Tisha b’Av (the ninth of Av) is the name that marks the saddest date on the Jewish calendar, recalling the destruction of the Holy Temples. Similarly, the most deadly attack ever on American soil — bringing about the destruction of the World Trade Center, part of the Pentagon, and a more trusting way of life — is commemorated simply by the date on which it occurred: 9/11.
No further designation is necessary to recall the horror, fear and anger that swept across the country on that lovely sunny morning, the perfect blue sky shattered by the roaring planes. Almost 3,000 of our fellow citizens perished in the attacks, their loss almost too unbearable to comprehend.
Ten years after the tragic date, we as a nation are in a reflective moment, asking what lessons, if any, have been learned, beginning with whether the war on terror, launched by President George W. Bush, has been effective.
Certainly it’s easy to second-guess American foreign policy of the last decade from the vantage point of what we know today. Concentrating on the pursuit of Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan rather than going to war against Iraq seems the far wiser move, given that Saddam Hussein, however despotic he was as a leader, had no connection to the al Qaeda attacks. Refusing to allow the torture of foreign prisoners may have prevented America from being vilified internationally. Raising taxes on gas rather than lowering taxes during wartime might have avoided or eased the economic crisis.
These and other observations were raised in an Editor’s Note in the September issue of The Atlantic by James Bennet, who noted that it is “hard not to look back at history’s pivot in Lower Manhattan and think: We’ve made a lot of mistakes.”
But he also noted that the U.S. has not sustained another major terror attack, which he attributes primarily to “the enduring power of the American idea to permit and contain profound differences.”
Unlike many of their brethren in Europe, the great majority of American Muslims feel connected and loyal to — rather than alienated from — their country. In large part that’s because the U.S. over time has shown that diversity and tolerance are better suited for assimilating immigrants than demanding fealty to the majority culture. The trajectory of Jewish life in this country is living proof of acceptance, though that very success brings with it internal challenges to sustaining a unique minority identity.
The durability of American society, and its values, is surely a quality to take note of, if not celebrate, even as we deeply mourn the thousands of precious lives, and recall the more innocent way of life, all lost on 9/11.
The articles and essays on the 9/11 theme in this week’s issue, and over the last several weeks, are dedicated to the memory of those who were lost in that awful blaze of fire and hatred. It is our duty to ensure that all who cherish freedom be protected from those who would turn us into ashes.
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