Terrorists can’t strike freedoms of Americans
To paraphrase White House press secretary Tony Snow's phrase when asked to comment when combat deaths in Iraq exceeded 2,500, the fifth anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks is a number. (Clearly some numbers are much more useful to administration and its foes than others.)
Five years does, however, give us some emotional distance, a clearer picture of the foe and consequences of that day. But no matter how much time passes, what will always remain a mystery to rational people is the motivation for the mass murder.
Clearly, those responsible wanted to kill Americans. They found our influence and policies in the Middle East justification for killing civilians. They struck at centers of this nation's commercial and military power. They probably wanted a great propaganda hit and recruitment coup with those who shared their resentments.
They obviously wanted Americans to know we weren't immune to their rage, whatever its source. Beyond that, they might not have given much thought to our response, but surely the hijackers and their leaders knew such a crime would provoke action against them and those who sheltered them.
Although we've been told numerous times since that day that the terrorists wanted to attack our freedom, that's difficult to accept. The terrorist attacks were a blow to our psyche, but they in no way threatened American sovereignty, our territorial integrity or our institutions of government. The country remains the world's only superpower, capable -- as subsequent events proved -- of removing unfriendly government halfway across the world.
As for our institutions of government, they remain as safe as we keep them. We will decide how much freedom we give up for security, how much authority should be conceded to the executive branch to counter the threat and what oversights should be in place to prevent abuse.
This country has overcome far greater threats than that posed by Islamic terrorists. But even as we say that, it is a surety there will be another attack and more deaths in this country. We can try to understand that unreasoned hate, but it would be more productive to examine our traditions and values and how they can shape our response.