of our rights. As a nation, we turned fearful and demonized a people and a religion. And “evangelical” Christians led the way supporting all of those changes.
From my perspective, sadly, we did allow the terrorists to win. I don’t think in their wildest dreams they ever thought they could provoke such drastic and lasting change in our nation from a single attack. They successfully instilled fear in our nation and acting under the impetus of that fear, we changed in ways that would have been inconceivable before that attack. Ironically, those changes did nothing to make us safer. Such changes never do. They created more enemies abroad and reduced our stature even among our friends. And we abandoned many of the principles and sacrificed freedoms at home that had always defined the nation we wished to be (even if we often weren’t), all in the name of an illusory security. Provoking change by instilling fear is the textbook definition of the goal of terrorism. And that’s precisely what the 9/11 terrorists accomplished.
As you can tell from the below, I believed then that we were stronger and better than that. I was wrong.
Written September 13, 2001
Earlier this week I watched the events unfold with a sense of disbelief, shock, and outrage, as I’m sure is true of each and every one of you. I received calls from my family, checking to be certain I was safe, even though there were no reports of attacks in Austin. They wanted the surety that came from hearing my voice. I watched the news reports and prayed continuously for all those working on the scene and for the families of the many who had died. Their pain and horror must be nearly unimaginable.
Yet one sentiment I’ve heard expressed many times in the news reports I’ve found particularly jarring. America has been forever changed. Reporter after reporter, analyst after analyst, has repeated that statement or a variation of it. On one level I can understand the sentiment. It is certainly true that this is an event our people are unlikely to ever forget. But there is something within me that rebels each time I hear that statement. For if we allow this event to fundamentally change our nation, those who committed this atrocity will have won.
America does not consist of our institutions, although they have proven themselves over the test of time. America does not consist of our foundation of law, many of which are good laws. America is not even our Constitution, the document which contains many of the core principles that embody our nation. This “Great American Experiment” is, at its very core, an idea, an ideal of freedom carried by each and every one of its citizens. It is the legacy of our forefathers and our birthright. That freedom has never been without price, a price all too often paid in blood. And that freedom has never been without risk, as the events of this week have dramatically demonstrated.
Should we therefore examine the means by which this attack was made and take common sense steps to make future such attempts more difficult? Absolutely. Any other course would be foolhardy. Our goal should always be to improve the safety of our citizens within the limits prescribed by our freedoms.
Should we respond? Again, we must. As a former member of our military, I recognized this immediately as an act of war. An attack of this scale and nature can be described as nothing else. I was glad to hear our President and Secretary of State state that so very clearly. As a nation, we must make it plain that those who attack the United States and their sponsors will face the full might and power of our country. Doing less will only invite future attacks.
But change us forever? Never. Or we have lost already.