September 11th, 2001 was a historic day not only in American history but in the history of my own life. As a 10 year old who grew up knowing relative peace, who believed war was generally a thing of the past, the terrorist attacks against the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on that day rocked me to my very core. I wasn’t old enough to understand the intricacies of politics and history in the Middle East. I didn’t know anything about extremist Muslim groups or American involvement in their countries.
All I saw that day was evil men murdering thousands of my countrymen for no reason whatsoever.
All I knew that day was that it was my responsibility to make those men pay for what they did and to protect country. I decided then and there as a 4th grader watching the news at home that I was going to become a United States Marine.
21 years later, I’d like to think I learned a thing or two. Having deployed to Afghanistan twice, having been shot at and shot back, I learned that war is not as simple as ‘go get the bad guys’. I learned about terms like ‘blowback’ and the law of unintended consequences.
Worst of all, I learned that our efforts in Afghanistan post-9/11 were in vain. The Taliban won that war, and they once again run the country, to the detriment of every Afghan.
It’s impossible to say how differently the course of American history may have run if 9/11 never occurred, and the same can be said for my life. I like to think that, ultimately, the choices I made for myself were the best ones. I think the military changed me for the better and gave me opportunities to learn and grow in ways that nothing else could have. With that in mind, I’m proud of my service and would never do it differently if given the chance to go back.
But that pride cannot exist without the tragedy of 9/11, without the loss of brothers in arms in a war that proved fruitless. It’s a maelstrom of emotions that I feel every year on this day, and it’s difficult to describe exactly how I feel. All I know is that I will never forget the lives lost 21 years ago, on a crisp Tuesday morning in September. Nor will I forget the Americans who died fighting for what they believed in in the years that followed.
No one should.