Nothstine: Finding purpose in a post 9/11 world

For those not directly affected by 9/11, Sunday’s 15th anniversary may have an ancient feel. A lot of time has past since 2001. However, the significance is that so many have been affected. Not just the families of the 2,977 killed on that date but the families of nearly 7,000 American military members who have died in the Global War on Terror. Not to mention the tens of thousands who have suffered traumatic and debilitating wounds from war.The financial cost of the conflict, devastating by itself, is incomparable to the loss of many of America’s best men and women. It would be wise for North Carolinians who visit Arlington National Cemetery to step off the guided tour and visit Section 60. Marine Corporal Benny Gray Cockerham III (1984-2005) of Conover, N.C. is one of many laid to rest in what some have called “the saddest acre in America.”On the 10th anniversary of September 11, Vice President Joe Biden said of the 9/11 military generation: “Never before in our history has America asked so much over such a sustained period of an all-volunteer force.” The suicide rate of many veterans from the recent conflicts is another solemn reminder of the human cost.After 9/11, some politicians, including former president George W. Bush, advised civilians to strike back at terrorism by improving the economy through shopping. Even at the time it seemed like an insufficient response to fanatics who are completely opposed to the existence of the Western world. It has been 15 years since 9/11 and it’s unclear how much safer we are from Islamic terror attacks.Part of this this may be the result of sub-par policies to combat terrorism from the last two presidents. War by itself, or at all perhaps, is clearly not enough of a response. It seems unconscionable that America under President Obama may have paid a ransom for hostages held by Iran. In some ways we have merely come full circle since the first salvo in the modern war against Islamic terrorism started with the Iran hostage crisis in 1979.There are, of course, more powerful undercurrents at work than national security policy. One book that is receiving a lot of attention is Michel Houllebecq’s “Submission.” Houllebecq is a French author who published his new novel the same day as the Charlie Hebdo shooting in Paris in 2015.The novel has been called anti-Muslim, which it is not; it is really more of an indictment against the loss of purpose within a materialist and secular Europe. “Without Christianity, the European nations had become bodies without souls — zombies,” writes Houllebecq. His satirical work offers a scenario in which a moderate Muslim government takes over France. The ending shows how one Frenchman, who easily symbolizes an everyman, willingly submits to Islam.It’s unclear what direction this nation is headed in considering the deep cultural and political divisions throughout the country. Only one candidate, Donald Trump, tends to speak plainly about the threat that Islamic terrorism poses for the West. It’s likely at least that being a New Yorker gives him added insight into the depth of the conflict. But he is, at times, also a clown.It’s important to remember that America has achieved great and lasting things when it has been united. It’s unclear if we will ever be truly unified like the country was for a short time after 9/11. E Pluribus Unum, or “out of many, one” is our motto for a reason. If we can find our way back to that idea again, America can better understand the kind of sacrifice from a generation Biden called “among the greatest our nation has ever produced.”