I'd been in the shower for about five minutes when my wife came in and said that a plane had hit the World Trade Center. I assumed it was a small plane. I don't know why. I vaguely remembered hearing about a plane hitting the World Trade Center, or maybe the Empire State Building, some years before. I couldn't remember the specifics but I didn't think that a lot of people had died.
I was just getting ready to step out of the shower when my wife came back in and said "Another plane hit the World Trade Center!" Instinctively I knew we had been attacked. Flooding into my mind came bits and pieces of old news stories. The first WTC bombing. Attacks on the embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. The bombings of the Khobar Towers and the USS Cole. The attack of the Murrah federal office building. We were under attack again, the only question being ... by whom? I felt a creeping dread come over me.
I quickly got dressed and sat in front of the television to watch the news reports. There was not much to hear; just the same obvious facts repeated endlessly, sometimes combined with guesses as to whom and why; some educated, some not. I watched the smoke and flames pour out of the two buildings. News anchors reported that the entire national airspace had been shut down, planes forced to land at the nearest airports. Except, that is, for the fighter jets patrolling the skies for additional threats.
Minutes ticked by and I sat, unable to move. My wife told me to turn it off and get some rest. I couldn't. With each passing minute my impotent rage grew as if my heart were a furnace, these cowardly, unconscionable acts a bellows stoking my fury for whoever would do such a thing. That fury turned to despair and heartbreak as I watched the emergency responders move in to try and save as many people as possible; watched as people poured out of the buildings with fear and confusion on their faces, trying to get to safety.
My mind had difficulty absorbing the devastation as I watched the flames and the smoke billow thicker and blacker. I felt hot tears stream down my face as I saw the people on the upper floors leaning out of the shattered windows, desperately trying to get a breath of air unsaturated by smoke, ash and jet fuel. No longer able to bear the searing heat and unable to breathe, some escaped the prolonged suffering by jumping to their deaths.
Finally one tower, then the other, the steel frame turned to molten putty, collapsed under the burden of the immense weight and heat. The weight of the upper floors crushed the lower sections of the building, and the mass of steel, glass and concrete came tumbling down and, in the process, bringing to an end the suffering of those trapped in the upper floors, along with those emergency responders and good Samaritans that bravely stayed in harm's way to try to help those still trapped. Their suffering had ended in those brief seconds when the thunderous roar of the falling towers sent clouds of ash into the sky, which would settle over the area in a snowy gray blanket. Ours was just beginning.
I watched silently, in anguish, for hours that day before I could bear no more. The thought of 3,000 innocent Americans having their lives snuffed out so quickly and so senselessly. Fathers, mothers, husbands, wives, sisters, brothers, aunts and uncles, friends and colleagues. All dead. Thousands of children left orphaned. Hundreds of wives left widowed. All for what?
We would find out shortly after the towers were struck that the planes had been hijacked by Islamic jihadists seeking to strike a blow at the economic and symbolic heart of America. They would also fly a plane into the Pentagon, killing even more people. Then there were the brave souls of United Flight 93, their plane hijacked and, learning by phone of the other attacks, fought back against the hijackers. The plane had been diverted toward Washington, D.C., with the strike path thought to be the White House or the U.S. Capitol building. They willingly died to save others they'd never met. The plane crashed in a field in Stonycreek Township, in Pennsylvania, killing all aboard.
Where were you that day? Did you know then what these attacks portended? Did you know the long war that would follow? Did you understand the twisted, hate-filled ideology that lay behind these barbaric acts?
Nine years later I am still trying to come to terms with what happened. We've sent nearly 200,000 men and women to fight against the Islamic jihadists and the state sponsors of terrorism in the Middle East. Thousands have died in that cause. More will surely die. Has it been worth it? I hope so, but I am not sure. The political stability in those countries is questionable at best.
I struggle to reconcile myself with the various faces of Islam. I know objectively that Islam has nearly 1.5 billion adherents around the world, and that only a very small fraction has taken up arms against us. I know we have nearly 10 million Muslims here in America, and that only a handful has so far tried to injure or kill American citizens. I know that Islam is supposed to be a religion of peace. And yet...
And yet I feel my heart burn with anger and thoughts of revenge when I see footage of that horrible day. I want someone to pay, and many already have. I see stories in the news. The Fort Hood Massacre. The Christmas Day bomber. The Times Square bomber. Muslim men here in America shooting, stabbing and running over their wives and daughters because they have "dishonored" the family by becoming too Western, too American. Muslim leaders here in America talking about how Islamic law, Shar'ia, should not be subservient to or even equal with any other religion, or with the Constitution, but should rule over it. And now they want to build a mosque on sacred land, in the shadow of the fallen. It seems horribly insensitive in light of the atrocities of that day committed in the name of Islam.
It is difficult to separate the violent actions of those bloodthirsty, hate-filled barbarians that commit these heinous acts from those Muslims that seek to live in peace and worship their God. Some say all Muslims subscribe to the ideology of jihad and dhimminitude, even if not all actively engage in the execution of that ideology. I can't bring myself to believe that is true. Still, it would go a long way towards calming fears and suspicions if more Muslims spoke out against these atrocities, if they would openly denounce such hateful behavior. Instead, we are left with "leaders" like Imam Rauf who, if not blaming us, at least says we should have expected it. As the old saying goes, with friends like these, who needs enemies?
So on this day, nine years after the most horrific attack on American soil, I wonder where we go from here. We know that some extremist Muslims want us dead, and are uncertain about the attitudes and motivations of hundreds of millions of others. The Iranian president and many radical Muslim clerics call for the death of Israel and the destruction of America. Can we take them at their word?
In 1941 we were attacked by Japan and within a few short years we'd amassed a formidable military and crushed the Axis Powers. Admiral Yamamoto, after his attack on Pearl Harbor, is reported to have said "I fear all we have done is to awaken a sleeping giant and fill him with a terrible resolve." We mobilized to defeat our enemy, we destroyed him, and then we helped him rebuild his nation.
Today we refuse to even identify the enemy. Today we have "man-made disasters" and "overseas contingency operations" and an Attorney General who refuses to acknowledge the fact that every terrorist attack in recent memory was perpetrated by someone doing the killing in the name of Allah.
I wish I had a simple answer for this complex problem. I really do. I wish that there was some physical characteristic or marking that would distinguish the good from the evil. But there isn't. So until there is we will simply have to acknowledge the fact that while not all or even most Muslims are terrorists, those that have attacked us on our soil and around the world have done so in the name of Islam. We can't escape that fact. The dilemma now is how to identify and defeat those that would do us harm, without painting with the same broad brush their co-religionists who simply want to live in peace. It's a question with no easy answer, but an answer we must find if our republic is to survive.
Louis DeBroux is a Taylorsville resident, married, with eight children. He is vice chair of communications of the Bartow County Republican Party. He owns Gatekeeper data backup and recovery. He can be e-mailed at email@example.com.