Five years ago today, America found itself at a crossroads.
The country could respond to the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon in an opportunistic manner defined by ignorance, raw emotion and political cowardice.
Or the country could respond with the seriousness that the incidents of Sept. 11, 2001, demanded.
George Bush chose the cavalier course. His refusal to stretch beyond his own weakness has cost the United States and the world dearly. Osama bin Laden and his chief lieutenants remain at large. The al-Qaida network remains in place. Terrorist recruitment is, by all accounts, on the rise, and international anger over administration policies makes the United States and Americans traveling abroad ever more vulnerable.
Iraq is experiencing a chaotic civil war. Afghanistan is degenerating toward a similar circumstance. Thousands of American soldiers and tens of thousands of Iraqi and Afghan civilians lie dead, and the prospect for more death and more destruction is virtually guaranteed by the refusal of the president, the vice president and the secretary of defense to admit their errors and change course.
It would be easy on this day of the anniversary to feel almost as frustrated and hopeless as so many Americans did five years ago.
But that it not fair to those good Americans who perished needlessly on 9/11, or to their country. Because while the Bush administration chose the cavalier course, millions of Americans refused to do so.
The proof of this comes in the inspired response of relatives of terror victims who, after burying their loved ones, formed the group September Eleventh Families for Peaceful Tomorrows.
As this fifth anniversary of their personal tragedy approached, the hundreds of spouses, siblings and parents of victims of the terrorist attacks issued a statement that is far more appropriate in its sentiments and wise in its proposals than any of the president’s self-serving election season pronouncements.
"On September 11th, 2001, members of our families became civilian casualties of terrorism," the statement begins. "And while we grieved their loss, we were seized by the urgent desire to spare other families, in any part of the world, the suffering that we were experiencing."
The message from the families then recounts the cruel realities of the past five years for "immigrants and other people perceived to be terrorists, targeted by hate crimes and hateful legislation; those who suffered in terrorist attacks from Bali to Beslan; those killed in the train bombings in Madrid and London; and those in Afghanistan and Iraq who continue to suffer under occupation and the terror of war."
"Today," the families continue, "five years after September 11th, 2001, we see clearly that civilian casualties overwhelmingly have been the common denominator in all that has taken place. We see that the path we have taken has created a world that is less safe, less humane, and less likely to survive. Where we saw children in mortal danger from unexploded cluster bombs in Afghanistan, we now see children in mortal danger from cluster bombs in Lebanon. Where we saw the brutality and inhumanity of Saddam Hussein, we now see the same brutality and inhumanity occurring under U.S. occupation, in Fallujah, in Haditha, in Abu Ghraib …
"In the days immediately following September 11th, the United States could have asked the world to do anything for us. The U.S. government has instead generated danger, fear, death, and profound grief. On the fifth anniversary of September 11th, 2001, we believe it is time for America to end the cycle of violence. It is time for the United States to become a positive force in world affairs."
On this anniversary, we reject the opportunistic course of George Bush. In its place, we embrace the wiser course along with the promise of those who not only lost the most but learned the most five years ago today.