I still remember that Tuesday morning as if I were reliving it this very moment. I was single and living with my parents, and had entered into fulltime ministry just one year before after earning an undergraduate degree in Radio, Television, and Film at the University of North Texas on August 12, 2000. I had been on a mission trip with my father soon after graduating, and in the summer of 2001, began to work for my graduate degree at Southwestern Assemblies of God University in Waxahachie, Texas.
Not wanting to stay at home every day, I made my abode at the church. I remember telling my dad that the church needed to have regular office hours with someone to answer the phone. At the time, our current church building was on its first phase; the balcony and the chapel area with office space and Sunday School rooms were not yet completed. It was on that bare balcony, in a corner of that concreted section (which had a thin carpet on it and was used as a prayer area during our general convention time) where I set up “office.”
Every morning at 7:00 I would come to the church. For me, it was like a “Fortress of Tranquility”. I didn’t mind being alone. I studied and prayed, and I learned about the “sacred silence” of an empty sanctuary. That Tuesday morning (September 11, 2001), I was reading through Genesis and Exodus. Around 9:30am, I was kneeling to pray when our former senior associate pastor, Dr. Abraham Mathai, came through the back door of the balcony. “Good morning Pastor! How is everything?” “Not good, Justin. Something very bad has happened. There has been some kind of attack.”
I could not believe it as he talked about planes crashing into buildings and the fiery explosions. I remember grabbing my keys and running out the door to go back home. The streets were empty – my first indication that something terrible really had happened. As soon as I got to the house and turned on the television, I saw the first tower of the World Trade Center on fire and collapsing. How can you describe watching thousands of people die instantly on live TV? “Sensory overload” does not even come close to explaining the moment!
Trapped people were jumping out of windows or from the terraces of high rises rather than be engulfed in fires burning from jet fuel. The news reports kept coming with more alerts all throughout the day. The skies were in danger. When a plane crashed into the Pentagon and United Flight 93 crashed in Pennsylvania, every single American knew beyond the shadow of a doubt that this nation would never be the same again. We watched as President Bush gave the order for DEFCON 3, the military code for “yellow alert.” All the armed forces were to be prepared, the United States Air Force especially. FAA Director Ben Sliney gave the order for every flight in the United States to immediately land. Over 4,000 flights landed within hours, an astounding feat when one considers how vast the area of the United States is and how much air traffic occupies the nation’s skies on a daily basis (more than any other country in the world). The USAF became in essence the “air police” with orders to make sure the skies were clear of all traffic, and if necessary, to shoot down any airplane that did not comply. We watched on television as that kind of an action became probable as one passenger liner was almost shot down due to communication problems. Thankfully, it was not; one of the only good things to happen on that day. Within three hours’ time, churches were open and filling up with people crying and praying for God’s mercy and intervention.
In the days following, tens of thousands of volunteers from every kind of profession, from all 50 states rushed into New York City to do anything to help clear the rubble, save lives, and show their support in whichever way possible. Who could forget the fellowship of the firefighters and police officers as they found their hurting or dying colleagues? When they found them, the entire contingent of all the brothers would come to move them out. I cannot number how many times I cried whether watching television or listening to the radio in the days and months afterward.
President George W. Bush had the unenviable job of declaring war after this nation was attacked – the first President to have to do that since Franklin Roosevelt. The country was raging for retribution, and a few days later, President Bush stood up before the American people and the world and revealed the culprits of the attacks and the plan of action to confront and destroy them. He mentioned the terror network, Al Qaida, and the country which was its home at the time, the Taliban controlled nation of Afghanistan, as well as the “axis of evil” – Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq, the Shiite theocracy of Iran, and the hideous communist hermit nation of North Korea. The U.S. policy rejected the Taliban as just an offshoot of Al Qaida and one of the worst human rights offenders in history (an assertion that was completely true at the time). The other three nations were considered “rogues,” and Saddam Hussein was thought to have weapons of massive destruction. This was something that intelligence services all over the world said was a possibility, even to the point of presenting pictures in the United Nations Security Council; yet the evidence was not conclusive enough. But in the aftermath of 9/11, who would dare to risk being wrong about that threat? The United States would begin the War on Terror on two fronts: against Al Qaida in Afghanistan and Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq. Thus began the longest war in American history; a new kind of war with seemingly no end.
