W. Thomas Smith, Jr

This is the 10th anniversary of what some have said is a seminal event in our national history. I would argue it was less a seminal event, and more an awakening as to the danger posed to the West since the 17th century when the armies of Kara Mustafa – capitalizing on the previous century’s work of warlord Suleiman the Magnificent – attacked Christian armies across eastern Europe.

Suleiman’s and Mustafa’s wars were Jihads against the West. And though stopped at the Gates of Vienna in 1683, that Jihad has never ceased.

But the enemy has been unable to effectively prosecute the war against us; that is until the 20th century – particularly in the 1970s and 1980s – when we began to see the rise of Jihadist terrorist attacks against Christians and Jews throughout the world.

And then – though we were warned for decades, and were even attacked in 1993 in New York – the single worst series of terrorist attacks to date struck us in New York, Northern Virginia, and Pennsylvania, and frankly in the skies over a much wider range before the four planes actually crashed.

But we’ll leave the discussion of Jihadist history – and the “why” – to the sociologists and political scientists, whose views are framed a bit more ideologically than mine.

I’m a military analyst, and so I see things perhaps less in terms of ideology and politics, and more in terms of tactical or strategic application. Though I am not as black-and-white in my thinking as other military analysts, because my focus is special operations, and that requires a bit of right–and–left brained thinking, as does simply being a professional writer.

But what I want to talk about – and share with you – today is what I witnessed and experienced in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, because I was there at “Ground Zero.” Not when Al Qaeda struck us. But within 48 hours after the attacks.

I was there at the Red Cross recovery station where volunteers were taking DNA swabs from family members who were frantically searching for their missing loved ones.

I was there as the trade center was burning, I watched as shopkeepers near “Ground Zero” stared at their damaged storefronts and the thick powdery gray ash and tiny strips of paper that covered everything several blocks away from the attacks.

I watched as warplanes from the offshore carrier USS George Washington roared overhead, making wide sweeps over the city during their constant patrols, because – remember, at that time – we were anticipating equally devastating follow-up attacks.

And I was physically at “Ground Zero,” standing between what was left of the two towers and the destroyed buildings adjacent to the towers.

W. Thomas Smith, Jr

W. Thomas Smith Jr. is a former U.S. Marine rifle-squad leader and counterterrorism instructor. He is the author of six books, and he has covered war and conflict in the Balkans, on the West Bank, in Iraq, and Lebanon. Visit him online at http://www.uswriter.com.
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