It was twenty years ago today is the beginning of the Beatles’ Sergeant Pepper, but a more sombre anniversary marks this day than teaching the band to play. Many readers will recall the morning they turned on their radios and televisions – this was in the halyconic largely pre-widespread-internet era – to hear of the tragedy unfolding at the World Trade Centre buildings.
Four planes were hijacked by Islamic al-Quaeda terrorists – trained in basic flying in America – and the planes themselves used as weapons, flown into the Two Towers, and the Pentagon, with one attack being thwarted by passengers – Flight 91 – crash landed into a field. Thousands were killed that day.
And untold thousands more in the ‘war on terror’ that ensued, in Iraq, throughout the Middle East, and most ignominiously, in Afghanistan, the denouement of the two decade debacle unfolding before as we speak, the Taliban back in power, with all the advanced American weaponry their jihadi hearts could desire.
Many saw the futility of the mission – what was it? to establish ‘liberal democracy’? – right at the start. Most Afghans didn’t want what America, or Canada, were selling. How does one go about ‘regime change’ in a country of 33 million, spread over 250,000 square miles of inaccessible terrain, with a history and culture – whatever we might think of them – that go back centuries? Sending over a few thousand soldiers, doing sorties from a highly defended base, burning a few opium fields – sowing only resentment – is but a drop in the ocean, sending out a few ripples, before disappearing, in this case, decamping in the middle of the night, leaving behind the arsenal of an advanced military.
As one Taliban wag put it way back, Americans have all the watches, but we have all the time.
And bide their time they did, until America, and the rest of the west, exhausted and bankrupt militarily, economically, but, more to the point, culturally and morally, gave in. War is a battle of wills, and he who has the stronger and more resilient, wins in the end.
The Taliban, for all their barbarism, have no time for the decadence of the west – the immersion in LGBTQ+, abortion, contraception, and grievances galore. Gone are the Tim Hortons and hockey rinks, the gyms and schools, all reduced to dust like Ozymandias. There will no pride flags over the Taliban headquarters, and already the George Floyd mural – I was surprised there was one – has been whitewashed, along with all the other traces of America and Canada and whoever else was over there.
We should pray for all those who died in 9-11 and the wars, if we may so term them, that ensued: the untold thousands died, and the many more who were injured, their lives ruined, the spiritual and psychological suffering, that continues to this day, not least in those left behind, one might say abandoned.
And we must have hope. As Pope Benedict put it in a 2010 audience on Saint Bonaventure’s view of history, opera Christi non deficiunt, sed proficiunt – the works of Christ do not fail or go backwards, but progress and, ultimately, succeed – for those who love God and His Christ. In all of this, the Almighty is somehow doing a great thing, bringing about His eschatological kingdom, even through the failures, the venality, the sins and the suffering, of men. He has far more time than the Taliban.
For those who persevere to the end, will be saved.