By John Erath
Twenty years ago, on what had been an ordinary morning, I was sitting in my cubicle in the Pentagon, staring at a screen and trying to make sense of the news from New York when the building suddenly shook. My first thought was “There’s a bomb here too,” followed quickly by “no, that’s paranoia. It’s probably the construction.” The smell of smoke and the sound of alarms quickly showed this was something serious. As I evacuated the building, not knowing yet exactly what had happened, I heard a voice in the crowd saying, “This changes everything.” There was no more ordinary.
Two decades later, we can debate the degree to which things have changed, whether 20 years of wars accomplished much or made us safer. We can argue over whether the botched conclusion to U.S. involvement in Afghanistan undid much of the efforts made previously. There is room for discussion about the lessons learned in military action since 2001 and what they mean for the military we want for the future. We can also ponder the appropriate level of nuclear deterrence needed when many of the immediate threats to Americans come from terrorists targeting airports, business and other symbols of modern life. This, however, is not the time for these discussions.
On the twentieth anniversary of the September 11 attacks, I would urge readers to stop and think about the people who lost their lives that day, for the most part people who were putting in just another day at the office. Most of those who died that day, including many first responders, were simply doing their jobs.
My job is to work for peace and seek to resolve conflicts without violence, and in performing it, I have been fortunate to get to work with a large number of dedicated individuals the world over who share the same goals, even we when disagree on how to achieve them. It is good to remember, however, that there are still others who cannot see how to alter an imperfect world except through violence. The best way to remember the almost 3,000 people who died on September 11 is to continue to use all means available, not just force, but diplomacy, freedom of speech and dialogue, to minimize the possibility that similar attacks will occur.
On September 11, 2021, take a moment to reflect, meditate, or pray in the way that makes sense to you. Remember the people who died on an ordinary Tuesday morning and resolve to help make violence and destruction less ordinary.