Immediately after Sept. 11, 2001, Americans began to drape themselves with flags. Flags flew from every conceivable spot; cars, buildings, windows, bodies, clothing and they became harder to come by than the hottest Christmas toy. We wrapped ourselves in a symbol of strength, as an amulet against an enemy we could not see. It comforted us and gave us strength in a time of uncertainty. Patriotic fervor rose to fever-pitched proportions as comparisons were made to another, “Day of Infamy”. But, flags do not win wars, nor do they give us the means to carry on. Without action, they are nothing more than empty symbolisms.
As we near our eighth year in what Marines call, “The Long War”, I believe that many Americans fail to truly understand the significance of this war. We are a nation that has become accustomed to tidy sound-byte wars, where loss of human life is virtually intolerable and where impatience is rampant. We have become a nation of comfort, victims of our own prosperity, where we want the ugliness dealt with like a homeowner who calls the pest control company to eradicate mice. Now, as the war trudges on, we are hearing discontent and criticism that this little mess isn’t over with.
Today, terrorists are trying to bring about an end to the United States as we know it. The real threat is not through direct military action, but from fear and steady erosion of our civil liberties. They will use our own strength—our freedom—to bring us down. Through fear, they will slowly bring about economic and social instability so great that the United States could collapse or be so altered, that it will no longer resemble the republic we know.
This is “The Long War” because it is a war of progression. We will be victorious not when bin Laden is dead, but when the terrorists are no longer able to effectively work. We need to treat them like organized crime, and relentlessly pursue them until they tire of dying. In the last eight years we have seriously damaged al Qaeda’s ability to operate, yet their persistence is our challenge. These are victories that did not come through negotiations or good will they came by force.
We must be resolved as a nation to fight this war as long as it takes, to support the soldiers who fight the fight and give them the resources to win. Islamic fascists will not simply go away; they fight for reasons that defy logic. To misstep will only embolden them and their supporters. We must engage the enemy on our terms, strike their center of gravity, and eliminate the threat before it eliminates us.
If we do not, if we fail to rise to the occasion, we will slowly see our freedom slip away and the things which make our country so great, just a memory. Unchecked, attacks on America will erode our economy and create crisis and chaos between the states. If we do not fight and win this war, the terrorists could succeed where no super power or enemy ever has, bringing about the end of America, or at least America as we know it.
This fight has not been, and will not be easy, and we will continue to see Americans pay the ultimate price. But in doing so, we have rediscovered that some things are worth fighting for, and that freedom above all is never free. We will never be the same as a country, but that may not be all bad. From this struggle will emerge a stronger, renewed America that will take up the mantle of our forefathers and head boldly into the future.
I went to war for one reason, so that my children and generations to come, would know the joy of an evening stroll, a family vacation, the freedom to worship, or to shop without the fear of a terrorist attack—to help provide a place where our citizens could truly live without fear. It is a sentiment shared by many people who today are deployed around the world in support of Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom. This war has tested our mettle as a country, but it is the only way we will ever be able to hand down to our children, a legacy of freedom.
So, let us embrace our republic and the symbol of our great nation, the flag. Let us fly it proudly and fly it often. However, we must also look beyond the flag and be remembered as a nation that stood up to tyranny, fought the good fight, prevailed against our enemies and left peace as a legacy for our children.