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Lessons learned out of 9/11
   2016-09-12 08:47:28    CRIENGLISH.com      Web Editor: Zhang Xu

The names engraved along the South reflecting pool are seen at the Ground Zero in New York, the United States, on September 9, 2016. [Photo: Chinanews.com]

By Zhong Bu

Today marks the 15th anniversary of the September 11, 2001 attacks, a day when Islamic terrorists hijacked four passenger airlines and killed 2,977 innocent people in New York, Washington D.C. and Pennsylvania. To Americans, the memories of the 9/11 attacks evoke unimaginable devastation. To me, the tragic images stop me cold and elicit a flood of emotions as I was reminded of the weeks when I saw so much graphic video as a TV journalist.

On the night before 9/11, nothing offered a hint for the upcoming tragedy that would forever reshape Americans' lives and the world's anti-terrorism war. That night I worked late as a network editor on the fifth floor of CNN Center in Atlanta. No big news on that night but I did not leave the newsroom until 10 o'clock. Walking to my car on the CNN parking deck, I first crossed a bridge connecting to the deck and passed by a security guard. "You look happy, Sir!" he told me. "Of course, as I'll take next two days off," I answered. Outside was tranquil, the night air was fresh, and no omen of a disaster at all.

The next morning when I got up at 9 and turned on TV, I was shocked to see all U.S. major TV networks, including CNN, were live reporting a plane hit the World Trade Center (WTC). At 9:03 when the second plane crashed into the WTC South Tower on live TV, I realized that was not an accident, and the incident could be anything but ordinary. In no time, I found I was on the phone with my supervisor at the CNN newsroom. "Thanks for calling in. Nobody knows what happened but it is urgent. Join us if you can," he told me, and "drive slowly" were his last words.

I could not be slow. In a few minutes, I was driving on Highway 75 down to the CNN Center. In my car, I followed the news on radio. It was clear the event was worse than I thought a few minutes before, and the news coverage was something I never encountered as a journalist. But I did not anticipate I would work day and night for weeks to cover the 9/11 as part of the CNN crew. The raw footage I viewed was more graphic than what was aired on CNN. Our TV stories nevertheless brought unspeakable horror and sorrow to American audiences, which also disclosed the depths of terrorists' inhumanity.

Since the 9/11, Americans' lives have changed forever, and the terrorist thread around the world has become more imminent. That is why Americans pay tribute to those who lost lives on September 11. The 9/11 attacks offer them a spectrum of discrete lessons, and one of them was continuing to combat for the principles of freedom and democracy a free world is built on, and at the same time, terrorists seek to destroy.

The pains Americans suffered in the 9/11 remain traumatic until today. Unlike other regular full-scale wars, Americans were attacked out of the blue. Consequentially thousands of them were brutally murdered or injured. Not until then, did Americans begin to understand that their vulnerability to the 9/11 attacks was being an open society that expects the best from others. Some terrorists killed innocent people by taking advantage of Americans' open society that imposed scant deterrence to ensure its safety. The trauma was acute and immediate and eventually has been seared into Americans' collective consciousness.

Another lesson is about the process of policy making on fighting terrorists after they stroke us first. The aftermath of terrorist attacks was always traumatic, but the pain should not cloud our judgment. After the 9/11 attacks, many Americans came to conclude that Saddam Hussein and his regime's weapons of mass destruction posed an uncontainable threat to the United States and the rest of the world. A combined force of troops from the United States and Great Britain and a few other countries launched a preemptive war against Iraq and toppled Saddam, but no weapon of mass destruction was found.

Due to the rushed policy making in the Bush administration, the Iraq War was not thoroughly examined and it did more harm than good. Americans lost even more lives in Iraq War than the 9/11. Just like what French President Jacques Chirac told CNN in 2015 after Paris was brutally raided by terrorists, "I have no doubt for a single moment that terrorism, which is always fanatical, mindless, and mad, clearly represents the evil in today's world. And so we must combat it with the greatest energy."

I agree to Chirac's comment on terrorism, and I am more impressed by his good judgment back in 2003 right before U.S. army planned to invade Iraq. He said, "We are not anti-American either. We are not just going to use our [UN] veto to nag and annoy the U.S. But we just feel that there is another option, another way, another more normal way, a less dramatic way than war, and that we have to go through that path. And we should pursue it until we've come to a dead end, but that isn't the case."

The aftermath of Iraq War shows that ill-chosen wars cost more harms than benefits. Any call for military action after a terrorist attack requires good judgment, and thus should be evaluated thoroughly to avoid rash decisions and possible harms to innocent people. Looking back at American discourse since 9/11, it is high time for us to learn both the lesson of 9/11 terrorist attacks and the lesson of fighting terrorists before or after they strike.

Anyone who fails to learn from history is doomed to see history repeats itself in near future.

The author, Dr. Zhong Bu, Associate Professor from College of Communications, Pennsylvania State University

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