Have we forgotten – at the 20th anniversary of 9/11?

In a 2016 article in The Atlantic, “Why Mistakes Are Often Repeated,” the central point was that, “Several recent studies show how the brain fails to learn from past experience, dooming us to relive our errors.”

I am reminded here again of the words of the Spanish philosopher George Santayana, who said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” British statesman Winston Churchill took it one step further by stating, “Those that fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”

There is no greater and glaring proof of that truth than the White House’s colossal error in the recent U.S. military withdrawal from Afghanistan, during which 13 courageous U.S. service members were killed in a terrorist attack. Mr. Biden’s miscalculations and naivety of the Taliban and ISIS-K brought us back to a pre-9/11 mentality that abandoned our commitment to “never forget.” And we paid for it, dearly, with the greatest loss of American lives there in over a decade.

We probably should have seen this coming. After all, Mr. Biden’s foreign policy record was a train wreck as a lifetime senator:

  • He voted against the first Iraq war in 1991
  • He voted for Cuban Liberty and Libertad Act of 1996
  • He voted for the Homeland Security Act of 2002
  • He voted for NAFTA
  • He voted no on CAFTA-DR
  • He voted for the post-9/11 Iraq war

Twenty years ago, after 9/11, the U.S. entered Afghanistan to hunt down Osama bin Laden and other al-Qaida terrorists while the Taliban were in power. Twenty years later, we’ve left Afghanistan with the Taliban again in power and ISIS-K growing. Our titanic botch of a withdrawal emboldened the global spirit of terrorism against the U.S. and its allies like Israel. We didn’t end the war in Afghanistan; we unleashed it there and to other parts of the world.

It’s difficult to believe that the tragic events of 9/11 were 20 years ago. The majority of those 13 fallen warriors in Afghanistan were only infants and toddlers back then when the four planes loaded with Americans and others crashed into the Twin Towers, the Pentagon and on Pennsylvania soil.

For most of us, life stopped on that day. It was a new generation’s attack on Pearl Harbor. We vowed to “never forget.”

But is America returning to a pre-9/11 mentality in which we see no bad guys and naively believe we can all get along? In our pursuit to appease everyone, are we overlooking those who still want to destroy our country? And if so, are we not setting up our posterity for another 9/11? When the White House “trusts” the Taliban to carry out their promises, is Washington not presently suffering from a 9/11 amnesia?

I’m also concerned that we’re so focused upon our present internal problems (fires and hurricanes, COVID, masks and vaccines, economic recovery, etc.) that we’re dropping our guards to the import of jihadists and other forms of terrorists, who can easily cross our southern border like gnats through a torn screen under a Biden administration.

Every year at this time, I can’t help but think of the backdrop of one of 20-plus actions movies I filmed and wonder, “Is it finally coming true?”

In 1999, I had starred in a CBS Movie of the Week called “The President’s Man,” which garnered high ratings for the network. I played Jonathan McCord, the president’s secret agent who masqueraded as a university professor between assignments. (It was such a success that two years later the network wanted another film with me playing the same character.)

During the time I was trying to come up with a story idea for the sequel, my wife, Gena, and I had dinner in Dallas with our friends, one being a U.S. senator from Texas.

I asked the senator what she thought was the greatest threat to America. “Terrorism,” she replied straightforwardly. “Our greatest fear is someone like Osama bin Laden sneaking a nuclear weapon into our country.”

She explained that we had allowed our nation to become vulnerable to such an attack. “During the last eight years under President Clinton’s administration, our security measures and enforcement personnel have been drastically reduced,” she said. “That concerns me.”

It concerned me, too, and I thought that I might be able to shed some light on the problem in the movie.

After dinner I called my brother, Aaron, and told him to get our scriptwriters to my house first thing in the morning. I told him, “I think I have the story line for ‘The President’s Man.'”

The story we developed involved a bin Laden-type terrorist who contacted the president of the United States and threatened to escalate terrorism all over the world unless his holy warriors, incarcerated for their involvement in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, were released from prison. Of course, the president refused to give in to his demands.

In our story, a nuclear weapon was sneaked into the United States. The president is threatened and told that the nuclear weapon will be detonated if the holy warriors are not released.

That’s when I come into the picture, as the president’s main man. I sneak into Afghanistan where the lead terrorist is hiding out. I kidnap him and bring him back to the United States for trial.

That would be coincidental enough were if not for the timing of the movie’s release and the rest of the story!

Interestingly, my conversation with the senator took place nine months before Sept. 11, 2001. I had finished my last episode of “Walker, Texas Ranger” in April of that year, then plunged right into working on the sequel to “The President’s Man” in May. As we made the film, we thought we were creating a fictitious story; we shuddered at the possibility of something catastrophic happening in our country.

We delivered the finished movie print to CBS just five days before that horrible day none of us will ever forget. Ironically, when the print was delivered to CBS, the original title was “The President’s Man: Ground Zero.” After 9/11, we changed the title to “The President’s Man: A Line in the Sand.”

As eerie and “coincidental” (or not) that the script’s story and 9/11 were, that was only a television movie. What our nation experienced was real life. And the grief of those who still suffer from the loss of loved ones on 9/11 is still more real than life itself. And now we’ve added 13 more casualties of war in the recent terrorist attack against America.

Are we learning or just repeating? I’ll be honest: I don’t like the apparent weakness Mr. Biden conveys. And I don’t like the gargantuan blunder that just occurred in our withdrawal from Afghanistan. It not only made that region more unstable but empowered ISIS-K and al-Qaida in other parts of the world.

Like many of you, Gena and I pray every day that nothing like 9/11 will ever happen again. But only if we are prepared and stay alert, only if we are vigilant in our offense (not just defense) against terrorism, and only if our country seeks God again in genuine prayer and humility for protection, will we prevail and possibly prevent another such tragedy. And if the occupant of the Oval Office is too timid to call on the people of our country to pray, then I will.

The following prayer was offered by President Franklin D. Roosevelt on D-day, June 6, 1944. Whether you agree with his politics or not, you can agree with his prayer. It could have been said on 9/11 as much as on D-day, and it’s still just as powerful 20 years down the road with our ongoing fight against terrorism.

Almighty God: Our sons, pride of our nation, this day have set upon a mighty endeavor, a struggle to preserve our Republic, our religion and our civilization, and to set free a suffering humanity …

Lead them straight and true; give strength to their arms, stoutness to their hearts, steadfastness in their faith. They will need Thy blessings. Their road will be long and hard. For the enemy is strong. He may hurl back our forces. Success may not come with rushing speed, but we shall return again and again; and we know by Thy grace, and by the righteousness of our cause, our sons will triumph …

Embrace these, Father, and receive them, Thy heroic servants, into Thy kingdom. And for us at home – fathers, mothers, children, wives, sisters, and brothers of brave men overseas, whose thoughts and prayers are ever with them – help us, Almighty God, to rededicate ourselves in renewed faith in Thee in this hour of great sacrifice. … Give us strength, too – strength in our daily tasks, to redouble the contributions we make in the physical and the material support of our armed forces.

With Thy blessing, we shall prevail over the unholy forces of our enemy. Help us to conquer the apostles of greed and racial arrogances. Lead us to the saving of our country, and with our sister nations into a world unity that will spell a sure peace – a peace invulnerable to the schemings of unworthy men. And a peace that will let all men live in freedom, reaping the just rewards of their honest toil. [Amen.]

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