21 years later: The spiritual response to 9/11 now and then
Twenty-one years have passed since the modern version of “the day that shall live in infamy,” September 11, 2001. Just like its predecessor, Pearl Harbor, it is a day that we must never forget.
What makes 9-11 so very different from Pearl Harbor is that the target was not a military installation of strategic importance to our adversary. The tragic attack of 9-11 was aimed at civilians, everyday Americans, going about their business. Some would say that the strike on the Pentagon held a strategic purpose. But consider how many civilians work at that facility. The attacks of 9-11 were not conducted by the uniformed military of a foreign nation. We were struck by non-uniform, non-state belligerents, those who ascribed to a very heinous and barbaric view, Islamic jihadist terrorists. We weathered their assaults previously, even in New York City, with the truck bombing. Overseas we suffered attacks on our U.S. Embassies, in essence, strikes on American soil, again targeting civilians. The attack on Khobar Towers was aimed explicitly at our deployed troops and civilian contractors.
But there was something very different about the attacks on 9-11. They targeted our homeland. The victims were our friends, neighbors, coworkers, and Americans.
I will never forget that day.
I was assigned as an exchange officer serving in the headquarters of the II Marine Expeditionary Force (MEF) at Camp Lejeune in the Future Operations section. It was a regular military morning. I had just finished my morning physical training, shaved, showered, and donned my battle dress uniform (BDUs) in the office. I got a call from my Marine counterpart at our higher headquarters at Marine Forces Atlantic (MARFORLANT) in Virginia. He was frantic and told me over the phone, “Al, something is happening.”
No sooner did he finish speaking than I heard screaming that we all needed to get down to our current operations center (COC). As we gathered around the news screens, the second aircraft hit the World Trade Tower. This was not a coincidence. We could no longer hope that a plane had veered off course. This was a planned strike, a cheap version of using a Tomahawk cruise missile to strike at the heart of our nation.
The third aircraft struck the Pentagon at the Army G1 (Personnel) Directorate, where many of my friends were assigned. One of my close friends with whom I had served, Brian Birdwell, would survive but end up undergoing multiple surgeries due to the burns on his body. Viewers will remember the image of Brian in his hospital bed, straining to salute President George Bush. Now a Texas State Senator, Brian embodies the indomitable warrior spirit of our nation.
The fourth aircraft crashed in the woods of Pennsylvania, not making its intended target. And we will never forget those brave Americans who, in that crucial moment, called their loved ones, bid them farewell, and then it was “Let’s Roll.” Their sacrifice at that moment, facing ultimate death, saved countless other lives, perhaps even the Capitol or the White House. Their courage should inspire us all, not just on 9-11, but every day.
We spent the day at the II MEF headquarters taking in SITREPS (situation reports), going over intelligence reports. We were piecing it all together because we knew that we had to strike back. Our Nation would need us, and we had to be ready to be there, just as after Pearl Harbor we conducted the Doolittle Raid. It was imperative that we send a message that we had been struck, but we were not defeated. So, there we were, well into the late night pondering contingency plans.
America had been hit and hit hard, and we watched those towers come down. We watched those people leaping from the buildings to certain death, preferring such instead of the fiery hell inside. We saw those Americans run through the streets as those towers crashed, the ash that covered them. We were in despair and despondency, but there was still hope.
At that time, there were no White, Black, Hispanic, or Asian delineations. We were all Americans. And there was one place that we gathered to find hope: our churches. We were searching for the answers only God can give us, that peace that transcends all understanding. Yes, we responded with military action, but our nation first responded spiritually to tragedy.
I find it quite telling that in March 2020, when facing the Covid virus, the government first sought to shut down our churches. It was as if they completely forgot the lessons of 9-11. We were able to go to Home Depot, McDonald’s, dispensaries, and abortion clinics, but not church.
Sadly, in the past year, we restored to power in Afghanistan the very same people who enabled the attack of 9-11. Second Corinthians 3:17 asserts that the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom (liberty). I admonish my Christian brothers and sisters to recognize that physical enemies abound. However, there is also a spiritual conflagration against which we must bear our battle gear.
One of the best ways for the body of Christ to respond to attacks undermining our Judeo-Christian faith heritage is to get engaged politically. Like the military hammering out potential contingency plans after the 9-11 attack, My Faith Votes is strategically planning and preparing.
We must accept the call to service, the call to arms, and step out in faith, not cower in fear and reluctance. Our freedoms are embedded in our Judeo-Christian faith heritage. It is worth defending and protecting for future generations.
My Faith Votes—is a nonpartisan movement that motivates, equips and activates Christians in America to vote in every election, transforming our communities and influencing our nation with biblical truth. By partnering with national faith leaders, My Faith Votes provides resources to help Christians Pray, Think, and Act to create an America where God is honored in the public square.