By LTC Scott E. Rutter (USA, Retired)
Today September 11th elicits a wide range of emotions and opinions and deals with a vital topic that is of national significance. Although it has been 20 years, America continues the process of memorializing this day to remember those that perished in the Twin Towers, a field in Pennsylvania and the Pentagon. Integral to our history and our national development as a democratic nation, we must continue to remember and honor the innocent victims of this attack and the men and women that have served to protect and defend this country, many making the ultimate sacrifice.
Just as a person has a memory that guides and reminds, the United States of America has a collective history that serves to steer the direction of events and form the basis of our mindset. Tragedies, such as 911, are important markers. As events move forward in the world, we must have in our psyche the devastation and evil nature of these terrorist acts. When a tragic event first occurs, the initial reactions are primarily internal and local, it is with time that the long range ramifications and meanings surface.
Unfortunately, history can be painful, but if we don’t remind ourselves of what happened we risk forgetting. There are forces in the world that seek to distort and downplay events - we have past Presidents of Iran and others in the world still today denying the Holocaust when hundreds of thousands of Americans gave their lives in WWII. We must never forget. Although it is painful, 911 is forever a part of American history.
Many have argued that the scenes of jets crashing into the Twin Towers of World Trade Center or individuals jumping to their death to live just a few more seconds is too much for the public to see as a part of our collective memory. Based on my experience with the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS), the families will never fully heal from these tragic events. Many people may find today’s events too hard to even think about and others are too busy just getting through another day. The people murdered on 911 have a right to be remembered. What people recoil about is the reality of the events that took place on 911. But, if we don't engage in reality, we put it in a place that no longer affects our everyday thoughts, activities and decisions. In doing so, we risk losing our grip on reality. What happened on 911 was pure evil and we must be reminded that this evil still exists and seeks to destroy us today. We can't get into our SUV's and drive to the mall or relax in front our 65" LCD TVS watching Netflix or Amazon Prime Video and be deluded that because it didn't happen to "me", I am safe. Any one of us could have been present at the Twin Towers or on the planes or could be a target in the future. These are hard issues to deal with, but we must take time out of our lives to feel the pain and remember.
On the Offensive
With regard to terror and safety; let there be no doubt that we as Americans are better off today than we were a twenty years ago. We must continue to be on the offense throughout the world and we must be mindful of actions that can allow terrorists to gain ground and thrive. Individuals that are part of terror networks and working to attack our country must be caught before their acts are committed. We must continue to move forward ever so carefully to protect our freedoms and privacy. The words of President John F. Kennedy, "The mere absence of war is not necessarily peace," signify the thought process and prescription for us as Americans to adhere to as we continue our efforts to reduce and avoid terrorist acts in our back yard and around the world.
Our efforts must continue to be on the offense to find terrorist cells before they target our vulnerabilities. Our intelligence models and analysis must protect high payoff areas that remain vulnerable to terrorist attacks. Our Military Commanders must be given the flexibility and permission to engage and destroy the enemy. We must continue to develop our protection infrastructure to mitigate the threat against these vulnerabilities. We must work shoulder to shoulder with our allies to ferret out Al Qaeda and Isis vermin.
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As we have seen in Afghanistan, those that seek to destroy America live to fight another day. They will not stop. While our leaders may have decided it was time to leave, the Taliban have their own plans. They are not concerned about the next election cycle or our values of freedom and equality. The Taliban operate with a singular mindset and are unwilling to operate a civil society. The Taliban will terrorize and control Afghanistan as long as possible and from that vacuum of power left behind, we have opened the door again for Al Qaeda and Isis. When we prepared our operation orders in Desert Storm and OIF, we always knew that the reality in the battle would be different. It is the great leaders that can adjust, and maneuver given the ever-changing conditions presented. There is no straight line in battle or in leadership. We must continually evaluate and not be fearful of changing direction or tactics. While politics are inevitable in any international operation, we must be careful to separate the mindset of our military and intelligence leaders from the push and pull of politics that can distort our motives and leave us wondering what went wrong. America has the greatest military and intelligence resources in the world. Wherever our presence is on earth and in space protecting American interests, we need to give these resources full trust in their ability to execute the mission.
The loss of the thirteen service members as part of this mission is devastating and I offer my sincerest condolences to their grieving families. Their service was exemplary, and their love of country was pure. We are forever grateful that they chose to serve our country and their sacrifice will never be forgotten.
Our military and the American people continue to prove themselves to be mutually supportive of each other. At this very moment, our service members and members of the intelligence community continue their efforts in protecting US interests and people. Whether along the North and South Korean border, in the Middle East or aboard reconnaissance aircraft collecting vital information in the South China Sea - these Americans proudly serve. We must not give in.
In closing, I ask you take time to reflect on why this country is so great --- we rely on ordinary men and women to make extraordinary sacrifices. From the Revolutionary War through our War on Terror and now our essential workers to include our Police and Fire and First Responders and Medical Personnel on the frontline of the global pandemic. It is the dedication and love that Americans have for their Country that drives them to answer our Nations call to duty, whether it is serving in the Armed Forces, the government or in local communities. We must recall and remember 911, for if we don’t, we risk forgetting all of the millions that have stood and sacrificed for this country during our Nation’s history.
By LTC Scott E. Rutter (USA, Retired)
Scott retired from the US Army after serving over 20 years in Air Assault, Light and Mechanized assignments in the Desert, the Pacific, and in the Continental United States. He served several years overseas and has deployed operationally to Saudi Arabia, Korea, Kuwait and Iraq.