Today America's longest war enters its 18th year. That's a long time. The Civil War('61-'65), World War 1 ('14-'18), and WW2 ('39-'45) took less time added together. The last generation of kids born the day before the attack are in high school. They'll be voting for the next President. They'll be graduating college not long after that. Very soon some of them will be deployed to a war that began before they were born.
I don't think I can give a more elegant perspective on our past innocence, our pain, or our loss than that which has already been given by more talented people. Nor do I think there's much wisdom to be gained by rehashing the fights we've had about our wars and the way we executed them. I believe I share a common space with many Americans who understand that much of what we've done in the interviewing years was justified but some things were not. That in these past years there are many things to be proud of and some we wish we could change.
The last few Septembers have taught me that, so long as they're alive, there will always be politicians whose whole outlook on government is made through a 9/11 lens. I suppose we should expect this. Yet we can't run our country on a "wartime footing" forever. We owe it to one another, to the lost and fallen, and to Americans of future generations to begin to use this day for more than a reflection on wounds received. We owe it to ourselves to chart our future with we know about today's world not yesterday's.
What we know is this: There will be no white flag. It's not that kind of war. And our enemies aren't ever going to assault us with tanks or battleships. They're not that kind of foe.
Yet though our foes are not the kind that surrender they're also not the kind to live in fear of. Our weakness, the threat we truly live with, is the threat of succumbing to the lure of simple solutions in a complicated world. We owe ourselves a brighter dawn tomorrow than we had on the first 9/12. We owe it to ourselves to accept that the future can be wonderful but it will also come with different risks than in childhoods past. The 21st century has shown us that the power of humanity to harm itself is growing faster than it's power to defend itself from harm. It's shown us that at a time when crime is at it's lowest we are more scared than ever of violence. At a time when our military is strongest, it proves insufficient to conclude our conflicts. At a time when our technology is at the zenith it's also at the height of its vulnerability. At a time when calling something a war almost certainly means that the war will not end.
Our brighter dawn will come when we accept that the changes we face are not ones we can hide from. That somewhere conflict and tragedy awaits us and our job is not to live in fear of it. Not to pretend that we can always avoid it. Not to imagine that a high enough wall or a the right number of soldiers can protect us from it; but that we can, and we must, and we will face it, together, and overcome it. So this 9/11 and for all remaining 9/11s I'll be reflecting and mourning. And then I'll be reflecting on the threats we face and how we can best face them together. Our world is dangerous, and uncertain. My 9/11s will be used to take comfort in the fact that I face danger and uncertainty with you. That fact is enough to give all of my 9/12s a brighter dawn.