In the days following Sept. 11, 2001, the talking heads declared the Long Decade dead. The 1990s, those carefree years generously sandwiched between the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the abhorrent attacks of 2001, were stolen from us in the skies of a cloudless Tuesday morning. In its place, the Long Decade gave way to the Age of Terror.
It sounded good to me then, too. But four years removed from Sept. 11, I'm still not terrified. What happened to our Age of Terror?
According to the liberals, we forgot the "terror" with the first American killed in Iraq. Two thousand dead later, we're still not fighting the war on terror; we are fighting "a war of choice," pursuing oil by shedding blood, Halliburton contracts by killing kids. And we should still be worrying about that Osama character, as if he mattered. To be opportunistic was to forget the "terror."
According to the conservatives, we forgot the "terror" with the millions of protesters in early 2003. Afghanistan without a hitch, a Department of Homeland Security under our belt, Iraq to follow suit - it was unthinkable that half of America would not see the seamless beauty in the progression - Syria, Iran, Sudan, eventually even Saudi Arabia. To not see the military solution was to forget the "terror."
But, the "terror" was forgotten before then - somewhere in that lighthearted Long Decade, somewhere between a falling wall and an unhealthy obsession with presidential fellatio.
The "terror" might as well have been resuscitated briefly on an indelible Tuesday morning; it was on the wane by Wednesday, everybody searching for yet another promised return to normalcy, as if such a state of being ever existed.
We're missing the point. We're falling asleep.
We are fighting an enemy as pervasive as the sand of Iraq, the mud in the trenches at Flanders, the bullets on the beaches of Normandy. That enemy is radical, self-righteous, fundamentalist Islam.
And like the wars we have fought against dictatorial communism and genocidal fascism, this one is about the survival of Western civilization. We are fighting (yet again) to prevent civilizational apartheid. And that is about as noble a cause as ever throughout the course of human history.
Now is the time to fight that war: Military campaigns when obvious (read: Afghanistan), a rational struggle for the respect of disaffected Muslims, some global humility, better intelligence gathering (and interpretation), securing the materials used for nuclear and biological terrorism, border security without Fortress America, promoting universal values without the self-righteousness.
Above all, promoting our security should not insult those who might choose terrorism in the future. No one is born a terrorist. Circumstances matter. Treat the cause instead of the symptoms.
Unfortunately, the obvious solutions are missing because a president expended his political legitimacy with a war on the symptoms, a vindictive left resolved to destroy the mechanics of compromise until 2008, and the American people chose to yawn and change the channel.
Who can blame them? The days of O.J. Simpson and "Friends" just feel a whole lot simpler than cities named Fallujah and a global war on terror.
Abu Ghraib forgotten with Michael Jackson. Afghanistan forgotten with Iraq. Sept. 11 forgotten on Sept. 12.
We need to bring the war on terror back home, not by welcoming falling towers or subway bombings, but by making the necessary sacrifices here that we've forgotten.
We could do more by paying higher taxes on our capital gains, our paychecks, our inheritance if it ensures that every soldier in Afghanistan and Iraq gets the proper armor, if it saves the lives of our peers.
We could do more by honoring the dead, honoring their sacrifice publicly as the flag-draped coffins are off-loaded at Andrews. We could do more by asking for pragmatic solutions with the Islamic world rather than purely militaristic - and therefore, lethal - ones. Osama chose the militaristic solution. How can we claim the moral high ground if we follow suit?
The Age of Terror forgotten four years later. Jacques Barzun, the French historian, once wrote, "An age ... is unified by one or two pressing needs, not by the proposed remedies, which are many and thus divide." What happens when we reach an Age of Disunity, Jacques?
Matt Stone is a junior majoring in international studies and economics. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.