Planning for a better future for America

If the past has taught us anything, it’s that we still have a long way to go. Since that clear, crisp morning 10 years ago, Americans have had to overcome the tremendous challenge of restoring our pride as a nation while curbing the inevitable feelings of fear and vulnerability that were impressed so vividly in our hearts and minds on Sept. 11, 2001.

As we look back on the last decade of our nation’s history, there is as much room for debate as there is controversy.

The weeks following 9/11 were a time of mourning and reflection, reserved for honoring those we’ve lost. Soon after, we started pointing fingers and looking for answers. From conspiracy theories to anti-Islamic vitriol, everyone from politicians to preachers screamed their opinions through the bullhorn of mass media.

Coverage of the attacks switched from scenes of the wreckage and incredible survival stories — stories of true heroics — to inflammatory rhetoric that churned our stomachs, causing knee-jerk reactions that led to war on two fronts. We let the media and our leaders in Washington work us into a frenzy.

The subsequent invasions and occupations of Afghanistan, and later Iraq, could be argued as either logical defensive strategy or a nationwide coping mechanism, something designed to keep us believing that we are somehow safer and less susceptible to another attack.

As we continue to engage in violent conflict in the Middle East, and as the recent terrorist attacks in Oslo prove, terrorism is still very much alive. We haven’t been hit since 9/11, but that doesn’t mean the threat isn’t there. The lack of attacks doesn’t mean we aren’t at risk. We’re no safer now than we were before 9/11. The reality is that we are always vulnerable. Tere’s no way to terror-proof our society, no matter how many countries we “liberate.”

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We claim to be fighting for freedom and democracy, and if we judge our success on the number of countries we “free,” then the vicious cycle of rationalizations continues and we believe we walk the moral high ground. In reality, we only dig ourselves deeper into the hole. We slap a “Mission Accomplished” stamp on the Middle East and call it a day.

We can’t change the past, but we can challenge ourselves to do better for the next 10 years. Not another life needs to be lost fighting terrorism. Instead of killing our “enemies,” we have an unprecedented opportunity to work with the new leaders of the Arab Spring’s emerging democracies to achieve peace. Countries like Egypt, Libya and Tunisia have proven that U.S. military intervention is not the best or only option for spreading the ideals for a fair and just society. Given the right circumstances, democracy will spread itself. The sooner we understand that, the sooner we can focus on things that matter here at home.

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