A few weeks ago marked 16 years since the horror of 9/11. I made a point to stop what I was doing to pay respect to the victims and to reflect on that day. I remembered how I had just risen from bed in Los Angeles and turned on The Today Show. At that very moment the first tower collapsed.
Shock turned to confusion, then to fear, then anger, and back to shock. Within a few hours the entire community sought emotional refuge in public spaces like churches and schools. I took my family to a church in Simi Valley and some kids were outside playing on skateboards. One of them asked: “What’s going on?”
I replied: “The world just changed.”
“I don’t know anything about it,” said another young man.
“You will,” I told him.
The impact has been immeasurable. Even my youngest son, who wasn’t even born, knows the terms now coded into our collective psyche: 9/11, Twin Towers, Ground Zero, Al-Qaeda, the War on Terrorism. The world did change. And 16 years later we can take inventory. We have seen victories. And with no intention of minimizing any act of terrorism that has occurred since, there hasn’t been one of the orchestrated magnitude of 9/11. Saddam Hussein is gone in an ancillary cause, and Osama Bin Laden is dead. Much of Al Qaida has disintegrated. ISIS rose from those ashes as the most heinous realization of such insanity, but we are seeing their money run dry and their reach diminished.
Yet no one feels that victory has been accomplished. So we must ask: What will victory look like?
Will “sand glow in the dark” from bombardment as Ted Cruz’ hyperbole suggested? Will we have vanquished the children of our enemies who hate us?
Will we have such awesome might that no one ever dares attack us again? Is that possible when it was only a small band of terrorists who altered our giant nation with box cutters? That isn’t meant as an insult to our strength or fortitude, but it serves as a reminder that a slingshot is more than a metaphor.
And what does victory look like to our enemies?
Perhaps it isn’t a victory in the battlefield, but to diminish our strength in other ways. They have changed the way we think; the way we look at one another; the way we talk to each other. They robbed us of many conveniences by tightening our security and the way we fly. They’ve made us more suspicious, more judgmental, more afraid, and sometimes less compassionate. They’ve fanned embers of racism, and religious intolerance, and made us look askance at our greatest virtue; the promise of freedom for all.
They are not winning, but they are also not defeated. We have seen victories, but we are not yet victorious.
To be truly victorious, we must decide what it will be.