If you ask young people today about the significance of the date 9/11, most will immediately respond that it was the date that Islamic terrorists attacked the twin towers at the World Trade Center as well as the Pentagon (not forgetting the attack that was thwarted by the passengers over Pennsylvania). How could they not remember? Every news show this morning features remembrances of that horrible day when 2,977 people were murdered by Islamic terrorists. Each remembrance is accompanied by the headline – Never Forget.
But if you ask those same young people about the significance of the date December 7th you would likely get a blank stare. 2,355 Americans died on that day in 1941 when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. I remember Pearl Harbor (heck, I even remember the Alamo). But memories of World War Two are fading. Only a few veterans still survive. Only a few Holocaust survivors remain.
Not only are our people forgetting World War Two but our leaders are forgetting as well. We are all forgetting the important lessons from the bloody battlefields of WWII. We went to war with the Japanese after their attack and also with their German allies just as we went after Al Qaeda and all its offshoots.
We utterly defeated the Japanese and the Germans after four years of bloody conflict and occupied their countries with our armed forces. Our armed forces remain there to this day but as allies and not as enemy occupiers. They are now our allies, not because we defeated them, but because we transformed their societies. We made them adopt democratic constitutions and while we dismantled their war making capabilities we built up their democratic institutions.
But after 17 years of war we have not utterly defeated Islamic terrorism. Our troops occupy Muslim lands but continue to fight terrorists because, although our forces are effective against terrorists, they have been ineffective on the Islamic side of the equation. We have not transformed their societies as we did those of Germany and Japan. And because the conditions that gave rise to Islamic terrorism have not been changed, Islamic terrorists not only keep attacking our troops in the occupied countries, but also our allies and us in our own countries. And they will continue to do so until the conditions change.
We have tried to democratize Iraq and Afghanistan with little success. Little success because we have hesitated to try and change the Islamic religion. The Germans are still mostly Christian and the Japanese can still make sacrifices at Shinto shrines. But their American mandated constitutions do not declare a state religion and religion, while remaining important to many, has been removed as a political force in those countries. But Islam and politics are inextricably linked or so it would seem. Christianity was once very closely linked with politics. It took the Reformation and numerous religious wars (as well as the scientific method and the Industrial Revolution) to delink Christianity from politics.
The West and Islam must reach an accommodation or the terror war will continue. But who is going to accommodate who? Islam is on the rise throughout the West and the progressive left appears willing to concede defeat because of their disgust with economic and personal freedom celebrated in the West and especially in America. But we must not discard the progress we have made even if that progress has not yielded the perfect society we envision.
We cannot continue to treat Islamists with kid gloves on the altar of freedom of religion. There are political aspects of Islam that can be justly criticized without falling into Islamophobia. So on this day, September 11th, a date which “will live in infamy”, we need to focus on changing the conditions that gave rise to the war on terror even if that takes us onto sacred ground.
Never forget. And we must never forget the hard won lessons of Second World War or we will have to confront another world conflict.