TCS Daily

Required Viewing

By Brian E. Finch - September 11, 2003 12:00 AM

They are images that make the heart heavy, and tear at the soul. For days and weeks after Sept. 11, the public was saturated with the video of hijacked airliners spearing themselves into the World Trade Center Towers. And when the screens were not filled with the images of the fatal blows to the seemingly immortal columns of American strength, they instead were taken up by similarly horrifying images of people choosing to leap from the burning towers, or the innocents running in panic on the streets of Manhattan as the towers collapsed. For a time, these images were burned into the collective memory of America. As time wore on though, the visuals of 9/11 became less present. Some media outlets chose to no longer present the images out of respect for those who had lost their lives, and many in the public simply chose to move on and try and focus on what lay ahead, not behind.


And here we are, two years later. The public solidarity that was forged in the fire of Sept. 11 has begun to fray at the edges. The measures that have been designed to prevent another Sept. 11 catastrophe are being sniped at on a more regular basis. Questions are now constantly being raised about the Patriot Act, the treatment of detainees at Guantanamo Bay, whether the Bush Administration has been too zealous in pursuit of the fight against terror. Meanwhile fears about terrorism, while still high on the public's list of concerns, have begun to recede somewhat. Now questions about the economy and health care occupy an increasing share of the nation's attention.


In one sense, the diminishment of attention to Sept. 11 is a good sign, for if nothing else it reflects the fact that in the interim the U.S. has not suffered another catastrophic terrorist attack. At the same time, the slow but sure "moving on" from Sept. 11 and all its painful images is not a positive development. Osama bin Laden and his radical cohorts have made it their mission to inflict as much pain as possible on Americans, and the increasing expanse of time from Sept. 11 has not diminished their determination. Through the combined efforts of the free world (and especially the U.S. military and homeland security officials), al-Qaeda and its sympathizers have been reduced to smaller attacks on "softer" targets throughout the world and not on the U.S. itself.


The U.S. should not consider, however, the lack of successful terrorist attacks within its borders as a signal that we can lessen our efforts to combat terrorism. To understand why we must be as vigilant as ever, as difficult as it may be, Americans need to re-acquaint themselves with the nightmare images of Sept. 11. Every American should once again view the images of the planes smashing into the World Trade Center, the panic in the streets that followed. Every American should experience the powerful and painful testament to the men and women of the New York Fire Department that was captured by the Naudet brothers in their "9/11" documentary. We should all share in the heartbreak of seeing firefighters going up into the smoldering towers, knowing that far too many of them would not return. We should all re-experience the sight of the Pentagon, the symbol of our national might, having been pierced by a hijacked airliner. We should share in the stories of the brave men and women on United Flight 93, who so heroically sacrificed their lives so more would not be taken in Washington. We must take in all these horrid sights and revisit the nightmare that was Sept. 11.


All of these images are at best horrible to watch, painful to revisit. But we must, because they will remind us in an unflinching fashion of how much our enemies hate us, how far they will go to harm us. And if we do not recall how determined our foes are and do not maintain our efforts against them, we may well be doomed to replacing the horrors of Sept. 11 with an even greater tragedy in the future.

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