Seventeen years ago today, the United States was subjected to the most devastating attack on its civilian population since the war of 1812.
There can be no question of who was responsible for the attack, or why. Islamic extremists successfully attempted to demonstrate to the world their ability to kill and destroy. They sought to highlight what they believed to be the inherent weakness and lack of resolve of the Western world to defend itself. They looked confidently and with inappropriate pride back at their history, how their forbears successfully occupied and subjugated parts of Europe.
That’s a lesson, by the way, that’s not being taught. We repeatedly hear the nonsensical propaganda that the current hatred borne by the extremists is based on a response to the Crusades. The widespread popularity of that view is a symptom of the growing lack of historical knowledge in America. The Crusades began in 1095 A.D. Muslims invaded Europe in 711 A.D. That wasn’t, of course, the first invasion of Europe from areas that eventually became Muslim. Persia, present day Iran, attacked Greece in the Fifth Century B.C. In 632 A.D., Caliph Abu Bakr initiated over 1,400 years of ongoing conquests, subjugating areas of the world, including Europe, that had been home to Jews, Coptics, Christians and others.
Some have attempted to portray Americans as being anti-Muslim. President Obama, early in his administration, engaged in an “apology tour” throughout the Middle East. Apparently, he forgot the fact that Americans sided with Egypt against its own World War II allies when France and Britain sought to gain control of the Suez Canal in the 1950s. In the 1980s, President Reagan sided with the people of Afghanistan against Soviet invaders. In the 1990s, the United States rescued Muslims who were being attacked in Bosnia.
Otherwise, the United States did little more than make the region wealthy as it bought vast amounts of oil. Oddly enough, the first reaction of many, even in New York, was to worry about reprisals against Muslims. Of course, this never occurred (I assume some can point to isolated incidents) and, of course, several years later, Americans elected a man who had some familial ties to Islam. So much for the charges of being a biased nation.
Mr. Obama turned his uninformed opinion into policy. He prematurely withdrew American troops from Iraq, allowing ISIS to rise to power, and Iran to gain extraordinary influence. He, along with former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, failed to use force to save Americans, including Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens, from an Islamic extremist mob in Benghazi, then blatantly lied about the cause of the attack, blaming an American video the perpetrators knew nothing about but which Mr. Obama called an incitement to attack. He told the American public that the fight to roll back ISIS’ vast conquered territory would be a “generational” campaign; his successor accomplished that goal in little over a year.
I was in New York the day of the attack, and shortly after was as close to the World Trade Center site as was allowed. The air smelled sharply of burnt flesh and ash. A few months later, as the head of the local Workers’ Compensation Board, I witnessed firsthand, for years after, the tragic after-effects, the lives and families destroyed. Many policemen, firefighters, emergency medical technicians and others who survived the initial attack contracted devastating medical disorders that have ruined their lives.
But the image that remains the most profound to me was that captured in a photograph, of firemen hoisting an American flag in the midst of the destruction. Most anticipated that the heroic scene, a 21st-century version of the famous Iwo Jima event, would be the centerpiece of what eventually became the 9/11 Memorial. Instead, it has all but been forgotten. One assumes that the same mentality that, ignoring all of history, blames the West for the extremist’s hatred, felt the portrayal was too jingoistic.
• Frank V. Vernuccio Jr., former district administrator of the Manhattan Workers’ Compensation Board, is editor in chief of the New York Analysis of Policy & Government.
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