Today is, rightly, a day of reflection and memory. For those in New York, at the Pentagon, and who lost loved ones on a plane in Pennsylvania, it marks specific and tangible tragedy. For our nation, it marks a day of shock, horror, pride in those who immediately responded to the crises, and resolve to not allow terrorists to weaken our spirit or our way of life. For many, 9/11 was a new phenomenon of national tragedy for marking time. Where were you on 9/11? For others, it was the second such event, the first being when John F. Kennedy Jr. was shot. For a very few remaining, it was the third such moment with the first being the bombing of Pearl Harbor. But through each of these horrible events, America steeled its resolve and resolved to persevere.
In the cases of Pearl Harbor and 9/11, we struck back with the full measure of our conventional military might. But there, the similarities stop and today one must ask whether such a military response alone can end this period of war? Certainly for WWII, there was a definitive end to hostilities and the countries involved went back to being sovereign states (taking into account the split of Germany). After 14 years, however, al Qaeda still exists, moves freely among several sovereign states, and continues on its original mission to utilize terrorist techniques to attack symbols of Western culture and livelihood. Clearly, something more needs to be done…along with waging war, we must also deliberately wage peace.
In this case, waging peace is not akin to the post WWII Marshall Plan. Instead, it is about getting ahead of radicalization and eliminating the breeding grounds of future terrorist fighters. It is not about pouring economic and military aid into countries to assist in fighting terrorist and extremist groups. Though important to a degree, it is not enough. It is about building sustainable peace at the grass roots level, so that the draw of the terrorists’ message is weakened and the access to recruitment areas are thwarted. It is about giving the hundreds of thousand of unemployed youth worldwide, but especially in Africa, hope of an economically viable future in a peaceful environment.
So as we reflect today about 9/11 and what it means to each of us individually, let’s also reflect on what it means to us as a nation overall in the 21st century, given where we are and what we know today. As I do so, the words of Abraham Lincoln at Gettysburg flow through my mind.
“It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain…”
Without waging peace on the same scale that we are waging war, do our activities as a nation truly measure up to President Lincoln’s charge of ensuring that those who perished at Gettysburg and subsequently on 9/11, and in the 14 years since, have not died in vain?
Over the next few days, I will be writing more about waging peace. In some cases, there are specific, immediate examples whereby actions must be taken least the effects of al Qaeda, ISIS, El-Shabab, and Boko Haram will serve to disrupt areas that have been at peace for years. I hope you will stay tuned.