It was a regular morning, much like today, 14 years ago when America came face to face with the ugly realities of the world where terrorism isn’t something that happens to other people. Few citizens have forgotten where they were, or what they were doing when the first, of two airplanes, crashed into the World Trade Center in New York City. How could we ever forget? The gut wrenching reality that 3,000 American civilians had been killed in what was one of the most senseless acts of violence ever perpetrated against our nation set in, leaving heartache and a desolate hole in its wake. We would never be the same. And so it happens that 14 years later, the country is awash once more with patriotic zeal, quiet reflection, and a determination to never forget that fateful morning. Our heroes will be celebrated whether they are firefighters, police officers, members of the military, ordinary people, or even a president whose entire legacy will be defined by the events of that morning. With the star spangled banner flying high, there is no day quite as impactful in modern American history.

On September 11, 2001, I realized, as I sat stunned and horrified at the images on television, that we were going to war and that I would be part of this war. Shortly thereafter I walked into a recruiting station, and the rest is history. Fourteen years later as I sit behind my desk and mull how much the world has changed for the American citizen, I cannot help but wonder if the terrorists truly got what they came for on that fateful morning, turning the land of the free into a place where we are constantly afraid, where suspicion and unease at the rest of the world dominates our foreign policy, and where we are too quickly inclined to throw young men and women into the fires of combat with very little provocation. Perhaps it is time to take the sacrifices of 9-11, and those made by so many heroes afterwards, and step out of the shadows of fear into the bright lights and fresh air of a nation that is truly free. To do this we would have to look at some uncomfortable truths about September 11, and the events that have followed ever since.

About three weeks ago as I was taking my sons to the airport, I heard the standard announcements being made over the PA system. If you have ever flown, you know exactly what I am talking about…

“We thank you for your cooperation in these times of heightened security …”

I remember mentioning this to Bethany, struck by the reality that heightened security had become our norm and that we have been living under this sense of heightened security for 14 years now. At some point the security we live with, the oppressive regime of being unable to fly without carrying your shampoo stopped being “heightened” because it was the new normal. When was the last time any of us remember taking a flight out of an American airport where we didn’t have to strip off our shoes, belts, and jackets, then subject ourselves to a full body screening? When was the last time you saw less than a dozen TSA agents milling around making it much more uncomfortable? In fact when was the last time you could walk through security at the airport sipping on an open Coca-Cola? If anyone is so convinced that the coke, which I was just sipping, has some notorious capabilities, then they are truly living in a world of paranoia. But that is the world we live in today, and sadly one that we have come to accept and expect.

For fourteen years, we have given up basic rights, including the right to travel unmolested and unafraid while loudspeakers blare warnings of heightened security. For fourteen years government agencies, and now civilian corporations, have been allowed to collect all our communication data and store it for “justice” reasons. For fourteen years, we have been told that these measures keep us safe or that “we have not been attacked again”, and yet this isn’t the truth is it? The Boston Bomber proved that, despite all the intelligence in the world, we are still vulnerable to attack. While there is little doubt that the billions of dollars we spend in intelligence gathering each year ($67.9 billion in 2014 which is significantly down from $80.1 billion in 2010) has had an impact in stopping some terrorist threats, the cost has been catastrophic from the perspective of American freedom. It could well be argued that we live in a heightened state of “terror” and in so doing allowed the terrorists to take from us that which should be most sacred – our freedom.

So who were these evil men who would attack innocent civilians without any cause and with the sole intention of causing terror? Surely they came from our enemies, sent here to destabilize and unnerve American resolve? Were they from Iran, Iraq, North Korea, or even Cuba – all countries that were stated enemies of the United States at the time and some still on that “axis of evil” list? The answer, sadly, is that the vast majority of these terrorists came from countries allied to the American cause.

Fifteen (15) were from Saudi Arabia, a country that we have liberally supplied with arms, ammunition, and training even in the wake of September 11. Saudi Arabia continues to be one of America’s greatest allies in the region, a counter balance to Iran, but that is something I will address a little later on. What is important for this moment is to point out that 15 of the 19 hijackers were Saudis, 2 were from the United Arab Emirates, and one each from Egypt and Lebanon. With the exception of Lebanon, every single one of these nations are countries that we support with military protection, vast deployments of our troops, and a friendly (let’s look the other way) relationship. For the record, the United Arab Emirates hosts more US naval troops than any other nation outside of the Continental US itself.

