It has been ten years since 19 Islamic extremists hijacked four jet liners and flew them into the Twin Towers of New York City, the Pentagon and a Pennsylvania farm field, that final aircraft missing Washington, D.C., only when heroic passengers overpowered the terrorists.
Ten years since 3,000 Americans died in one day. In the War of Terror, as our leaders called the subsequent invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, we have since seen nearly 6,300 U.S. flag-draped coffins loaded onto home-bound military cargo planes – some 4,500 of our soldiers killed in Iraq, another 1,800 in Afghanistan. More than 33,000 have been wounded, many of them suffering traumatic brain injuries or missing limbs; tens of thousands more suffer post-traumatic stress syndrome from their multiple tours of duty.
Other violent deaths – in combat against U.S.-led forces, in bombings and fighting between different militias and sects, along with so-called collateral civilian casualties – are estimated to range anywhere between 110,000 to more than 1 million in Iraq alone. The United Nations estimates 8,000 civilians have been killed in Afghanistan, with the Taliban and terrorist allies Al Qaeda accounting for 76 percent of those victims; the insurgents, meanwhile, have lost an estimated 23,000 of their fighters.
A lot of statistics. A lot of blood. It has been a gruesome harvest for which the seed was planted with the deaths of 3,000 Americans. It has since been fertilized with the bodies of hundreds of thousands more human beings – the good, the bad, the innocent.
On this tenth anniversary of 9/11, I remember being in the newsroom of The Salt Lake Tribune early the morning of September 11, 2001. The office TV was on CNN, as usual, and suddenly there it was: video of an aircraft plowing into one tower. Was it just a horrible accident? When the second plane struck, my heart sank as I realized that this had to be planned.
The rest of the day was filled with confusion, fear and anger. Two more planes were confirmed hijacked and crashed, with more deaths. Rumors flew of other alerts; the news, on all channels, was filled with images of the Twin Towers, by then having collapsed, tumbling into clouds of dust and debris. Then came video clips of individuals leaping from the flames to flay through the air, falling 110 stories to their deaths.
But 9/11 has cost us more than those many, precious lives. Trillions of dollars have been spent to fight a bloodied, but still functioning, hydra-headed enemy. Arguably, the cost of our wars has been a major factor in pushing our always troubling national debt to near national bankruptcy.
We have also paid a steep price spiritually. In return for the illusion of security, Americans have compromised in ways inconceivable before 9/11. Unprecedented power has been given to the government to monitor email, telephone conversations, financial records and even library and Internet usage by citizens and foreign visitors alike.
Albeit with the best of intentions, our country has moved toward becoming a surveillance state.
In our desperation, we have also compromised by allowing “enhanced interrogation” (a euphemism for torture that fools no one) of prisoners. To protect ourselves from the terrorist beast, we have, however at odds with what Abraham Lincoln once invoked as our “better angels,” adopted some of the beast’s tactics.
And, in our fear, even those of us who claim Christ lives in their hearts have sought to restrict to Muslim Americans the religious freedoms we profess to cherish. In so doing, we forget that many of our Muslim neighbors came here as refugees from the same Islamic extremism we fight on a global scale.
The threat of terrorism will not go away, and we must remain alert. Sadly, more men and women in uniform will die to protect us from the madness that drives would-be martyrs to strap on bomb vests, park car bombs or fly aircraft into buildings in order to kill the innocent en masse.
But as we contemplate of decade of loss, rage and the rivers of blood that have been shed, let us rekindle the flame of faith in our hearts, re-embrace the love we claim in Christ and leave the hatred behind.
Let’s prove that we are, as St. Paul wrote, “more than conquerors through him who loved us.” (Romans 8:37 NIV).
Along with the War on Terror, can we not also wage the War on Hate?