It is hard to believe that a child born on Sept. 11, 2001, is today a senior in high school.
Much has changed in the 18 years since these attacks left a hole in the Pentagon and brought down the Twin Towers and Flight 93. This year’s 9/11 anniversary comes after the jarring announcement that the U.S. was considering hosting secret peace talks with the Taliban at Camp David, on American soil.
The announcement illustrates current challenges as the United States seeks to end the longest war in its history while keeping our country safe and honoring those who were lost in the 9/11 attacks and the ensuing military response. Is that balancing act possible?
The decision to cancel the peace talks was the right call, not because the day is coming when the U.S. will have to weigh the value of a political settlement with the necessity of maintaining a long-term deployment, as in Europe after World War II and Korea after the armistice of 1953. Even if at some point renewed negotiations with the Taliban are deemed necessary and appropriate, this and future U.S. administrations should never grant that organization or its representatives the legitimacy of appearing on U.S. soil.
At least during the Vietnam era, the United States had the sense to conduct peace talks in Paris. As with the North Vietnamese, the question is whether the Taliban is really seeking peace or a weakening of U.S. resolve.
In the end, the question of resolve eventually gets handed to the next generation, the one that doesn’t even remember 9/11. We should teach them about that day, but also about what happened on 9/12. Those who are old enough will recall exactly where they were on Sept. 11, or on the day of the Kennedy assassination or Pearl Harbor.
All three tragedies share a common theme as a dark day in U.S. history that brought about a silver lining: a sense of unity of purpose as Americans pulled together toward a common goal. In all three cases, that unity was short-lived.
Today, on this Debate page, Master Sgt. Jeff Kirk of the 139th Airlift Wing describes how that day 18 years ago brings back memories, not of defeat but of a resolute nation determined to recover and respond. His powerful essay, describing his desire to rediscover that post-9/11 unity, is something we would encourage today’s high school seniors to read.
These young people inherit a world of tough choices, with what appears to be more shades of gray than the black of white of 9/11. Maybe that is unavoidable, but these students, indeed all of us, should not only remember 9/11 but the resolve and unity that came in the days that followed.
Let’s try to rekindle it.