Not a single one of the terrorists that attacked America, and stole our freedom came from an enemy state. Not one!

Without going too far down the rabbit hole, that has been examined a million times before, it is also important to remember who financed and planned the attack on September 11. A young Saudi Arabian prince by the name of Osama Bin Laden, who incidentally used to work, albeit indirectly, for the CIA. In fact, as we mourn our losses on this saddest of days we should also remember that the base camp where Bin Laden would greet and train mujaheddin fighters headed for Afghanistan, in the proxy war America was fighting with the Soviets, was called “Al-Qaida”. American arms and training, along with Saudi money provided the basis for an organization that would later go on to carry out these horrific attacks. We gave them the training, the money, the leader, and even their name. In return, the American people lost their lives and their freedom. Despite this, the news today is filled with stories of this disastrous deal with Iran and how nuclear weapons could be the death of America (or Israel, or the civilized world). So indulge me for a second, while I point out some facts –

First, Iran had nothing to do with the terrorist attacks on American soil, and from what we know played no part in interfering with our war in Afghanistan. In fact, few people remember that Iran fought the Soviet Union just as hard as we did, training and sending mujaheddin fighters across their border with Afghanistan even as we were doing the same from the Pakistani side. Also, Iran was deadly enemies with the Taliban by supporting the Northern Alliance, which was the side that fought for America in our war against the Taliban (and Al-Qaida). It was our entry into Iraq that caused a proxy war to begin with Iran, but that is another story for another time.

Second, the terrorists who have attacked America (and other countries) have never once used a weapon of mass destruction, nor has anyone ever fired a nuclear weapon at a civilian population. Well, with one notable exception. In essence, this grand fear of a nuclear strike by Iran or North Korea is nothing more than a doomsday scenario used to frighten people. In fact, the reality is that the tools used to terrorize us were common commercial airliners and box cutters. Nuclear weapons, ballistic missiles, and biological weaponry are a red herring, and sadly one easily swallowed up by the masses. Ironically the last time America was attacked, the enemy used kamikaze tactics on our naval base at Pearl Harbor as well.

Fear. Loathing. Paranoia. These are lasting legacies from September 11. Those who would manipulate public opinion know that we are so obsessed with our security that we will willingly give up a little freedom, and in so doing lose both. Like Pavlov’s dog, we have been conditioned to fear that which we do not know and turn a blind eye to the truth so that fear can prevail. A perfect example of this is how we willingly allow the story to be molded for us, with people actually believing that the Islamic State is planning mass infiltration of the US by coming across the unguarded Mexican border. The uncomfortable truth is that none of the 9-11 terrorists snuck into this country, they were all here legally. Or this myth that it is forces outside America that threaten our freedom. With the greatest military in the world, there is little chance of any nation daring to come across our oceans and attempt to wrest away our much vaunted, often absent, liberty.

Terrorists win when they terrorize us, causing us to change our entire life out of fear of another attack. It has been 14 years since 19 thugs pulled off the greatest game changer in American history, taking us from the land of the free to a land of heightened security. We have fought a war on terrorism for 14 years, losing thousands of American lives and trillions of dollars in the process and yet continue to live in a heightened state of fear, raising the question what exactly have we accomplished with this war? Being someone who prefers to look forward, I would rather ask – where do we go from here to honor our heroes with true freedom?

If we truly want to be the land of the free, it is time to take away the fear. Let people travel without the discomfort of a million eyes watching them at all times, with TSA agents probing and prodding your belongings. In fact, we should go back to the America documented in a million Hollywood movies, where you could greet your loved ones at the very gates of the plane with signs and flowers. Let’s stop allowing the government or private corporations to spy on our every move, tracking each citizen as though we are all criminals. Wouldn’t it be amazing just to drive down the road again without wondering if a government van was recording your cell phone conversation? Let’s stop continuously beating the drums of war, especially when the war is far away and has little to do with us, enough American lives have been lost. Finally, let’s put away the fear and paranoia that makes us the world’s police officer. It is time to turn our eyes inward, to reflect on what freedom truly means within our own borders, to accept that we have enemies but refuse to allow them to change us, and to honor the legacy of our heroes in a post 9-11 world by saying to the world, our government, and our people that we are free, and we are not afraid.

Then and only then will we honor America’s heroes that laid down their lives on the altar of freedom; then and only then will September 11 truly become the day we stopped looking back and turned our eyes to a brighter future.