O New York, Washington, and Shanksville,
may my right arm wither.
It has been four years now. The memory of the horror that struck America on this day grows more distant with each passing year, yet remains fresh and painful just below the surface of our daily consciousness. The events of the past week have, if anything, served as a grim counterpoint to what happened that September, bringing it into even sharper focus.
But what happened in the Gulf Coast - coastal Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama being blown off the face of the Earth, New Orleans drowned - however tragic, it was the work of an unfeeling, implacable Nature. Nature, for all the pain it causes, is not malevolent, nor is it benevolent. It is what it is.
What happened in New York, in Washington, in Shanksville, however, was the work of man against man, a work of irredeemable evil. It was not the opening shot of World War IV any more than Pearl Harbor was the opening shot of World war II. But it was the first shot that was too painful, too shocking to ignore. It woke us up to a terrible, necessary purpose.
We are still engaged in that war, having deposed the Taliban and having gotten sidetracked in Iraq. Osama bin Laden is still at large, and the madrassas still crank out potential disciples. It is a war that may last lifetimes, once people recognize it for what it really is: a war against militant Islamofascism.
Since 9/11, I cannot sing “America the Beautiful” without getting moist eyes and a catch in the throat. The rarely-sung third verse resonates with special poignancy, especially now, with New Orleans still weeping for its lost children:
O beautiful for patriot dream
That sees beyond the years,
Thine alabaster cities gleam,
Undimmed by human tears!
God shed His grace on thee,
And crown Thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea!
I used to think that “America the Beautiful” was a much better candidate for our national anthem than “The Star-Spangled Banner,” which at its core is nothing but a paean to a scrap of cloth that survived a battle, set to the melody of an old drinking song. America the Beautiful is easier to sing; it doesn’t require a tremendous range. It evokes images of what makes our land great. And now that we are once again at war, I’m even more convinced. So what if it has no bursting bombs, no rockets? How can you hear that third verse without feeling a pang – and remembering that we are now fighting against the Death Cult of Jihadism?
It’s a war we must win. May our alabaster cities never again be dimmed by dust, debris, smoke, and human tears.