On this anniversary of September 11, 2001, what is the hashtag “neverforget” calling us to remember, exactly? The sadness? Absolutely. We should mourn with those who mourn. But we should not only be sad, and certainly not defeated. Let us remember what makes the United States the object of wrath and violence for terrorists like the hijackers. Fourteen years later, we find American leadership absent on the world stage. If anything, we see an American government that appeases countries with the same ideology as the 911 hijackers.
Despite this, we should find hope and optimism in recent events. The hope is not found in politicians, but in everyday Americans. The story of those three Americans heroes who took down a would-be terrorist on board the French train is more than just a nice story about “do-gooders.” It is a reminder that peace only exists when good men refuse to let bad ones rule.
Together, these men (along with some other men of spirit aboard the train) were able to disarm the terrorist, beat him with his own gun, and tie him up until authorities could take him into custody. Because of them, this villain could not carry out his plan to terrorize innocents.
For many, their battle cry of “Let’s go!” echoed the heroism of Todd Beamer and his compatriots on doomed United Flight 93 when he was heard to yell, “Let’s Roll!”
The Greeks had a word for this, “thumos” or “spiritedness.” It is this kind of spiritedness that prompts men to action. These good men, whose impulse was to protect and not to prey on the innocent, were spurred to violent — and valiant — action.
As Mona Charen recently observed, “For the world to be safe for most people, good people must learn the arts of war to prevent bad people from ruling through terror. It’s true of individuals, and it’s true of nations.”
But what should this kind of “thumos” look like in international relations? There isn’t a straight-forward answer. It does not mean reflexive military intervention or that the United States should be the “world policeman.” It takes wisdom to know how best to apply it. But the last six years have provided us with a good examination of its absence.
We have seen what happens when national leaders formulate security policy based on an idealistic vision of people, countries, and the things that move their relations. That terrorist on the French train and the men who stopped him remind us that it is foolish to imagine that all people want the same things in this life, and that when conflicts arise it is due to a “miscommunication.” Some people, and that goes for the leaders of nations, are, clearly, motivated by evil, harmful intent.
If countries hostile to the United States meet no resistance, they will, as that terrorist would have done, affect events to suit their own desired ends. They will rule.
Take, for instance, the current U.S. engagement against ISIS. This militant Islamist group has taken large swaths of territory extending from Syria to Iraq, mercilessly raping, torturing, and murdering as it goes. It conducts 30-40 attacks per month and continues to recruit fighters from across the globe.
Three times the Islamic State has beheaded an American on camera, mocking the West, and declaring war against the United States. The first one, the beheading of the journalist James Foley, prompted President Obama–finally–to become involved militarily and to try to push back against ISIS. But there is always hesitation, and his political calculations always seem to dominate his thinking. He made clear that although the United States would conduct some airstrikes, it would not commit ground forces. And his press conference was hardly a stirring call to action.
The limp response remains the status quo even after the news that American citizen and humanitarian aid worker, Kayla Mueller, was tortured and raped by the head of ISIS.
Some might say, yes it’s terrible, but the American people don’t want a real war with ISIS. Well, they might not want a protracted warbut they do want the United States to defeat ISIS, and done properly, we can do the latter without it becoming the former.
On this solemn day of reflection, let us remember the fallen and their families. But then let’s turn our thoughts to the reasons why we were attacked, and find the resolve to fight back.