According to demographers, approximately one-third of the United States population was born in 1997 or later — defined as Generation Z and Generation Alpha. Those cohorts have no conscious memory of the events on Sept. 11, 2001 — or the nation that existed previously.
Monday will mark the 22nd anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, recalling a national mourning and a national resolve that have informed everything that has come since. When Islamic terrorists crashed hijacked airliners into the World Trade Center towers and the Pentagon, and when another plane crashed into a field near Shanksville, Pa., it altered the nation’s collective psyche and triggered far-reaching political and social ramifications.
As the 9/11 Commission Report in 2004 said: “That September day, we came together as a nation. The test before us is to sustain that unity of purpose and meet the challenges now confronting us.”
America’s success in meeting those challenges is open for debate. But like the Pearl Harbor attack for previous generations, it is imperative for those who remember 9/11 to pass along the recollections and the lessons from one of the seminal events in our nation’s history. It also is imperative to impart reminders that vigilance against terror is not a vice.
The nature of that terror has been altered in the past two decades. Since then, the most direct threat to our nation has been a domestic attack on the United States Capitol. Other disruptions of domestic tranquility can be seen in the frequency of mass shootings, poorly regulated migration across the Southern border, and a growing scourge of opioids.
Whether delivered by foreign nationals in a surprise attack or by domestic terrorists, the result is similar — a division of our populace stoked by fear and a sense of insecurity.
In that context, a couple conclusions from the 9/11 Commission stand out two decades later. One is that the slow pace of Senate confirmations for key Cabinet and subcabinet officials contributed to our nation’s lack of preparedness.
President George W. Bush took office in January 2001, and the report notes that, “The new administration — like others before it — did not have its team on the job until at least six months after it took office.” By Sept. 11, only 57 percent of the top 123 Senate-confirmed positions at the Pentagon, Justice Department and State Department had been filled.
That seems pertinent today as the Senate — specifically Sen. Tommy Tuberville, R-Ala. — blocks approximately 300 military promotions in an effort to end a Pentagon policy that pays for travel when a service member goes out of state to get an abortion or other reproductive care. The costs of risking national security apparently are lost on Tuberville.
Other lessons also have been forgotten.
For nearly 20 years, the federal government has repeatedly pushed back implementation of the Real ID Act. If the act is not essential to national security — or at least not essential enough to enforce — it should be repealed.
And the FBI, which is crucial for preventing terrorism within our borders, has repeatedly come under fire and faced threats of reduced funding from conservatives in Congress.
Despite those shortcomings, for many Americans who lived through 9/11, the enduring memory is one of national resolve and a common purpose. Rekindling those feelings — and passing them along to younger generations — is important for ensuring that the terrorists were not victorious on Sept. 11, 2001.