9/11 defines my generation

On that day we recognized the mortal danger of the Islamist threat, and began to fight back.

sept wtc 911 memorial 88 (photo credit: )
sept wtc 911 memorial 88
(photo credit: )
The 9/11 generation needs to understand the past to win the future. According to a 2007 Zogby poll, the vast majority of Americans consider the 9/11 terrorist attacks to be the most significant historical event of their lifetimes. In particular, Americans of my generation who are currently in their twenties - those who experienced the attacks as older children or young adults - must find it quite easy to pick 9/11 as the moment more important than anything else so far. After all, we didn't see World War II, the wars in Korea and Vietnam, president John F. Kennedy's assassination, or the moon landings. We have little or no memory of the Cold War. Our generation - not just in America, but worldwide - has been shaped greatly by the events of 9/11. It was a day that seemed to mark the beginning of the era we have inherited, when the call of our time should be for free people everywhere to defeat the enemy that perpetrated those atrocities. However, viewing the bloodshed of that single terrible day as supremely momentous may actually be counterproductive in our war against the Islamists. It is critical for my generation to understand the historical context f our current global war, rather than to just view 9/11 as a solitary event. OF COURSE, not everyone agrees we are even at war. In the wake of 9/11, we have heard fervent challenges to the very concept of a "War on Terror," with some describing the phrase as a political "bumper sticker," and many preferring to view terrorism as a law enforcement problem. Additionally, many have asserted that the US-led coalition's 2003 invasion of Iraq, overthrow of Saddam Hussein's regime and present occupation of that country was not the next logical step (after first toppling the Taliban in Afghanistan) in the military response to the attacks of 9/11, but was simply a foolish distraction from the "real" War on Terror. Those with some knowledge of history can help us see the bigger picture. In World War IV: The Long Struggle Against Islamofascism, Norman Podhoretz makes a persuasive case not only that the Iraq War is part of the global war against the Islamists who attacked the US on 9/11, but, more importantly, that this global war is better seen as the fourth world war, following the Cold War which, he argues, was really World War III. The Islamo-fascist enemy, as described by Podhoretz, is a monster with two heads: a religious head, exemplified by the fundamentalist Taliban, and a secular head, of which Saddam Hussein's tyrannical regime was a prime example. This combined totalitarian threat to human freedom is cast as the progeny of the fascist and communist threats in the world wars of the 20th century. MY GENERATION should see the current war since 9/11 as something not entirely new, but rather similar to the great existential struggles won by past generations. Moreover, the 9/11 attacks were not even the beginning of this current conflict with radical Islamists, which was already in full swing by the time of the massacre at the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich, Germany. What followed were three bloody decades of Islamist terrorism - bombings, murders, kidnappings, hijackings and hostage-takings - as mostly weak responses to these acts served to embolden our enemies. A strong response began only after 9/11 with what Podhoretz regards as the four pillars of President George W. Bush's new doctrine: * that this new war is a fight for freedom against the forces of evil and a direct successor to World War II and the Cold War; * that the Islamist terrorists are not individuals to be dealt with by law enforcement, but rather an organized network waging war with state sponsorship, and that those sponsoring regimes are "asking" to be overthrown; * that military preemption is necessary against these looming threats because deterrence and containment are ineffective; and * that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is part of a larger conflict of the Muslim world against the Jewish state, with the Palestinian people being used as pawns. Most importantly, Podhoretz lauds the Bush Doctrine for finally acknowledging that the Muslim world's despotic regimes that deny human freedom - whether those regimes are secular, like Saddam Hussein's, or theocratic like the Taliban's - are the root cause of Islamist terrorism. THE HISTORY of the Cold War shows us that the enemies of freedom can be defeated once they are confronted directly. In the early 1980s, president Ronald Reagan rejected the idea that the free world would have to coexist with communism and described the Soviet Union as an "evil empire" that must be defeated. Because terrorism is a tactic rather than an identifiable enemy, my generation must reject the political correctness that has resulted in the hesitancy by many to identify our new enemy as Islamist in nature. We can turn to the 2004 report of the bipartisan 9/11 Commission, which states that the current threat is "more specific" than just terrorism - it is "the threat posed by Islamist terrorism -especially the al-Qaida network, its affiliates, and its ideology." Furthermore, for a justification of the terms "Islamofascism" or "Islamic fascism," we can reference the 2006 articles of historian Victor Davis Hanson: "It's Fascism - and It's Islamic" and "Islamic Fascism 101." In the latter, Hanson notes that fascism "fits well the aims of contemporary Islamism," which rejects modernity and seeks to enforce shari'a law under a pan-Islamic and theocratic caliphate. Anti-semitism also pervades this new brand of fascism, just as it did under the Nazi version during World War II, as Hanson explains in the former article. EVEN AFTER 9/11, I still think that the collapse of the Soviet Union has been the most important historical event in my lifetime so far. In contrast, the attacks of 9/11 were neither a beginning nor an end, neither victory nor defeat in the current war. 9/11 was just one dark milestone in a long struggle in which the fate of freedom is still undecided. What my generation has inherited is a war between modern civilization and an Islamist enemy that had been waging it against us for decades before 9/11. What is meaningful about 9/11 is that it was on that day that free people recognized the mortal danger of the threat - and began to fight back on a massive scale. 9/11 will define my generation, now called to action after that significant moment in history. Yet, to win the current war against the radical Islamists, we must embrace not just the moment, but also the history. The writer is a graduate of the US Air Force Academy and a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom. He serves on active duty in the US Air Force. The opinions expressed here are his alone and do not reflect the position of the US government, the Department of Defense, or the US Air Force.