Richard Cohen: Sept. 11 ... The Day That Never Ends

Roundup: Talking About History

Richard Cohen is a syndicated columnist for the Washington Post.

The teacher stands before a class of young men. He is flanked by open windows. A military parade passes outside the school, and martial music fills the classroom. The teacher, Mr. Kantorek, is exhorting his students to enlist. “I believe it will be a quick war,” he says, “and there will be few losses.” It is 1914, the war lasted four years, and the losses were staggering. This is how the movie “All Quiet on the Western Front” begins. So did Sept. 11, 2001.

We are just a few days short of the 10th anniversary of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon that caused an enormous loss of life and a horror that is still emotionally unmanageable. I was in Lower Manhattan that day, and for a long time afterward the sad, damp wail of bagpipes — the inevitable “Danny Boy” and “Amazing Grace” — suffused the island, funeral after funeral after funeral. The occasional passing of a firetruck, often to spontaneous applause, was an emotional experience. This is how I and so many others got to be like those German students. We were off to war. 

Now it is 10 years later, and the war is not over. We fight still in Afghanistan and Iraq, wars now without purpose or, in the case of Iraq, reason. Like those students, we got high on war fever and marched off led by men — a president and his vice president — at least as incompetent as the German kaiser or, on the other side, that gaggle of statesmen and field marshals who allowed Europe to be convulsed by a war whose effects are still being felt.....

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