The 16th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and in the skies over Pennsylvania provided an opportunity for considered reflection.
Time passing provides useful distance for relatively dispassionate discussion of how we have responded to the shocking mass murder of 9/11.
How have the American people handled the challenge over the long term?
They have earned high marks, both individually and collectively. Despite terrible destruction and thousands of deaths of Americans as well as citizens of other countries, as a national community we remained remarkably calm.
The population, as a whole, did not react with hysteria or extremism. Anti-Islamic acts were relatively isolated and waned over time. Collectively, we condemn this behavior, investigate and prosecute criminal attacks.
The clearest parallel event to 9/11 is the surprise military attack by Japan on United States naval forces at Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, which had severe, continuing repercussions within American social as well as political life. Intense collective fear and anger led to the internment and more general persecution of Japanese Americans on much of the West Coast. Racial hatred characterized brutal Pacific combat in the war on both sides.
Internment was contrary to President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s wartime emphasis on national unity, and FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover opposed the move.
Persecution of Japanese Americans is particularly notorious but not unique. There was less extensive discrimination against German Americans during both World War I and World War II and against Italian Americans in the latter conflict. During the Civil War, bloody riots against the military draft in the north included beatings and murders of African Americans.
Against this backdrop, American tolerance of Islamic Americans and Muslims in general in the aftermath of 9/11 is impressive and noteworthy. In a fundamental way, we have demonstrated maturity that is both ethically right and practically helpful.
Al-Qaida and similar terrorist groups have an interest in promoting Western hostility to the Muslim world, along with harsh measures within our borders. We have permitted them neither victory.
Failure to anticipate the Pearl Harbor strike reflected inter-service rivalry and intelligence inefficiency, plus arrogance about Japanese military effectiveness even though their navy, with stunning efficiency, had destroyed the Russian fleet only a few decades earlier.
Pearl Harbor demonstrated Tokyo's innovative use of tactical aircraft for strategic destruction.
Likewise, secretiveness and rivalries among our intelligence and security services facilitated 9/11. In reaction, the U.S. government emphasizes coordination among intelligence agencies.
Immediately after the 9/11 attacks, the United Nations and NATO acted. The attacks marked the first wartime deployment of the military alliance formed during the Cold War.
Americans collectively should feel considerable pride about how we as a people have responded to mass murder within our borders.
This benchmark of the anniversary provides us an opportunity for reflection and renewal.