Saturday, September 11, 2021
Daniel J. Summers
The events of the last month have been difficult to watch as they unfolded. Pages and pages have been written about our withdrawal from Afghanistan, and its hasty collapse that occurred before our own withdrawal was complete. There is a discussion to be had regarding military withdrawal strategies, whether it was even necessary, etc. (especially when I've seen no one espouse how I would have handled it) However, that is not what is occupying the majority of my thoughts when I reflect over the past 20 years; rather, it's the people.
I've been thinking about Louis Neil Mariani (“Neil”). I profiled him back in 2009, and his story is heartbreaking. When I searched his name again, I found that his wife Ellen was one of the last victim families to sue vs. taking the compensation fund payouts. Losing her husband wasn't enough; she spent years raising funds and bouncing through some questionable legal representation, just to be told that she could not have her day in court. I have no idea what either of their politics are - it doesn't matter, and that's the point. I mourn for Neil, Ellen, and the entire Mariani family - and I wonder if we, as a nation, have learned anything from their involuntary sacrifice.
I've also been thinking about the time I spent deployed back in 2006. It got me thinking even then, but it's come to mind more frequently, particularly with the Afghanistan collapse. One of the aspects of that job was to open, inspect, and repair packages that were found to be damaged when they passed through our facility. In doing this, I would see glimpses of what was being sent to the military members downrange; quite frequently, it was pictures of children, love notes from spouses, and food items that weren't easily available in a combat zone. We also, on occasion, had to inspect mail headed home from the war zone. In these, too, I would see family memorabilia, often wrinkled and dirty; they had accompanied their owner through some very difficult times.
These difficult times didn't always have a happy ending. There were marriages strained, many broken; even among my paltry crew of thirteen co-workers, there were families dissolved because of those four months. This toll, too, is something I mourn; each party usually bears some of the blame when a marriage ends, but the circumstances that led to that dissolution were brought on by the stresses of war.
I realize that some of these marital partnerships may not have made it; if it wasn't the war, it would have been something else. Maybe Neil would still be alive and well, preparing for his 80th birthday soon - but maybe not. The “maybe” questions belie what is behind much of the mourning, which is the loss of potential - unrealized potential, unjustly snatched from its owner well before it should have been.
One of the hardest questions I've fielded over the past month or so is “How are you?” I try to say the requisite “fine” in return, but sometimes the question just hits differently. My… uh, eyes sweat… way more than they used too. I mourn that we lost thirteen Americans, and untold Afghans who had been “on our team” as we ham-handedly exited that nation. I mourn the “falling man” picture of 9/11, and the very similar images of people falling off the landing gear 20 years later, so desperate to escape. A younger version of me would have been angered by this; now, though, my main emotion is sorrow.
It is important, though, to not let the sorrow and long-term futility of the heroic efforts of so many - so great a price for so quick a loss - give rise to despair. One of the most encouraging things I have read over the past month was a Sunday French Press entitled “They Held the Line”; I would encourage you to read it as well, especially since this post is not going to end with some uplifting, inspiring hope for the future.
“Never Forget” became the rallying cry after 9/11 (even though it had previously been used regarding the Holocaust; I guess we did, in fact, forget). But, for those of us who prosecuted the War on Terror, forgetting will never be an issue. My prayer is that future generations will not have such an agonizing event, and a 20-year struggle to defeat a difficult enemy, where the hard fought gains are lost before our boots have even left the soil.
Tuesday, September 12, 2017
Daniel J. Summers
Yesterday marked 16 years since the al-Qaeda sucker-punch known as “9/11” reached our shores. We are now far enough out that, if you were to survey high school seniors, very few of them would be able to speak of memories of that day. In a way, that's a good thing - even adults have trouble processing evil of that magnitude. In a way, though, that means that they've grown up with an ever-present threat of terrorism within our homeland; we have always been at war in the Middle East, and getting on an airplane has always been a tedious process.
