April 04, 2006
History and heroism in unexpected placesLast week, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld addressed the Army War College to a historical look at heroism of ordinary Americans. Here's a major snippet from his speech:
Some of the passengers on that airplane, Flight 93, did not think of themselves as heroes or history makers when they boarded that plane on a Tuesday morning en route to San Francisco, and undoubtedly never heard of a place called Shanksville or a man named Mohammed Attah, and they never expected to be saying into their telephones, air phones, that:Read the rest, including his answers to some excellent questions, here.
"The plane's been hijacked."
"I'm calling to say goodbye." or the final comment,
On that day, the terrorists brought their fight to our shores and to our people. And in Shanksville, Pennsylvania -- over that quiet field -- Americans, our fellow citizens, began to fight back.
I suspect Americans will always remember where they were on September 11, 2001, when 3,000 lost their lives. Think of the questions that were asked and I suppose in some cases they're still being asked today.
Who were these people who were attacking us?
What do they want?
How can they be stopped?
I'd like to comment on those questions today.
The enemy we face may be the most brutal in our history. They currently lack only the means -- not the desire -- to kill and murder millions of innocent people with weapons vastly more powerful than boarding passes and box cutters.
Before September 11, 2001, there was somewhat of a misunderstanding in America about terrorists and in some circles I suppose there still is today. Even today, some folks view terrorists as criminals, not as combatants -- some even consider them victims. Some seem to think that the years before September 11th were decades of peace, but that is not so.
Though we think of September 11th as the first day in the Global War on Terror, it wasn't the first day for the enemy. Extremists had declared war on free people decades ago. In 20 years terrorists attacked and killed Americans more than 20 times including the bombing at:
The U.S. embassy in Beirut, Lebanon, in 1983;
The Marine barracks in Beirut in 1983;
Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerby, Scotland, in 1988;
The New York World Trade Center the first time in 1993;
A military compound in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, in 1995;
Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia in 1996;
U.S. Embassies in Kenya, Tanzania in 1998; and then
The war ship USS Cole in Yemen in 2000.
During those decades the West was ambivalent about how to counter extremist ideology and that type of aggression. As a result, terrorists became increasingly bolder. We should have learned the timeless truth -- that weakness is provocative.
Consider how they boasted of their murder of innocent people in the Khobar compound in Saudi Arabia. In their words,
"I went into an American's office and called him. When he turned to me I shot him in the head and his head exploded. We entered another office and found one infidel from South Africa and our brother Hussein slit his throat. We found a Swedish infidel and brother Nim cut off his head and put it at the gate so it could be seen by all entering and exiting."
On September 11th, they accomplished their most daring attack on our shores, and in the years since no part of the world has really been spared from their attacks:
In Russia terrorists held school children hostage, some as young as 20 months old; killed 186.
In Israel they hid a grenade under a baby.
In Iraq, according to the Mayor of Kalifar, they placed explosives inside the corpses of children in order to kill grieving parents coming to recover their bodies.
In Pakistan the Islamic extremists beheaded a Wall Street Journal reporter. They killed him because he was Jewish and because he was American. They bound his hands, they set up their video recorder, they sawed off his head on camera. His widow was pregnant with a son he would never see.
Those attacks, like September 11th -- were not random acts of violence. They were for a purpose and the purpose was to terrorize. If you think about it, people tend to think that the purpose of terrorism is to kill people. It really isn't. It's to terrorize, to alter behavior. In pursuit of a world where clerics issue binding edicts, where children are indoctrinated into violence and hate.
After the September 11th attacks the United States fashioned a very large global Coalition who worked together to protect our people and protect their people. This Coalition is probably the largest in the history of the world, with some 80 or 90 countries working together to make it more difficult for terrorists to do everything they need to do to be successful. More difficult to train, to recruit, to raise money, to establish sanctuaries, to acquire weapons, to cross borders, communicate.
But the strategy must do a great deal more to reduce the lure of the extremist ideology, like standing with those moderate Muslims advocating peaceful change, freedom and tolerance.
Progress is being made. Afghanistan has gone from a country where the government protected terrorists and imprisoned women, to one that imprisons terrorists and protects women. Iraq has gone from Saddam's mass graves to mass participation in democratic elections. A recent survey showed that a large and growing number of Muslims believe that free systems can work in their country.
The extremists see these changes and they're desperate to prevent that progress. One suspects that the terrorists preferred the battles before September 11th, when they were often the only ones on the offensive.
Today there are some who want America to go back on the defensive -- to the strategy that failed before September 11th. They say that a retreat from Iraq would provide an American escape from the violence. However, we know that any reprieve would short lived. To the terrorists, the West would remain the great Satan. The war that the terrorists began would continue. And free people would continue to be their target.
From time to time one hears the claim that terrorists' acts are reactions to particular American policy. That's not so. Their violence preceded by many years operations in Afghanistan and Iraq. And their violence will not stop until their ideology is confronted by the values millions on every continent take for granted. The ideas that liberated moderate Muslims are risking their lives every day to defend -- including free systems, individual rights.
We must recognize this and steel ourselves for the long struggle ahead.
Today's debate is probably the most significant division is between those who realize that we are in fact a nation at war, and those who do not realize that fact.
Of course, those in the Department of Defense are under no illusions. We serve in a building that came under attack. A building whose bricks were charred, whose employees had to escape by crawling through smoke, when that fuel-laden jet was flown into the offices and took some 189 people's lives.
We do not of course know what the thoughts were of those people on that airplane that crashed into Shanksville, the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, or the last thoughts of the innocent men and women that were killed. Some I'm sure worried about their families. Before that last plunge to earth over Shanksville, Pennsylvania, at least one passenger on Flight 93 prayed the 23rd Psalm over the phone with a stranger -- an operator he had found while trying to reach his wife. Together they took comfort in the passage that speaks of "still waters" and "green pastures."
Those passengers rest peacefully today and our Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, and Marines -- which many of you will command -- are doing everything possible to keep other Americans from again having to experience the heartbreak and terror of September 11th.
It's up to all of us -- military and civilian -- to commit ourselves to be patient in supporting history's great and necessary task -- aware that the enemy will not simply go away.
And aware that when future generations learn of places where freedom was defended, they will be told about a meeting hall in colonial Philadelphia, the battlefield of Gettysburg, the beaches at Normandy, and a quiet town, not far from here, called Shanksville.
So I thank you for your service to our country. Thank you for your courage and your dedication, the sacrifices you and your families have made to serve our country. I hope that you know our people thank you.
Posted by Deb at April 4, 2006 01:04 AM
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Reading this post reminded me of an article that I carry in my wallet, I cut it out last 4th of July.
It is the soldier, not the reporter, who has given us freedom of the press.
It is the soldier, not the campus organizer, who has given us the freedom to demonstrate.
It is the soldier, who salutes the flag, who serves beneath the flag, and whose coffin is draped by the flag, who allows the protester to burn the flag. [End Article]
I am 24 with no children and little family. I will be re-enlisting Monday to return to the Corps. I hope that when I am called to give my life I do so with my comrades in arms. When my day comes, I will rest easier knowing that supporting people like yourself will be there to pick up the pieces for those that return.
Our freedoms and rights must be protected at any cost, and it is choice, that allows the need of the many, to outweigh the need of the few.
Thank you and Semper Fi.
Posted by: Robert at April 8, 2006 07:20 AM