Sunday, September 11, 2011

The (Sunday school) lessons of 9/11

Today's 10th anniversary commemorations of the 9/11 attacks are more interesting than the NFL games on this first weekend of the season. The anniversary and the 10-year-old event were the topics of an adult Sunday school discussion this morning. Blame me for that. Asked to teach the class and given the freedom to choose whatever material I wanted, I settled on the anniversary as a discussion starter. I downloaded some material from several religious websites, including some National Council of Churches material.

Ten years later, some of the shock and anger have abated, but the grief and the determination remain. A statement signed by thousands of religious leaders issued days after the attacks condemned the terrorists' strategy of using any grievance as an excuse for violence and mass murder. But it also called for a response of love and understanding instead of more violence. Ten years later, our primary response is still violence against violence.

And where has it gotten us? The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have cost thousands of American lives and trillions of dollars in U.S. wealth. Our troops are still trying to pacify cities in Afghanistan, and our scheduled departure from Iraq could result in civil war in that former dictatorship. Osama bin Laden, who planned and gloated over the 9/11 attacks, is dead, shot by a Navy Seal in a daring nighttime raid. But American troops remain bogged down in his former sanctuary.

In a CNN interview today, former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld refused to concede that the Iraq war was a foolish and costly mistake, but the question clearly made him uncomfortable as he hedged his answers. The invasion that led to the aptly named book "Fiasco" was sold as a means of stopping the spread of "weapons of mass destruction," but it turned out Iraq didn't have any. Instead, it had hundreds of thousands of mines and artillery shells that were easily converted into "improvised explosive devices" that proved perfect for killing and maiming American troops.

The attacks of 10 years ago will be judged in history as an act of infamy at least as brazen as Japan's Dec. 7, 1941, attacks. But America's response to the latter attacks were clearly not as effective as the response of December 1941 and following. World War II lasted less than four years from the date of America's entry. The response to 9/11, dubbed a "war on terror," has lasted 10 years — and counting, in time, lives and treasure.

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