The Time for Engagement

The Time for Engagement

By Vincent Solomeno

Published on Blue Jersey, September 11, 2009.

As New Jerseyans, we can intimately recall the events of September 11, 2001 and remember the panic, outrage, and grief that washed over us.  Memories of the hole in the Manhattan skyline, the smoke that blanketed our suburban skies and the pain of losing nearly 700 of our neighbors still lingers eight years on.

Like a line of demarcation running through our collective consciousness, the force of our initial reaction may have lessened with time but there is no doubt that our national life is forever changed.  In the aftermath of the horrific attacks, determined to prevent terrorism from returning to our shores, we launched two wars and surrendered certain freedoms in the name of homeland security.  Eight years later, the consequences of those decisions and the challenges they were intended to overcome remain.  Osama bin Laden is at large.  Al Qaeda, though its strength is diminished, continues its war of terror against the West.  Prisoners still wait at Guantanamo Bay, and American men and women still serve overseas prepared to lay down their lives in defense of our national interest.

Many progressives are reluctant to discuss the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.  We are divided between wanting an immediate end to the conflict and a desire to defeat the agents of terrorism.  We are also distracted.  Angry town hall meetings, death panels, and in New Jersey, talk of driving records consume our attention.  Ours is a country at war, but one would be hard pressed to see that when considering the issues dominating our national and state discourse.

Sure, life goes on.  There are pressing domestic concerns that must also be addressed.  Health care reform should be enacted.  Chris Christie’s record should be examined.  Yet the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq have lasted longer than America’s involvement in the Second World War, and as progressives, we have failed to demand our leaders present a path to victory or a plan for peace.

This is the greatest question of our time and our movement is asleep at the wheel.  Perhaps we were traumatized by the Bush Administration’s politicization of national security, and by no means do I seek a return to 2002, when agreeing with Republican principles was a question of patriotism.   What I seek is engagement.   We cannot relegate the reality of war to the back of our minds and content ourselves with talk of health care reform when America’s sons and daughters are dying for a cause that many in our country no longer deem worthy of their attention.

Victory, much like our war against Nazism, requires that we fully devote ourselves to our present endeavor.  We may decide to see this through to the end or we may decide these wars are no longer worth the cost of life and treasure.  Nonetheless, we must choose our course.  Progressives understand that timidity is the great enemy of success, and the current situation demands more than hanging a flag from the front porch.  It demands our engagement.

Years from now, our children will ask us what we did to help our country in the aftermath of September 11, 2001.  What we say then will depend on what we do now.  History will be the ultimate arbiter of our actions.  Let us engage.