On this twelfth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, it is worth a moment to pause and consider what those attacks have cost the United States as a nation. Today will be spent commemorating the lost heroes of the attacks and subsequent action required to bring the perpetrators to justice. What price have we paid and what remains due?
LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - The 9/11 attacks traumatized our nation as the world watched the deaths of 2,996 human beings on television. It was immediately apparent the United States was at war, except the public did not know with precisely whom at that moment.
Within days it was apparent who the culprits were and where they were hiding. Flags and candles appeared in front of homes and as vigils were held for the dead, the United States mustered its military. The sketched image of a soldier taking the flag from a 9/11 ground zero firefighter was etched into our memory with the caption, "I'll take it from here."
The initial attacks in Afghanistan, just weeks later were incredible because of the differential in power between the two nations. The Taliban-run state of Afghanistan was sorely mismatched against the world's remaining super power. Trucks with machine guns mounted in the beds were no match for stealth bombers.
Venerable B-52's carpet bombed Taliban and al Qaeda positions and the United States put boots on the ground in support of the Northern Alliance, a loose confederation of tribal militias opposed to Taliban rule.
Over the following months, the Taliban was chased from Kabul and the countryside, over the border into Pakistan where they found safe haven with their al Qaeda allies. Later, that safe haven would be compromised by armed drone aircraft.
Subsequent to the apparently righteous wrath of the nation, smacked down on the Taliban and al Qaeda, the conflict expanded. Soon the term "mission creep" made its way into household lexicons as the nation found itself involved in Iraq, the Horn of Africa, and other places such as the Philippines, where we remain today.
Today, we are weary of war, embroiled in a worldwide war against terror that has cost us much more than those initial strikes in Afghanistan.
President Bush made the first swipe of the national credit card, albeit with broad approval from the American people. Yet, in true political fashion, the inch granted in Congress on September 14, 2011, became a mile.
By the end of Bush's tenure the nation was mired in global conflict. Meanwhile, new laws such as the Patriot Act gave sweeping police powers to the government to track and hunt terrorists. Without our knowledge the NSA mission was greatly expanded and well-funded. Meanwhile, we began to grumble at the airport as the TSA asked us to remove our shoes and the list of taboo items on airplanes grew.
In 2008, Obama was elected and although the war in Iraq was winding down, and Afghanistan is on a timetable set by his administration, a massive doubling-down on Bush's policies continues to cost us ever more money, lives, and freedom.
The financial cost has been tremendous. Following the attacks, a mild recession that started in March of 2001 deepened. Unemployment climbed to 6 percent. This would be followed by a brief return of growth until the end of the Bush administration when the Great Recession would start.
President Bush asked for increased spending, a mere $20 billion for Afghanistan, and $13 billion for Homeland Security. A patriotic nation granted both. Then, as evidence of weapons of mass destruction were found in Iraq, and fears they could fall into terrorist hands gripped the administration, bush called for war in Iraq.
Although Saddam Hussein managed to ship his chemical arms to Syria, and out of reach of UN inspectors, he also played a shell game with those same inspectors making himself look yet more guilty of the accusations against him. Unwittingly, he became caught up in the War on Terror by being himself.
The subsequent war cost the nation $50 billion initially and by the end of Bush's term cost nearly $900 billion.
Obama then came into office and promptly increased spending for the War. Under Obama, the costs have accelerated and now stand at almost $2 trillion. This figure has simply been added to the national debt and will be paid by future generations, with interest. The final total, if the War on terror ended today, would be about $6 trillion with future interest added, according to Congressional calculations.
All this spending to pursue terrorists, both real and imagined, has the government in sequester mode, cutting spending to finance a behemoth war effort that could soon extend into Syria, if the current peace proposals do not pan out.
Ironically, the United States finds itself in position to side with the terrorists in the War on Terror in Syria. This is a sign of how twisted the conflict has become. War serves itself and the longer it lasts the more absurd it becomes.
Casualties of the War on Terror range into the millions with most in Iraq.
A total of 9,655 Americans have thus far died in the War in Terror including those killed on 9/11. Another 56,422 Americans walk among us as wounded.
Overseas, millions may be dead and wounded. At least 1.15 million have been tallied, and these are the ones we know about. There are probably many more uncounted. For some people, who live under the specter of winged predator drones and terrorist bombings, every day is 9/11.
Back in the U.S., 9/11 continues to take a toll. First responders and recovery workers suffer from ailments associated with sifting through the debris of the Twin Towers and the Pentagon.
Domestically, Americans are paying taxes to feed a beast that was only recently revealed to exist. The National Security Organization (NSA) is collecting vast quantities on data on Americans and foreigners alike. The data collected from Americans arguably violates the 4th Amendment protection to which each citizen is entitled, however the collection proceeds with the blessing of a secret court and the Obama administration.
Today, the true costs of the war are genuinely inestimable.
Just as World War II brought consequences that still confront us today, so too will the War on Terror. This is the normal course of history. One can easily make the case that battles at places such as Thermopylae (480 BC) and Tours (732 AD) still resonate today. How much more then, will the War on Terror impact us in the future?
In addition to lost lives and financial costs, we know that we have lost an immeasurable degree of freedom. In these regards, the terrorists have won.
Outcomes in war cannot be easily predicted. High technology can defeat standing armies, but not religious extremism and deep-seated hatred. There are solutions to these problems but none that appear immediately practical and few politicians are willing to embrace concepts such as respect, love, and peace. Nor are our enemies.
Until that day comes then, the War on Terror will continue and the cost in lives, money, and freedom will rise. In that sense the 9/11 attacks have succeeded beyond al Qaeda's wildest expectations.
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