We all know, deep down, that our lives can be unalterably changed, or even lost, in a second. A blown tire at high speed on the freeway can cause an accident and take the life of a loved one. Any of us could die suddenly from a previously undiagnosed heart ailment, or from a random act of violence. As the earthquake of August 23 illustrated, despite our best efforts to order our lives, we cant control the unexpected; the best we can do is deal with unforeseen calamities when they strike.
September 11, 2001 was the biggest unexpected catastrophe of our collective lifetime. Almost 3,000 Americans lost their lives that day airplane passengers, office workers, soldiers, firefighters, police officers and passersby. Most died in the World Trade Center strike and collapse, others in the crash of Flight 93 in Pennsylvania, and 184 at the Pentagon.
While the whole country mourned 9/11, residents of metropolitan Washington and New York were affected more than most. If you happened to be outside when the plane hit the Pentagon, you felt the explosion. Everyone who was here experienced the panic of that day. Most of us know families who lost loved ones in the attack. Many of us have friends who made narrow escapes. Some of us were personally affected and grieve still.
Our way of life in the United States changed forever on that day. Before 9/11, wars and terrorist attacks were things that happened elsewhere. On that beautiful September day 10 years ago, our attackers showed that they are capable of taking the fight to American soil. The attacks, though unexpected, were anything but random, as al Qaeda carefully planned and carried out the assaults using large jetliners as missiles. We consequently have had to surrender some of our precious freedom in order to guard against future aggression. The Patriot Act, airport restrictions and pat downs and heightened security in public buildings have become a way of life.
The cost of 9/11 has been enormous and is still growing. In terms of lives, more than 6,000 American soldiers have died fighting in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, both launched in the wake of 9/11.
The monetary costs of 9/11 are also immense. While estimates on the wars cost to date vary, most range in the $2 to $4 trillion range. Whatever the exact number, this war spending has contributed significantly to the United States budget deficit of approximately $14 trillion.
The 9/11 attacks also presented America with a difficult moral dilemma: how do we recognize and stand up to the evil that is radical, jihadist Islam, without mistreating the estimated 4 to 7 million American Muslims? It has been a clash of the American priorities of safety on the one hand and civil rights for a particular group on the other. This struggle to balance two important principles has often resulted in a confusing mishmash. In order to avoid accusations of racial profiling, thousands of white and African-Americans are daily pulled aside for invasive airport pat downs, despite the fact that all of our 9/11 attackers were Muslim members of al Qaeda.
As we honor the 10-year anniversary of the attacks, it is also important to remember the good that came from this tragedy. Remember how, for a while, we put away our differences and were all just Americans? How American flags popped out everywhere in a show of solidarity? How generous people from around the world donated millions of dollars to funds for the families of victims? One such fund provided the seed money for the charitable organization ACT for Alexandria.
Though we were caught unprepared on 9/11, America responded quickly. Diligent work by the CIA, the FBI and the Pentagon has thwarted many potential follow up attacks. As we remember the fallen from 10 years ago, we must also remember that we cannot let our guard down. Unfortunately, the fight against terrorism goes on.