September 11th was a confusing day for all Americans, but especially for our youngest citizens. Children were confused. Teachers were unprepared. Kids all over America had questions as they headed home early. Living so close to the Pentagon made it seem personal to my children. My daughter’s first question to me was, “Dad, why do they want to kill us?”
Back on September 11th, most of us hadn’t been studying up on al Qaeda or really even considering the possibility of terrorism happening on American soil. I fumbled around for a few minutes trying to think up something to say that would be profound yet sensitive to the emotions of a young child. I can’t remember my exact words, but the blank gaze on my daughter’s face made it obvious that I hadn’t eased her confusion. I tried to explain religious fanaticism and suicide bombers, but I didn’t succeed there either.
It was all too simple to her young mind though: “They don’t like us, do they?” she asked.
How could I explain to a child how an eighteen-year-old boy could strap a bomb to his waist, casually walk into a cafe filled with with women and children, and blow himself to bits? My daughter had no ability to grasp that degree of hate and insanity.
For the past five years, our children have been shielded somewhat from further images of terror, but our friends and allies overseas haven’t been as fortunate.
In 2002, over 200 died in Bali. In 2003, nearly 60 died in Istanbul. In 2004, nearly 200 died in the Madrid train bombings. In 2005, nearly 60 died in the London subway and nearly 90 died in bombings in Egypt. And these were just the big ones.
September 11th wasn’t a fluke, once-in-a-lifetime event. It just was up-close and personal for America that day. Some may say that our allies are just collateral damage in a war between America and the Islamic terrorists. They’re not. They are the target, just as we are, because they share the ideals of democracy, freedom, and prosperity that the enemy hates.
For the past few years, appeasers have argued that it is our presence in Iraq that motivates further terror attacks. The evidence proves otherwise. Our enemies don’t attack us because we’re an “empire.” They attack because they want an empire of their own. One without us.
This week nearly 200 Indians were killed by bombs aboard commuter trains in Mumbai (formerly Bombay). These weren’t soldiers in the war on terror. They were simply innocent men and women coming home from a long day’s labor to see their families. They were crowded by the hundreds onto train cars thinking about their evening plans instead of the War on Terror. They were helpless victims of a vicious enemy that follows no rules of combat and shows no mercy. Yet our own Supreme Court recently granted al-Qaeda prisoners the rights of the Geneva Convention, a treaty that terrorist organizations have never signed and certainly weren’t following when they videotaped beheadings of innocent people.
Even American adults are unable to comprehend this degree of irrational hatred, though we spend hours listening to experts and pundits explain the complexities of the terrorist mindset.
Perhaps we could learn from our youngest citizens. Perhaps there are people out there who simply just hate us. Sometimes it really is a simple as it first seems.
The images of the Mumbai bombings are on the television now and it’s impossible for children to miss them. I wish I had a better answer five years later. Our enemies still don’t like us and that won’t change. In fact, this is a war that our children -- and our grandchildren -- will probably have to wage as well. For their sakes, we must never try to rationalize the hatred directed against us.
Jonathan Garthwaite is Editor-in-Chief of Townhall.com