Guest Commentary / September 11, 2021

Sacrifice, Wars, and the Disciplines of History: Stairs of Courage

Let’s salute our heroes and help our wounded. Sacrifice for the good is always precious … and necessary.

By Douglas Daugherty

“Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends.” —Jesus

“Those that fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” —Winston Churchill

Shock! This came first and is a defining historical moment for many people’s memories.

On September 11, 2001, 19 militants associated with the Islamic extremist group al Qaeda hijacked four airplanes and carried out suicide attacks against targets in the United States. Two of the planes were flown into the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in New York City, a third plane hit the Pentagon just outside Washington, DC, and the fourth plane crashed in a field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania. Nearly three thousand people were killed during the 9/11 terrorist attacks, which triggered major U.S. initiatives to combat terrorism — which defined the presidency of George W. Bush — and continue to this day around the world in dozens of nations … even under President Biden.

Today marks 20 years that have shaped a significant part of the American memory of this terrible barbarism.

After the attack, brave first responders and private citizens did all they could to help, but the Twin Towers both collapsed within two hours.

Who were these terrorists, and why did they attack us? This was my first question. It turned out the 19 terrorists were all from the Mideast, mostly Saudi Arabia, and they were all adherents to a violent expression of Islam.

Since that time, the United States and its allies have been involved in eight wars in eight countries: Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Syria, Libya, Yemen, Somalia, and the Philippines. Over 7,074 U.S. military personnel sacrificed their lives and died over those 20 years.

According to the Cost of War Project out of Brown University, the war on terror has killed 810,000 people worldwide and cost $6.4 trillion.

At first, the people of the United States were more unified than any time I can remember during my life. But that didn’t last long. Yet even though presidents decried the wars, they continued them. According to the Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs, the U.S. is right now fighting terror in 76 countries, using drones, special operations, training of police and troops, weapons supplying, and on and on.

America just pulled out of Afghanistan. It didn’t stop terrorism.

The United States will probably need a steady supply of warriors and technology in the foreseeable future to fight what Nicholas Grossman in The Atlantic calls “the forever war,” the fight against terror.

If that be the case, Americans must stand by every person that serves and salute their courage and continued sacrifice.

At the same time, our political leaders and policymakers should be very careful of calling something a “war.” We expect to win a war; there will be peace; and we can get back to normal. There will be a peace dividend. There seemed to be after World War II. Shouldn’t it always end that way? It wasn’t that way after the Civil War. It wasn’t that way after World War I. It wasn’t that way after the Indian Wars. Has it ever really been that way?

We waged a “Cold War” with Soviet-style communism from 1947 to the late ‘80s. Communism failed in the USSR, but it morphed in China, and now China is the biggest global threat to the U.S. China, the U.S., and Russia now possess enough nuclear weapons to create a dystopia.

Consider this. A “War on Poverty” was started by Lyndon Johnson on January 8, 1964. We are still fighting it and it consumes a growing amount of our tax dollars. Have we won it? No.

A “War on Drugs” was started by Richard Nixon on June 18, 1971. Have we won it? Not hardly.

We are living in a “War on Terror.” Will we win it, and will there will be peace? Unlikely.

This same war thinking has come to represent the thinking about COVID. Mandate vaccinations and masking, shut down parts of the economy, and we will win and get back to normal. We were promised herd immunity at 70% vaccination. We did it. Along came COVID Delta.

Perhaps there is something to learn here. Perhaps the “war mentality” should be more nuanced and rare. Think instead of new normals, with both new threats and new opportunities. If we thought that way, there would be a surgical use of force, and greater engagement of the private and nonprofit sector, where hearts and habits do change for the better.

A great example of this is the work of the civilian, voluntary association, your local Rotary Club, and its connection to other Rotary Clubs around the world. Rotary has been working to eradicate polio for more than 35 years. Its goal of ridding the world of this disease is close.

As a founding partner of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, it’s reduced polio cases by 99.9% since its first project in the Philippines in 1979.

Rotary members have contributed more than $2.1 billion and countless volunteer hours to protect nearly three billion children in 122 countries from this paralyzing disease. Rotary’s advocacy efforts have played a role in decisions by governments to contribute more than $10 billion to the effort.

Today, polio remains endemic only in Afghanistan and Pakistan. If all eradication efforts stopped today, within 10 years, polio could paralyze as many as 200,000 children each year.

I am grateful for those who sacrifice and protect us. There will always be a call for people who understand the existential threats of the world. Thank you, servicemen and women who have and continue to give their all.

September 11, 2001, is forever stamped on many of our memories. Perhaps we would be better served by a restrained response to these attacks, whether it’s drugs, poverty, COVID, racism, climate/weather, terror, or communism, rather than to always go “all in.”

Wars, whatever kind, tend to make the government grow and taxes increase, and liberties get paired away and the problem just continues in most every case. Calling for solutions is good, but let’s not always look to the government to solve every “war” some politician declares. There are always better ways.

Let’s all salute our heroes and help our wounded. Sacrifice for the good is always precious … and necessary.

Isaiah 1:17 sums it up: “Learn to do good. Seek Justice. Reprove the ruthless. Defend the orphan. Plead for the widow.”

Sacrifices are stairs every person must climb to wear the hairy shirt of dignity, courage, and love.

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