I did not experience the 9/11 attack personally, and very fortunately did not lose anyone I know in that vicious act of terrorism. But it did mark a significant change in my life, since it marked my move to Washington. In fact, I was upstairs in our bedroom in Atlanta the morning of the attack packing my bags. I was supposed to head to the airport to fly to Washington—I had an interview scheduled for September 12 for a possible job at the Department of Justice.
My wife called upstairs to tell me she had just heard on the radio that an airliner had hit the World Trade Center. As I rushed to turn on our television, I was convinced that it must be a terrorist attack. The chances of a modern, technologically sophisticated commercial airliner flown by the experienced professional pilots who man them (many of whom are ex-military flyers) accidentally hitting a skyscraper in New York are just about nil. To our nation’s great misfortune, that turned out to be true.
I obviously did not get to fly to Washington that day, since flights into the nation’s capital were cancelled. It was two weeks before I could manage to get on an airplane. Authorities were so worried about further attacks in Washington that they checked our IDs twice at the Atlanta airport—once at the security checkpoint and again at the gate. Passengers were warned that no one could get out of his or her seat for the last half-hour of the flight into Reagan National.
I got the job at the Justice Department and started on December 3, 2001. It was a sobering time to be in Washington. We had regular drills almost every month at the Justice Department where we evacuated the building to practice for an attack similar to 9/11. We also had “in-place” drills where everyone had to leave their offices and head down into the basement of Main Justice, practicing for a possible attack using chemical or biological agents.
My father was a college professor, but he had also been a soldier who fought in three different wars, including the internecine combat of the Russian revolution. I had learned from him that when you are facing a sadistic, brutal, and merciless enemy, halfway measures won’t work—you have to be tough, ferocious, and relentless. And sometimes you have to do things that no civilized person would normally countenance.
I was afraid in the weeks after the World Trade Center collapsed, the Pentagon stopped burning, and the remains of United Airlines Flight 93 were removed in Pennsylvania, that America would have the same legalistically inept, tepid, and ineffective response that had characterized the Clinton Administration’s approach to terrorism—which obviously did not deter more significant attacks. But on October 7, 2001, I knew we finally had a different President who understood what we were facing the way my father would have understood it if he were still alive. That is when Operation Enduring Freedom was launched, and the U.S. went after al-Qaeda and its Taliban supporters in Afghanistan.
The realization that the 9/11 attack represented war—and demanded a military response rather than a legal complaint in a courtroom—was crucial to protecting our nation, as was President George W. Bush’s determination that we would go after these terrorists wherever they were regardless of international borders. That is why 10 years later, as we remember those who fell on 9/11, we have had no major attacks in the United States.
Woe betide Americans if we—and more importantly, our leaders—ever forget not just the tragedy of 9/11, but the viciousness and cruelty of the enemy who attacked us. These enemies would repeat that attack today if they could. I will say a prayer on Sunday for all those who died 10 years ago and for those members of our military who have given the last full measure of their devotion to our great nation in the years since then.
I will also give thanks to those in our Special Forces, the SEALS, at the CIA, and elsewhere who continue to risk their lives clandestinely every day to relentlessly track down and execute the barbarians who want to murder Americans, destroy our precious republic, and enslave the world in a new Dark Age.