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Service or Sacrifice

Three years ago Reverend Lennox Yearwood was comparing the captured Al Queda and Taliban terrorists to civil rights heroine Rosa Parks, and demanding the shutdown of Guantanamo Bay. But last year Reverend Yearwood was conducting a conference call on behalf of the Obama Administration laying out plans to turn the commemoration of the terrorist attacks of September 11th into a "National Day of Service".

2007_09_healingfieldWhile there is nothing wrong with giving blood, picking up trash off the sidewalks or serving as a volunteer dance instructor-- some of the projects listed by the official 911 Day of Service website, they are not what the commemoration of 9/11 is about. They are instead a deliberate attempt to drain the day of its meaning, to obscure the tragedy with feel good sentiments about the environment and community projects that do not address the meaning of September 11.

9/11 was indeed a Day of Service, but not the sort of generic service that the Obama Administration has in mind. It was a day when police officers and firefighters rushed up story after story, through thick choking smoke and weighed down by their equipment in the hopes of saving lives. Many died. Some are still dying now, year after year. That was their service.

It was a week when volunteers with little protection went to help sort through the rubble in the hopes of finding bodies under the melted steel and fallen ash. A week when people stood waiting with food and drink outstretched for the rescue workers. It was a year when New Yorkers who had never thought of serving joined the United States military to fight for their country. To fight against those who had carried out the attacks, and would carry out more if they were not stopped.

That is the service of 9/11. It is a service that the likes of Lennox Yearwood, who continues to campaign for the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan, or the rest of the anti-war radicals associated with the Obama Administration, want Americans to forget in favor of generic volunteerism. Forget the dead and clean up some trash, is the new motto of the day. Service without sacrifice and without meaning. A day when the nation was attacked, when a people rose to show their courage, robbed of its soul. A soul that belongs to all those whose eyes cloud, whose heart aches and whose fists clench over the memory of that day.

9/11 is not a day to pick up trash in the park. It is a day for remembering that we are at war and why we are at war. It is a time to recall that there are enemies around us who wish to kill us, and that there are soldiers and police officers who bravely stand between us and our killers. The demilitarization of 9/11 is part of the deliberate demilitarization of America. If 9/11 was a call to arms, the new 9/11 "Day of Service" is a call to recycle your soda cans. Because if a people forget what they are fighting for, they are already beaten.

The photos of cheerful grinning students on the 911 Day of Service website show off the new image of the day. Not a day when we mourn or grieve. Not a day when we look east in anger at those who murdered our friends and family. Not a day when we remember bodies falling from the upper stories as ordinary men and women whose only crime was going to work on the wrong day chose to jump, rather than burn to death. Not a day when we remember the ash coating downtown Manhattan, the scraps of burned paper that once used to be ordinary memos and letters, the ash that once used to be human skin.

911commemorationThe new 9/11 is to be a day full of smiles. A deep drink of the waters of Lethe, exchanging memory for upbeat forgetfulness. To return once again to 9/10, to a world in which our biggest challenges are trash in the park and the lack of dance instructors in Harlem. All of it dressed up in cheerful rhetoric about coming together to serve, but what are we serving besides suicidal pacifism stamped with a colorful logo.

The author Francis Fukayama famously said, "Those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it." The attempt to erase 9/11 from collective memory, particularly the memory of American schoolchildren, who are the key target of this project, that new generation of Americans who grew up in the shadow of the lost towers, will insure that this is a tragedy and an atrocity that will be repeated over and over again... until we not only remember, but actually understand what it is we are remembering.

The attacks of September 11th opened the eyes of many people, if only for a moment to the reality that America is not an island cut off from the rest of the world. That the ocean is no perfect defense against those who are jealous of people living in comfort and freedom. For too many on the left, that revelation became a call to universalization and internationalization, to diminish America in favor of some grand global perspective that blames America and Americans for the murdered and the death. But for those whose eyes truly opened, 9/11 was a wake up call that the tidal flood of violence and hate, of the Jihad that demands the blood of the infidel, knows no boundaries. That it will come here as surely as it has come to Israel and Europe and Asia. That it is already here.

That is the true lesson of 9/11. A lesson that the new Day of Service will do its best to blot out with rounds of progressive community service, as if those who wish to kill us can be made to go away by picking up bottles on the sidewalk or whitewashing fences.

And so a day of remembering, becomes a day of forgetting. Service becomes socialism. Sacrifice is trivialized. And a unique part of American history becomes a generic product with an approved message. But people still remember. Not enough time has gone by to blur history, to leech away its life and color, and turn it into a hollow lesson about how we're all the same, and we can all make the world a better place by recycling. To rewrite history, you must first wait until the people who remember it are gone or not listened to anymore. And even the youngest generation still grew up in the shadow of the lost towers. In a world where terror has become the norm.

Twin_towers_lightsThe instinctive lesson of growing up in a world with evil, is to either fight against that evil, or submit and join with it. And we have seen both approaches practices. From the soldiers moving across Afghan provinces to anti-war activists in Keffiyahs chanting on the streets of Berkeley, from online activists monitoring terrorist activity to Americans who convert to Islam-- the choices are being made. And while only a minority are making them, the day is coming when no one will avoid being able to stand on one side or the other.

9/11 is the day we are all reminded of the illusion of the bystander, for whatever politics one may have, and however far from the front line they may think they are, no one can know the moment they will be plucked out and confronted with the reality of the evil that waits and plots, whether in the sky or on the ground. Apathy will not banish that lurking evil, our choice, as for so many victims of Islam over more than a millennium, is to submit or to resist.

There is no window between us and it. It is here. On 9/11 the war came home. And no amount of recycled soda cans will make it go away. That remembrance does not end on September 11th. Or when September ends. Even as September winds down, we must always remember, and we must work toward a world, not free of soda cans, but free of terrorists. That is our service and our sacrifice.


From NY to Jerusalem, Daniel Greenfield Covers the Stories Behind the News





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