The war had its victories and celebrations but also tragedies and defeats, but not in the customary sense. The United States was fighting what I call a “police war.” Al Qaida was a terror network without a home country. It would operate in and from areas of “radical” Islam. American diplomats and decision makers could never accept this particular fact, which makes for complicated and even stupid decision-making.
Pakistan, the nation on the southeast border of Afghanistan, was considered an “ally of the West” for several years and received billions of dollars in aid and support to fight Al Qaida and to bring this conflict to an end. Instead, it became a haven for Osama Bin Laden to escape out of Afghanistan, from where he continued to run his operation until he was caught and executed by American Special Forces in 2011. His house was less than a mile from the Pakistan Military Academy in Abbottabad, Pakistan. Supposedly, no one knew that Bin Laden was there, but in a nation such as Pakistan, whose government uses the services of terrorist groups and who, for survival’s sake, keeps a very close eye on them, it is impossible for the local officials NOT to have known. In fact, in my opinion, Qasim Solemani of Iran learned from Pakistan how a state can run terrorist groups to greater effect. That is worth remembering when one sees what the War on Terror became.
Who could forget the capture of the ruthless Saddam Hussein, a man who had terrorized his own nation and the world for over thirty years, a man responsible for the death of millions? Yet there he was... captured by U.S. Special Forces and just a few months later, he would be executed by hanging, a video still viewed by millions on YouTube. And yet he became a sympathetic fellow in the eyes of the world when no weapons of mass destruction were discovered. And then, an appreciated fellow with the rise of Shiite Iran and ISIS. Hussein’s violence became palatable to many around the world when they realized that democracy in the Western context is never going to work in the Middle East (except in Israel, for obvious reasons that the world diplomats did not what to talk about!). He kept the Shiites away and he knew how to control the masses away from the terror elements. The world could accept this as it saw the new dimensions of carnage under ISIS and other fanatical Islamist terrorist groups.
Over the course of 19 years, the war that started on 9/11/2001 spread to Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Yemen, Libya, Nigeria, Sudan and other parts of the world. The leftist media made President Bush the “fall guy” for the long period of war and the rising casualties of American soldiers. President Obama was to inaugurate a new, “hopeful” age of understanding and peace; after all, he supposedly “understood the world better than anyone else.” The Democrats as well as the media transformed him into a messianic figure, except the world did not change in eight years. And as is known and has been proclaimed many times by many leaders, it’s easy to criticize the decisions taken by the man sitting behind the desk in the Oval Office, until you sit behind that desk and sees what he sees; then it’s not so simple anymore. Al Qaida was thought defeated at the death of Osama Bin Laden, and then came ISIS, “the junior varsity team.” According to statistics, ISIS mayhem resulted in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people.
As the shadow of war spread, stories of mass rape, pillage, murder, and destruction became commonplace. America saw a second deadly incident on 9/11, in 2012, at Benghazi, Libya where 4 Americans, including the U.S. Ambassador to Libya, were brutally murdered. And the American people were lied to by the federal government on the reason for the attack; namely because of some ridiculous video made about the prophet Muhammed. The madness became so pronounced that Bashir Assad’s regime in Syria used chemical weapons on its own people. Who could forget the video of footage of children convulsing and dying in the aftermath of biological attacks? And as bad as this was, the Obama administration thought it was a brilliant idea to sign a nuclear weapons treaty with Iraq, paying $1.7 billion to the regime which by then (under Qasim Solemani) had become a regional player in the War on Terror, and was personally responsible for launching the IED attacks and other ambushes against US military personnel in Iraq.
I got married during the years of the War on Terror. I remember holding my son just right after his birth while watching war footage on the TV screens in the Labor and Delivery ward and wondering what kind of world my son was coming into and how my wife and I could raise him in such a world.
Times have changed. President Donald Trump has been in office these four years and thankfully, ISIS is gone, and while Al Qaida still lurks and other Islamic terrorist groups are coming up, it seems that many Islamic nations (and particularly the Sunni nations) have had enough of war, at least for a little while. Within this week, at least four nations (three of them predominantly Muslim) have decided to normalize relations with Israel, something thought entirely impossible and especially impossible during the Trump Administration, but it did happen.
