Eleven years ago today, the United States suffered the biggest terrorist attack in history on its soil. The attacked changed not just the history of this nation, but the history of the world. Since that time, two wars were launched in the middle east in both Iraq and Afghanistan. Those countries now enjoy democracy, but it cost of thousands of American soldiers. Our foreign policy is still shaped by this tragic event.
The attacks killed 2,996 people, and destroyed several buildings. Those that survived or lost loved ones will have our eternal support. America does not forget its fallen, whether soldier or civilian. The feelings of patriotism may have come down from their 2001 highs, but the American spirit is still as strong as ever, despite political differences that plague our nation.
The Pentagon was also hit and heavily damaged. The attacks also damaged the American psyche, putting a dent in the aura of invincibility its citizens had after years of peace in the 1990s. The US has suffered only a handful of major attacks in its history. The most recent was the bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941, an attack that galvanized the US to become the greatest military power the world has ever seen.
Our foreign policy still exists in a post 9-11 mindset. The growing tension with Iran is centered around the fear of that nation acquiring nuclear weapons and possibly passing them on to terrorists. Iran does not have the capabilities to strike at us conventionally, but the country has terrorist proxies in Hamas and Hezbollah that could potentially pull the feat off.
Ironically, it was our invasion of Iraq that led to the ascendance of Iran. Saddam Hussein was the mortal enemy of the Iranians, as the two had fought an 8 year war during the 1980s. Once Saddam was out of the way, the Shia majority took over in Iraq, allowing Iran to expand its influence in the region. Iran already had influence in Lebanon and the Palestinian territories through its terrorist proxy networks Hezbollah and Hamas. The Islamic theocracy grew stronger than ever following the fall of Saddam Hussein.
The invasion of Afghanistan was launched a mere weeks after the terrorist attacks occurred. Eleven years later we are still fighting that war. Though the Taliban and Al Queda were defeated, peace has been elusive in the region. We face a quagmire not unlike that we saw in Vietnam. Recent chatter has begun to spring up that perhaps the Taliban are ready to negotiate a peace deal. That is the only way a semblance of peace will ever be achieved in the nation, otherwise the US will be stuck there forever, guarding a shaky regime led by Hamid Karzai.
The threat of terrorism had a secondary effect of putting our civil liberties in danger. In an attempt to combat Islamic extremists, the Patriot Act was passed. The law led to unprecedented government power, expanding surveillance capabilities and endangering civil liberties. Eleven years after the attacks, our civil liberties are still in danger, as President Obama signed the highly controversial NDAA a few months ago that allowed for the indefinite detention of American civilians in terrorism related charges.
World War II changed the US from simply being the strongest nation on the planet, to being the strongest nation in history. September 11 did not quite have that type of impact, but it certainly changed the course of world history. Nations fell, laws changed, and thousands of people were killed. There were some positive changes, as it was perhaps the budding of democracy in Iraq and Afghanistan that helped inspire the Arab Spring witnessed last year that brought down long time dictatorships across the region. The region can not evolve and step into the modern era without democracy.
This day serves as a reminder of all that was changed on that fateful day. A decade after the attacks, we remember not just those that were lost, but also the freedoms that were forfeited. As we have lived in relative safety since, we must not let security trump freedom. The two ideas are not mutually exclusive. Safety can be achieved without giving up our rights.