As I wrote earlier, asking where you were when the twin towers were struck is a self-indulgent question. It is a self-indulgent question for the vast majority of us who were neither killed that day nor related to the 3,000 people who were there. Most of us did not participate in the rescue and most of us were not serving in the military at the time. And most of us didn't join the military because of 9/11.
For the vast majority of us, 9/11 didn't change a thing. We're lucky. We don't have a draft. We're not undergoing wartime rationing. Our major headache occurs at the airport. And long check-in lines and confiscated toothpaste are really, really, really minor inconveniences.
And yet, we want it to mean something. Christopher Hitchens writes that the time for memorials comes when the war is over. And this one surely isn't.
On that day, we learned what we ought to have known already, which is that clerical fanaticism means to fight a war which can only have one victor. Afghans, Kurds, Kashmiris, Timorese and many others could have told us this from experience, and for nothing (and did warn us, especially in the person of Ahmad Shah Massoud, leader of Afghanistan's Northern Alliance). Does anyone suppose that an ideology that slaughters and enslaves them will ever be amenable to "us"? The first duty, therefore, is one of solidarity with bin-Ladenism's other victims and targets, from India to Kurdistan.
The second point makes me queasy, but cannot be ducked. "We"--and our allies--simply have to become more ruthless and more experienced. An unspoken advantage of the current awful strife in Iraq and Afghanistan is that it is training tens of thousands of our young officers and soldiers to fight on the worst imaginable terrain, and gradually to learn how to confront, infiltrate, "turn," isolate and kill the worst imaginable enemy. These are faculties that we shall be needing in the future. It is a shame that we have to expend our talent in this way, but it was far worse five years and one day ago, when the enemy knew that there was a war in progress, and was giggling at how easy the attacks would be, and "we" did not even know that hostilities had commenced.
We no longer have a unity of purpose--the kind of unity, we're told, that brought the nation together after Pearl Harbor. As a nation, we seem to be moving further and further apart. The fifth anniversary of September 11 is a good time to begin recovering that unity. They really do want to kill us--whether we support George Bush's war" or not.