Commentary: Twenty years ago, Islamic terrorists brought war to America

Americans have amnesia about the cost of victory.

United Airlines Flight 175 crashes into the south tower of the World Trace Center complex in New York City during the September 11 attacks. (Robert J. Fisch/Wikimedia Commons)

Twenty years ago, radical Islamists hijacked and crashed commercial airplanes into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and a bucolic Pennsylvania field after passengers and crew stormed the cockpit and fought back.

The worst terrorist attack in world history left nearly 3,000 Americans dead, our nation forever changed, and created an emerging generation of heroes.

In the coming hours and days, many will tell you where they were during the terror attacks (I was on my second-ever substitute teaching assignment), but let’s first recall that it’s a modern miracle — thanks to our military, security apparatus and more — that we’ve not suffered anything similar since.

If we told Americans on September 12, 2001 that our military strategy would free us from 9/11-scale attacks for 20 years, we’d say sold.

Instead we’ve lived in unprecedented safety and prosperity for so long that, perhaps until last month’s horrors permitted by the Biden administration, we do not feel endangered and believe most brutality in the world occurs elsewhere.

But conflict is natural, and the absence of war is truly a “holiday from history,” as the late Charles Krauthammer wrote in 2003.

Within two months of invading Afghanistan, the United States military extirpated the Taliban from power and established bases across the country far quicker than imaginable.

A 9/11 memorial in Rockville, Minnesota, includes a piece of steel from the Twin Towers. (AJ Kaufman/Alpha News)

The U.S. led a war against violent jihad that wiped out some of the planet’s worst terrorists, including Osama bin Laden, Abu-Musab al-Zarqawi, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, and Qassen Soleimani.

Afghanistan would not transform into a Jeffersonian democracy, but the country where Al Qaeda launched its attacks improved dramatically under our supervision.

The 20th century was full of unparalleled evil, with hundreds of millions dead at the hands of tyrants in Europe and Asia. While ending the draft resulted in a remarkably skilled military, it also detached us. The more time we spend on college campuses and in technocratic circles, the more ignorance we face regarding the complexity of military endeavors.

Children today were not alive 20 years ago, and 9/11’s history is rarely taught in America’s schools. One need not even venture into the revisionist 1619 Project or regressive critical race theory to know that many teachers, politicians and journalists lack perspective or any sense of real warfare and risk.

By 1965, only two decades after the ovens of Auschwitz stopped smoking, had we forgotten what it took to defeat Nazi Germany and Fascist Japan?

Send Ilhan Omar, Rand Paul, and Bernie Sanders 65 miles northwest of the U.S. Capitol to realize far more Americans died in one afternoon at Antietam than 20 years of the War on Terror. Heck, more brave young troops fell on the morning of June 6, 1944 than were lost in Afghanistan or Iraq.

“In the wake of what’s happened, a lot of veterans are wondering, was my service in vain? Was it worth it?” AEI’s Marc Thiessen said this week. “The one thing I take away from this 20th anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks is we haven’t been hit again, and that’s because people went and risked their lives to keep us safe.”

He’s right; however, reconciling a population lacking strategic patience to the reality that our war against terrorism is not over is difficult. Americans have amnesia about the cost of victory. Starting 9/12, let’s truly Never Forget.