"Guys, chances are, someday you will go to war."
These were the sobering words my husband, Andy, spoke to our sons within days after that fateful September morning now known as 9-11. Our family was seated around the kitchen table where we so often laugh, argue and discuss both the mundane and memorable events of daily life.
But that night was different. The conversation was not about schoolwork, or weekend plans, or forcing our then-12-year-old to take at least one bite of the vegetable on his plate. When terrorists declared war on America by murdering so many innocent civilians, my children lost their innocence like so many other sons and daughters regarding issues of peace and security and evil. And like in so many other homes around the country, the talk turned to war.
I saw the strain in Andy's face, and imagined my 12- and 13-year-old boys as the men they would soon become. Andy quietly explained to a rapt audience of children – our children – how those who perpetuated this horrible evil had launched similar attacks on Americans before they were even born.
As far back as the summer of 1983, hundreds of unsuspecting U.S. Marines were blown to smithereens when their barracks were attacked in Beirut. My husband was in the Navy, onboard the USS Joseph Hewes, a frigate in the Mediterranean, and he recounted how he watched as the pile of black body bags grew ever larger every hour on the deck of the nearby Iwo Jima. Andy recounted the many other attacks on Americans by terrorists that have gone unanswered as our boys absorbed every awful word.
Our family was gathered around the table that evening after watching President George Bush declare his resolve to find the evil ones and hunt them down. The president talked of how America would pursue the terrorists, and rid the world of all of them – no matter how long it took. We believed both in the president's resolve and his prediction that the war would not soon be over.
My family, including both of our sons who are now ages 16 and 14, are ready to defend America and freedom at all costs. It is a sickening feeling for a mother to watch the days go by and know that the time is ever closer when her baby may have to go to war.
Mothers and fathers all across the country are grieving the deaths of their brave sons and daughters who continue the war against terrorism, now being fought largely in Iraq. But as in every war for freedom, the ultimate prize is worth fighting, and even dying for.
It's a shame that it took the tragedy of 9-11 to make us realize the price we all have to pay for not standing up to evil. Had America responded comprehensively and powerfully to the numerous previous terrorist acts aimed at Americans around the world, 9-11 would never have happened. Thankfully, President Bush has set us on a course to ensure peace and freedom for future generations, if not our own offspring.
In a recent Veteran's Day Heritage Foundation speech, President Bush said, "Our men and women are fighting to help democracy and peace and justice rise in a troubled and violent region. Our men and women are fighting terrorist enemies thousands of miles away in the heart and center of their power, so that we do not face those enemies in the heart of America."
"Our men and women are fighting for the security of America and for the advance of freedom, and that is a cause worth fighting for. The work we are in is not easy; yet, it is essential."
Pre-9/11, America sat back while evil rulers took over Afghanistan and turned it into a training ground for terrorists. Earlier, we sat back and let Saddam Hussein, Muammar Qaddafi and others take power and use it for great evil against peace-loving people.
We've known about Osama bin Laden and his brand of terrorism for years. Jim Phillips, a brilliant Middle East expert at Heritage, first warned of the growing danger presented by Osama and like-minded terrorists in 1994, and identified him as an imminent threat in a paper issued more than a year before the 9-11 attacks. Phillips warned us that Osama had it in for America and had the resources to cause serious trouble.
The problem was, until 9-11, bin Laden couldn't seem to get our attention. His bombings of American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania created too little U.S. response. His attack against the USS Cole in harbor at Aden, Yemen again brought few repercussions. In the mind of a madman, previously left free to terrorize at will, the 9-11 attacks on U.S. soil must have looked like a cakewalk.
But he was wrong.
Yes, our battle is bloody, and our target is often stealth. The lives lost rip out our hearts, and bring the strongest of men to their knees. And although the mission may be long and the path dark at times, to stop now is to doom our children and our children's children to a life of fear, torment and subjection to the hands of barbarians.
As President Bush said in his Veteran's Day Heritage Foundation speech, America will continue to move forward because retreat is not an option. "The failure of democracy in Afghanistan and Iraq will condemn every advocate of freedom in those two countries to prison or death and would extinguish the democratic hopes of millions in the Middle East. The failure of democracy in those two countries would convince terrorists that America backs down under attack, and more attacks on America would surely follow."
As my husband explained to our two boys, America must export democracy and our commitment to freedom – not just because these things are right and just and moral, but because our security depends on it.
Tonight, someone else's sons and daughters are in harm's way. Often when I watch their faces on news reports, I see the faces of my own two sons, and am moved to tears. My mother's heart aches for them and for their families, and my prayers for God's mercy and strength are fervent. May God bless them, and keep them safe, and bring them speedy and complete victory.