Don’t become sentimental today. Read Christopher Hitchens instead:
“Never mind where I was standing or what I was doing this time five years ago. (Because really, what could be less pertinent?) Except that I do remember wondering, with apparent irrelevance, how soon I would be hearing one familiar cliché. And that I do remember hearing, with annoyance, one other observation that I believe started the whole post-9/11 epoch on the wrong foot.
“The cliché, from which we have been generally but not completely spared, was the one about American ‘loss of innocence.’ Nobody, or nobody serious, thought that this store-bought phrase would quite rise to the occasion of the incineration of downtown Manhattan and 3,000 of its workers. It might have done for the Kennedy assassination or Watergate, but partly for that very reason it was redundant or pathetic by mid-day on September 11, 2001. Indeed, I believe that the expression, with its concomitant naïve self-regard, may have become superseded for all time. If so, good. The beginning of wisdom is to recognize that the United States was assaulted for what it really is, and what it understands as the center of modernity, and not for its unworldliness. …
“But here I am, writing that it was ‘the United States’ that was assaulted. And there was the president, and most of the media, speaking about ‘an attack on America.’ True as this was and is, it is not quite the truth.
“One must have a blunt answer to the banal chat-show and op-ed question: What have we learned? (The answer ought not to be that we have learned how to bully and harass citizens who try to take shampoo on flights on which they have lawfully booked passage. Yet incompetent collective punishment of the innocent, and absurd color-coding of the ‘threat level,’ is the way in which most Americans actually experience the ‘war on terror.’) Anyone who lost their ‘innocence’ on September 11 was too naïve by far, or too stupid to begin with. On that day, we learned what we ought to have known already, which is that clerical fanaticism means to fight a war which can only have one victor.”
It’s not a good idea to try to add a thought to what Hitchens has said, but I will: I am getting sick of the TV reports, made with unconcealable smugness, that the Taliban is back in Afghanistan. Of course it is back. It will keep coming back only if it is smashed beyond coming back.
The last struggle with militant Islam, which culminated (but, apparently, did not end) with the Western victory at Lepanto, had gone on for several hundred years before the Ottoman forces were routed that day. Our struggle will not be brief campaigns after which the Taliban or other manifestations of militant Islam stay defeated either. The most important thing to remember: There will be, as Hitchens says, only one victor.