Stephen Herrington Headshot

We The Fallen of 9/11

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The images of 9/11 are seared into the soul of Americans. The impact of the planes, the fire, the people leaping to their death to escape the flames, the heroism of the police and firemen, the utter shock of those impossibly tall monuments, now, collapsing in rubble, cannot, and should not, be forgotten.

9/11 will always be a day to pause and reflect on the tragedy and the triumph of our country that was precipitated by the purest of evil, that evil which discounts the destruction of life to a means to some, therefore unaccountable, end. We, as never before, felt the whip of revenge goad the red eyed hate from its slumber in the pit of our consciousness. An eye for an eye was the unstoppable, unquestioned, order of the day. For some it is still.

We pulled together as a country, to honor the dead and the survivors, and the cops and cabbies and cooks that firemen that, in those moments of panic and terror, forgot they were but flesh and bone to transform a tragedy into a triumph of spirit, in a heartbeat, now paragons of salvation with the strength and courage of immortal angelic warriors.

With tears of both pain and pride still in our eyes and passions aflame, the world took our agonies to heart. The Queen of England, having heard there was a tour of Americans come to see the Changing of the Guard, order it done to The Star Spangled Banner. Condolence and sympathy and help poured in, as did outrage that supported the cause of bringing the plotters to justice. The world cheered as we toppled the Taliban seemingly as effortlessly as the Twin Towers were toppled. With all speed and focus and vindication, we pursued the 9/11 perpetrators across Afghanistan and into the harboring mountains of Tora Bora.

There in the unforgiving rock and cliffs of Tora Bora, something happened. A team of Americans, that may only be described as something like the shadowy Delta Force, gave pursuit to Bin Laden. Teamed with the fighters of a neutral Afghan warlord for support, they came within a few hundreds of yards of Bin Laden, on several occasions, only to be called off or sabotaged in their efforts. Bin Laden slipped away into the wilds of Pakistan, where he has remained unharried and unharmed ever since. The Pakistani government has never pursued him, even as we poured billions of dollars into their country for the express purpose of fighting terrorism and Al Qaeda.

Soon the national attention was diverted to Iraq, and Bin Laden became less the object of a global manhunt and increasingly the rationale for a war on Iraq. As the deceptions that led to the Iraq war unraveled, the nation became divided over the war, and Bin Laden remained the unassailable symbol of what terrorizes us.

One must question at this point, on this day of the year especially, whether the power of the U.S. government, diplomatic and military, has been used in the best way to honor our own fallen of 9/11, or even those that have died in pursuit of the "war on terror" since. In order to do honor, it seems that the objective of justice should be first and foremost, as it was an act of ultimate injustice that took those first lives. The nations of the world are as familiar with justice as are we, and they watched with sadness growing into resentment as we squandered the heartfelt sympathy and support they accorded us in those first months and years following. Justice was not done. Instead, injustice was heaped on the first injustice and has expanded the ranks of those who resent us by ten fold.

Had those special forces been given the tools and had their plans been approved, Bin Laden would have been brought to justice in a swift and decisive action. That act, had it come to fruition, would have honored the fallen of 9/11 and shown the world the reach and justice of the American character. They were close, so close, and were stopped for some reason that only their commanding officers and the Bush Administration know. And what followed led to a protracted erosion of American stature and respect in the world, and in that does the worst dishonor of all to the fallen souls of 9/11, the courage of the rescuers and the soldiers to whom the task of the pursuit of justice fell. We are all victims of the events ensuing from 9/11. To not consider these things on this day does not do honor to anyone.