Where Were You When The World Stopped Turning?
On the morning of September 11, 2001, I had just set the first Senior Supervisory Watch on PCU Jimmy Carter (SSN 23) at Electric Boat Shipyard in Groton, CT. We were about to start the portion of the Pre-Core Test program that required Ship's Force watchstanders, so as Eng it was the culmination of a very busy time for me, getting all the required qualifications completed. As we were checking valve lineups prior to putting the first water into the reactor vessel, some of the shipyard workers came in and said that some planes had hit the World Trade Center. About an hour later, the CO came down and announced that the Pentagon had been hit, and the World Trade Center buildings had collapsed. The testing program was suspended while the shipyard pulled off people to review emergency plans, and I was left on the boat wondering what was going on. From the building, we could see boats heading out to sea down the Thames in response to the DEFCON 1 declaration for the Submarine Force on the Eastern seaboard. (Later, it turned out that there were several high-ranking officers in Groton, if not Norfolk, who didn't realize that DEFCON 1 required all available boats to head out to sea without further orders. After the first couple got out, they stopped the others that were getting underway from leaving.)
A probably apocryphal story from 9/11 says that as a person was taking pictures of people falling from the building, someone came up to them and told them to stop out of respect for the people dying; the photographer responded that we had to document it so we could remember if our resolve ever started to flag. While that may not have actually happened, the lesson is true, and the time has long since passed when many of us have forgotten the unity we felt after than tragic September morning. This war will be a long war, and I fear we're still only in the opening rounds. Much as the conflict between a Germany seeking to establish hegemony over Europe with the other European states lasted almost 80 years (of which over 65 of them were "peaceful"), the current War will last a long time. One problem is that it's hard sometimes to tell with whom we're actually at war. Despite the misguided beliefs of some commentators, we're not at war with Islam, although our enemies are almost entirely of the Islamic faith. There are many, many people living in South Asia and Africa -- the vast majority of them, in fact -- who don't want to kill Westerners. However, the ones who do are hiding among the peaceful people, which makes the job of killing those who need to be killed more difficult. We have won a recent war, relatively quickly, against a similar enemy driven by a religious fanaticism that put a low value on human life; unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on your point of view) the tactics we used against the Japanese Empire aren't available to us now, precisely because of the stateless nature of our enemies.
As well-meaning Americans of differing opinions strive to reach a national consensus on how we should deal with security threats in the 21st Century, I encourage all my readers to reflect upon the sacrifice of those who have given all since the horrific attacks of September 11th, and rededicate themselves to the American Ideal.