As we observe this particular anniversary, we are a few days past the 12th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina's landfall; we are watching Texas's recovery from Hurricane Harvey last month; and we are watching Hurricane Irma thrash through Florida up into Georgia, having devastated several islands in the Caribbean on her way up. Katrina was blamed for 1,833 deaths, while Harvey currently stands at 70, and Irma is at 26. Of course, these numbers are adjusted when emergency workers are able to fully assess the aftermath; but both Harvey and Irma will have U.S. death tolls less than 10% of Katrina, despite Harvey bringing (unexpectedly) more water and Irma bringing way more wind. These lower death tolls are not just dumb luck. We have poured lots of resources into identifying the threats these hurricanes pose to our mainland and territories, and we can give warnings far further in advance than we could 12 years ago. We evacuate people in harm's way, and we provide a strong law enforcement presence to protect the homes of those who evacuated.
What does that have to do with terrorism? The goal is the same - preservation of the lives of our citizens. To do that, we rely on intelligence to give us as much advanced warning as possible. We warn our citizens of danger, and we do our best to mitigate its effects. Unlike weather, we do have the capability to eliminate this threat before it makes landfall; however, like weather, sometimes unexpected shifts occur. In these intervening 16 years, we have had occasional attacks that have been carried out, but we've had others that have been thwarted before they could be. As this post-9/11 effort continues, approaching the 20-year mark, let's continue to pray for those who are defending us. Pray for their success, for their safety, and for them to complete this mission honorably.
There is one other way in which terrorism and the 2017 hurricane season are similar. I think I speak for all of us when I say “No way, José…”
Saturday, September 11, 2004
Daniel J. Summers
(This one's long, but I hope you take the time to read it and think…)
Three years ago, our country was attacked. It was not the first terrorist attack on our interests, or even the first attack on our own soil. But three years ago was, by far, the most successful (from the terrorists' point of view) attack on us yet. Over 2,500 innocent Americans lost their lives over the span of a few hours. Looking back, the fact that this number is so much lower than it could be (around 100,000 people were employed in the two WTC towers) is due to the grace of God, and the heroic efforts of firemen and policemen who helped thousands of folks flee to safety after the towers and the Pentagon were hit. Still, the fact remains that we were attacked on our own soil, and that attack resulted in a large loss of life.
Sit back from the computer for a minute or two and think back to where you were, and the thoughts that went through your mind that Tuesday morning. I remember very vividly where I was. A co-worker said “someone flew a plane into the World Trade Center!” It clicked for me right away, although it took some time to accept it - with all the talk about it being an accident, I didn't buy that. Moments later, as we all watched on our IPTV windows, we saw the second plane hit. All the talk of an accident evaporated in an instant - we were under attack. More bad news - another one hit the Pentagon - was there an explosion outside the State Department? - a plane went down in Pennsylvania - FAA grounds all flights - international flights are turned back. We went to FPCON Delta, the post-attack posture under which every vehicle coming on and off base is searched, and, for a time, no traffic is allowed on or off base.
I also remember clearly that all these things weren't what was foremost in my mind. My oldest child was going to school only during the mornings on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, so they weren't gone when it happened. I live on base, so I knew that I wouldn't have to leave the base, and neither would my family. I was still concerned for them, though - what if our base is on the target list? At this point, we didn't know nearly as much about al-Qaeda as we do now. I came home and just held my wife, then my kids. My second child was barely over 1, so he was pretty much oblivious; but my 2 1/2-year-old (who even then was very bright) couldn't understand why they would fly those planes into those buildings. He also didn't understand why mom and dad were crying, or near tears, the whole time.
