It has been seven years since that very sad and difficult day. Over the years I have thought about it a great deal and I do think that there are some lessons we need to learn.
The first lesson is a lesson of culture. We were attacked by a culture that we did not have any understanding of. When Timothy McVeigh did the Oklahoma City bombing, he lit a fuse and ran away. While do we not understand his act of violence and cold-bloodedness, we do comprehend how he did it. There were hints of violence using an airplane flying into a building. Those hints did not register. Most of his would never even imagine such a thing happening, let alone doing such a thing. The problem is that we didn’t quite understand the culture. I don’t know if we do now, but we will never have any success in fighting terrorism until we begin to understand the culture from whence terrorists come.
During World War II there was a similar difficulty in fighting the war with Japan. We did understand much of the German culture, but the Japanese culture was a complete mystery to us. We suffered greatly for it. Conversely, the Japanese did not understand American culture and attacked Pearl Harbor with little awareness of what the consequences would be for them. The failure to understand other cultures is dangerous.
The second lesson is our shameful partisanship. There was ample intelligence handed over to the Bush Administration from the Clinton Administration about Osama Bin Laden. It was ignored. To be quite fair, if it had been handed over to the Clinton Administration from the first Bush Administration, it would have been ignored. The levels of division are so deep between our two political parties that there has grown to be an intense dislike and lack of trust. Talk Radio, Talk TV, agenda specific media of all sorts has helped cultivate this division. It has grown and continues to grow. Shame on us. It was part of the problem and remains part of the problem. This war on terror is an American issue, not a Democrat or Republican issue.
The upcoming Presidential Campaign is becoming increasingly partisan and increasingly stupid. The fighting, right now, is mostly over nonsense. This is a horribly dangerous thing for us as a nation at the moment. We cannot allow this to continue or we will continue to struggle and be vulnerable to attack and it will be our own fault.
The third lesson is a failure of imagination. NASA officials, when Apollo I blew up said that they had a weakness. It was a failure of imagination. They hadn’t thought through and imagined all the potential problems. Years later, the 0 Rings was a similar instance. We live in a very concrete, cut and dry society. We long for easy answers to complex questions and often view the world in black and white.
The party is over. We no longer have this luxury. The world around us is smaller and deadlier than it has ever been. Our greatest threats no longer come from nations, but they come from rogue groups. If we fail to have imagination, we will continue to be woefully vulnerable to attack. Sadly, what happened seven years ago may be small in comparison.
The fourth lesson is the danger of fundamentalism. Fundamentalism is a strict and literal maintenance of religious ideas and can also be applied to political beliefs. While they held opposite views and were both atheists, both Ayn Rand and Karl Marx were fundamentalists. There was little gray in their worlds. Everything was absolutely clear.
In religion it’s very much the same. Fundamentalism often rejects science and history to hold on to whatever it wants to hold on to. Christian fundamentalism has little resemblance to historic Christianity. Islamic fundamentalism has little resemblance to historic Islam. Etc. As we live in a world in which fundamentalism of all sorts of being embraced, we live in an increasingly dangerous world. Ayn Rand and Karl Marx could never, ever, come to a consensus on anything because they were both right about everything. This is a lethal danger to the world.
That day, seven years ago was a tragic day. Perhaps even more tragically has been our national failure to have learned from the events of that day.