Millions watched in horror as the second airliner slammed into the World Trade Center in New York. Fire, broken glass, and broken bodies rained down on the streets of our nation's most influential city. And then the buildings came down.
The cameras cut to the Pentagon, the very nerve center of our armed forces. There too, an evil agent of holy jihad had driven an airplane full of innocent people into the building. Fire, smoke, and chaos ruled. People were leading other people away from the carnage, stunned, bleeding, and burned, with clothing in tatters and eyes that had seen the devil. Then came news that another plane load of civilian passengers had hit the ground in Pennsylvania at over 500 miles per hour. Our nation was at war.
Who were those men without hearts and souls who could do such a thing? Who could be so consumed with hate? Who could be so cruel as to cut a young airline stewardess' throat with a box cutter in front of dozens of other people? Who could be so twisted as to fly a hundred innocent people, men women and children, into a building while chanting "God is Great!" Who could be so incredibly stupid as to think God would reward such cruelty with a gift of 73 virgins? Who are these people?
And then, how soon we all forget. It has been five years since that fateful day, and to many Americans, the memory is like that of an old movie, watched and then forgotten. Most of us go about our daily lives as if nothing has happened. Our war with terrorism doesn't affect us much. There is no rationing of consumer goods, no draft for the armed services, no bombs exploding in our cities, no war bonds to buy, no blood drives to contribute to, and no scrap metal collection points. This modern war is so very far away.
And yet, in spite of being far away, the War on Terror is splitting our country into factions. This is a bad thing. To win World War II we had to be united. Jesus and Abraham Lincoln both taught that a house divided cannot stand.
As a country, we can't seem to agree on how, or even why, to fight this war. One side is aggressive and wants to hunt the bad guys down like rabid dogs and shoot them wherever they are (a war of retribution, like World War II). Another side is more cautious, demanding complete judicial justification, the full consensus of the world community, and involvement by the United Nations (a war with rules, like Vietnam).
Still another faction believes that if we are nice to the people who want to kill us, we can appease them with gifts, kind words, and bribes (the Romans tried it with the barbarians - it didn't work for them). A few folks think we should never fight for any reason and should give our entire military budget over to social programs.
The debate is heating up as we approach this fall's elections. Which path to take? Which war to fight? Which philosophy to embrace? Which leader to follow? We have some big decisions to make in the next two months and the next two years before the next presidential election.
But through it all, no matter how it turns out, no matter which path we choose, no matter where we end up as a country, there is a group of men and women among us who deserve our support and our thanks. And that is the men and women of the armed forces and their families who carry the burdens of this war. We owe them a debt we can never repay. They are volunteers, and they represent the very best of what America is.
In spite of our differences in philosophy and political standing, let us never forget to honor those who put their lives on the line for us in Afghanistan and Iraq. Soldiers don't make policy. It is up to you and me to do that through the leaders we elect.
Give it some careful thought over the next eight weeks. Vote for people who reflect your views. Where should we go as a country? How do you think we should answer 9-11? The world is waiting for your answer.