I'm going to link that amazing site that's linked at the bottom of the page - never forget what happened that day. Since that day, we've engaged in two major theater wars - one in Afghanistan and one in Iraq. Despite warnings of quagmires the likes of which we haven't seen since Vietnam, we have been successful in both these operations, installing democracy and freedom into two areas of the world that desperately need it. During that time, we've lost 1,000 combined in those two theaters. In Vietnam, that number was over 58,000. (source: DoD) It's a tribute to our men and women in uniform who have shown ceaseless dedication to their country, and to the development and use of the best tools of war on the planet. Although some may classify me in that category, as stateside support, the only thing I've sacrificed for this war is a few longer hours. I am deeply grateful to my comrades in arms who are out there in the desert, on the lines, loading bombs, driving patrols, doing everything they can to keep us free and return home to their families.
This is the reason it is so important to have a leader in this country who is not afraid to stand up to terrorists. When the WTC was attacked the first time in 1993, we did nothing. When the Kenyan embassies were bombed, we did nothing. When the USS Cole was bombed, we did nothing. Could we not see this coming? When I was in school, I was told that studying history was important, because “those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it.” I believe that. We've seen what inaction brings, and we cannot afford inaction any more, not even if it's cloaked in the term “diplomacy.” Since 9/11/01, al-Qaeda has struck in Bali, Madrid, and most recently, in Russia, as well as cooperating with Hezbollah in bringing terrorism to Israel.
Americans are, collectively, the most kind-hearted people in the world. We recognize the true threat that lies before us, and we are choosing to take the fight to them. I have a really hard time not questioning the intelligence of someone who thinks we shouldn't have gone into Iraq. Saddam Hussein was a dictator who used instant execution, limb removal, and rape as methods of governmental punishment. He used WMD on his own people in the north, and was completely uncooperative with United Nations inspectors who were verifying that he had stopped production. And the “there were no WMDs” crowd doesn't seem to consider enough Sarin gas to kill 60,000, or a large stash of low-enriched unranium, to be weapons of mass destruction. I say to those folks, how would like for what we've found to be detonated or released in your neighborhood? Would it become a WMD then?
So, we've got a dictator, who rapes, mutilates, and kills his own people, who has taken a hit out on a sitting United States President, and who is sympathetic to terrorists. Even the most obtuse among us should be able to see that we do not need that man in possession of WMDs, or even parts that can be made into such. Russia is our ally, and even they have some suitcase nukes they can't find. How much more easily would it be for nuclear or chemical weapons to find their way into terrorists' hands if the leadership of the country just hands it to them?
During the Republican National Convention, just after President Bush's speech, I listed to the talking heads dissect it. (I think the channel was on CBS.) The folks there said that the parts of the speech that dealt with domestic issues got applause, but with nowhere near the passion of the applause in the national defense portion. I think that's because the vast majority of Republicans (and a lot of Democrats, which is why I predict Bush will roll in November) know that without a secure national defense, domestic programs are meaningless. You may have seen this, but I'm posting it here in case you haven't. Stephen Ambrose said “It is the soldier, not the poet, who gives us freedom of speech. It is the soldier, not the reporter, who gives us freedom of the press. It is the soldier, not the campus organizer, who gives us freedom to protest. It is the soldier who serves beneath the flag, who salutes the flag, and whose coffin is draped by the flag, who gives the demonstrator the right to burn the flag.”
So, on this Patriot Day 2004, remember the lives of those whose crime was only that they got to work early that morning. Remember the 1,000+ defenders of freedom who have lost their lives while ensuring that anything like 9/11 never happens again. Remember the sons and daughters who will be celebrating Thanksgiving and Christmas this year, for the first time, without their mom or dad. Remember the spouses, who have lost a life partner and best friend. Thank the Lord that you live in a country that does not let these acts of aggression stand, and thank the Lord that George W. Bush made the tough decision to defend our nation. May God bless this great nation.
In my last entry, I linked to some of the resources for organizations that help women struggling with the issue of abortion. The Psalm 139 Project is a group that collects donations in order to buy ultrasound machines for crisis pregnancy centers across the country. If you're interested in putting your money behind the fight for the unborn, this is a great way to do it.