President Trump entered office calling the Iraq war a mistake and promising to end the twenty years of American military engagement in the Middle East. He started this process by doing what to the US State Department was unthinkable; he recognized Jerusalem as the eternal capital of Israel, and moved the Israeli US Embassy to that city. He then systematically began to pull American troops out of Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, despite intense opposition from within the State Department as well as the Pentagon. And he continued a policy from the Obama administration; namely, to negotiate with the Taliban in Afghanistan. Apparently, the Taliban’s version of Sharia Law will be acceptable, as long as it does not conflict with the interest of the West.
So much has changed since that horrible day 19 years ago. America does not need to worry so much about foreign terrorists as much as domestic ones today, who wear such wonderful slogans and names as “Black Lives Matter” and “ANTIFA,” and who have the backing of the leftist media as well as Democrat politicians who are no better than the leaders of countries who 19 years ago tolerated the presence, mayhem and destruction of Al Qaida and other terrorist groups in their nations. Leaders in cities such as New York, Portland, Seattle, Rochester, and even Washington D.C. (to name a few) are perfectly willing to let mobs terrorize and assault innocent people, to burn building, and tear down monuments, and worst of all, to denigrate and insult the same group of people, who 19 years ago, charged into burning towers and building to save lives, and those who answered this country’s call to defend her during the War on Terror.
The National Football League opened its season in Kansas City yesterday in a game between the Kansas City Chiefs and the Houston Texans. I honestly wondered if these “brilliant, woke” multimillionaires had any idea of what they were doing when they walked on that football field at Arrowhead Stadium. They decided to play the “black national anthem” first (to express their solidarity with BLM) and then during the National Anthem, the Houston Texans walked off the field. Mind you, the NFL made the decision this year to wipe out from their programming any patriotic references or honors (whether that was the Flag or honoring servicemen). And they decided to begin this stupidity the day before 9/11!
How can one explain the times?! What Al Qaida terrorists wanted to do 19 years ago is now the official position and modus operandi of the Democrat Party, to the point that they are now attacking and shutting down churches in the name of the coronavirus but have no problem with violent mobs rioting and causing all manner of destruction. I wonder what Osama Bin Laden would think now?
Perhaps the greatest tragedy 19 years later is that a much greater number of the preachers and Christian spiritual leaders have been deceived and have compromised themselves, putting into perspective God’s dreadful cry in the book of Ezekiel 22:30, when He said, “I looked for a man among them to make up the wall and stand in the gap before me for the land so that I would not destroy the land, but I found no one.” While it can be said that there are a few people who have an accurate Holy Spirit-filled discernment of the times, that number has never been smaller (in my opinion) than it is now in these United States.
Our true enemy has not changed. It is still the spirit of the Antichrist for which this world is preparing, just as the Church should be preparing for that day when the trumpet will sound and the Lord will call his people home. If anything, I pray that we never forget that Truth.
A few years ago, I happened to see an episode of the Twilight Zone (the original series from the 1960s) called “Death’s Head Revisited.” The episode was about a German SS Officer who managed to escape at the end of World War II to South America and returned to Germany after 15 years, right back to the setting of his crimes; a little town in Bavaria called Dachau (a town that became infamous for the first concentration camp during Hitler’s Holocaust). The officer came back for the sake of “nostalgia”, but what he did not know was that he was going to his trial where his accusers would be not only the witnesses against him, but also his prosecutors, jury, and judge. At the end of this episode, said officer is driven to insanity. The closing narration by Rod Serling is one of the most powerful dialogues I have heard in entertainment. The narration was in response to a question asked by a doctor who examines the war criminal at the end of the episode, “Dachau, why does it remain standing?” The answer:
All the Dachaus must remain standing. The Dachaus, the Belsens, the Buchenwalds, the Auschwitzes – all of them. They must remain standing because they are a monument to a moment in time when some men decided to turn the Earth into a graveyard. Into it they shoveled all of their reason, their logic, their knowledge, but worst of all, their conscience. And the moment we forget this, the moment we cease to be haunted by its remembrance, then we become the gravediggers. Something to dwell on and to remember, not only in the Twilight Zone but wherever men walk God's Earth.
It is the same for September 11, 2001. May we never forget...becoming gravediggers ourselves.