Before I do that I want to share my story of 9/11.
I was 17, in a small town High School in the middle of nowhere, my drive home included corn fields on either side of a main road, as well as occasionally sharing it with a tractor or an Amish buggy. New York City was a far away dream for many of us in this little conservative town. Like all of you around my age I am sure the day started as normal, talking with your friends before class, figuring out your day plans, making sure you have enough change for a candy bar to go with your lunch. It was just going to be a normal day.
But then it stopped being normal.
The first thing I noticed was an aide turning on one of the news channels before the start of class, which was unusual to say the least. The picture showed a large building with smoke pouring forth. We all started talking amongst ourselves, wondering what in the world was going on. For the first 10 minutes of class we watched as the news reporters began to piece together what happened.
And then our teacher shut off the TV.
He then attempted to continue with the lesson despite our protests with no success. It was another aide who then whispered something to him, which caused him to stop the lesson for the day and turn on CNN. I immediately saw why, A second plane crashed into the other tower. We also learned that the Pentagon had been hit as well, it was then that it really sank it, we had just been attacked.
There was a collective outrage, as well as a sadness, and a time where we all stood together to honor the fallen of a then seemingly random, senseless terror attack. It wasn't till a few months later, when Al-Qaeda, and more prominently Osama Bin Laden took full credit for it.
Then came the calls for war.
War with Afghanistan. I remember hearing many of friends, join the chorus of calling for war with the Taliban for harboring Bin Laden.We all wanted to get the ones responsible,we all wanted to see the dead avenged. A couple of my friends even joined the military, though none that I know of ended up in Afghanistan. My uncle however, did serve there, he regularly sent us pictures, one of which was him disarming old Soviet mines.
Unlike many, I have not personally served, nor have I had any personal losses from the war.
Because of that, I count myself extremely lucky.
Many were not so lucky.
Not even one year after the invasion of Afghanistan, and the overthrow of the Taliban, we hadn't yet found Bin Laden, and President Bush seemingly no longer cared. In a famous 2002 interview Bush told reporters regarding Osama Bin Laden “I truly am not that concerned about him. I am deeply concerned about Iraq.” “I really just don’t spend that much time on him, to be honest with you,”
Instead of focusing on Bin Laden, we headed into another war, this time with Iraq. A war that had nothing to do with 9/11, or terror, or Bin Laden. In fact he seemed to forget about Bin Laden, and Al-Qaeda while going after Iraq. Our forces even had him at Tora Bora, and we let him go.
It wasn't until President Obama had come into office that we really started to go back to finishing what we started in Afghanistan, going after Bin Laden. While Romney, in 2007 sounded a lot like Bush by declaring that “It’s not worth moving heaven and earth spending billions of dollars just trying to catch one person.”
President Obama disagreed
So with Bin Laden gone, the war in Iraq over, and the war in Afghanistan winding down, what have we learned?
We've learned that both sides have politicized 9/11.
Some of you may even accuse me of politicizing 9/11 by writing this.
We've also learned that this war has taken a huge toll on troops, that more of our soldiers die from suicide than in combat. And that our combat veterans have been hit hardest by the recession. We've learned that our VA system is behind as it pertains to taking care of our Veterans, but is slowly improving.
Not all the lessons we've learned are bad. We've learned that so many Americans gave up their plans and their lives to fight for the country they love. We've learned that for every soldier that comes home, there is a support network of good people and organizations waiting to help them.
We've also learned that support for the lives of our fighting men and women transcends politics. Many of us, including me want to end the wars to protect our soldiers, and we don't care whether or not they're Democrat or Republican, we just want them to come home.
We've learned a lot in 11 years, not all of it good, not all of it bad, but we still have to learn to deal with the new reality of a post 9/11 world, and do our best to not make the same mistakes of the past. We need to learn how to work together in this world with other people, other countries, and not go to war so easily. We need to learn how stop getting into conflicts that we don't know how to get out of. We need to learn how to respect other cultures, and religions, and to stop being suspicious of others because of the color of their skin, or what they wear. We need to learn how to trust again, not just others but ourselves, other Americans. We need to learn to stop the us vs them mentality that has dominated not only our politics, but our lives for the past 11 years.
We need to learn how to be us again.