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LOSING THE WAR AFTER 13 YEARS
By Joe Brancatelli
September 11, 2014 --Thirteen years to the day after the 2001 attacks downed four passenger aircraft and slaughtered nearly 3,000 people, it is hard not to conclude that the terrorists have won.

And that's not just because another president went on television last night to give another speech about another crisis that requires us to fight another amorphous terrorist group that poses another existential threat to our way of life.

We've lost. You and me, business travelers everywhere and civilized human beings from Maine to California, from London to Timbuktu, from northwest China to the Middle East to Southeast Asia. The goal of a terrorist is to make us fear living our everyday lives. And live in fear we do. If not fear of the terrorists themselves, then fear of the things we do to fight against those who commit atrocities on innocents.

When was the last time you went to the airport not dreading the time you will spend at a TSA checkpoint? The security kabuki is ridiculous at best, almost always demeaning and sometimes criminal. It's especially absurd when you realize that an ISIS fighter killed in Syria last month once worked at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. He even had a security clearance to clean planes.

Been through a major rail terminal lately and seen National Guardsmen toting weapons? Back in the day, I used to arrive at international airports or overseas train terminals and shake my head in disbelief because there was a conspicuous military presence. Now I see it whenever I pass through Grand Central Terminal, in my own hometown of New York, and never think twice about it.

Been to a ballgame lately? America's national pastime quivers in fear at the thought that anyone with a gun and a grievance can take us down. Clear, the original trusted-traveler program, now offers biometric fast-lane entry to San Francisco Giants games. By next season, every major league team must be equipped with airport-like magnetometers or hand-held metal detectors.

I am no innocent. I have traveled on business for 35 years and terrorism has always been a part of it. I used to write about how smart companies sent their international travelers on Swissair because no one hated the Swiss. Now every flight every day everywhere in the world is a target. Even if you make it to your destination without being blown up, you might be kidnapped and held for ransom or beheaded. Or maybe someone will bomb your hotel.

I am not ignorant of history. Terrorism is an age-old tool. The Nazis used it. Zionists fighting for the modern state of Israel used it. The history of Ireland is all about terrorism. There was terrorism against the Russian czars and Ottoman Empire. John Brown used terror tactics in his fight against slavery and the Klu Klux Klan was founded after we cast off slavery. In 1954, Puerto Rican nationalists opened fire inside the House of Representatives and injured a handful of congressmen.

But if I'm not innocent or ignorant, I may be naive. I honestly thought we'd have done better by now, been smarter, acted more wisely.

Yet people still give a platform to former Vice President Dick Cheney so he can conflate the 9/11 attacks with the invasion of Iraq. Former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani is still called a terrorism expert even though he built New York City's emergency-response center in the the World Trade Center complex after it was bombed in 1993. Bush Administration apologists still insist that elections in some far-off lands we once occupied equals democracy. As recently as January, President Obama dismissed ISIS as a "jayvee team."

And, please, no bleatings about how terrorism is all about Muslims and political correctness blinds Americans to that reality. Try selling that doggerel to the families of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, shot down over Eastern Ukraine by terrorists supported and armed by the Russian government. Try using the "it's about the Muslims" line to the families of the people killed by Basque separatists. Or why not get a clue and visit to the Oklahoma City National Memorial & Museum and reflect on the 168 people who died there in 1995 when a couple of Americans, angry with the federal government, pulled off a devastating attack.

Thirteen years to the day after the 9/11 attacks and we're still nowhere on terrorism. TSA agents with phony badges mindlessly paw our carry-ons. The land of the free and home of the brave employs secret courts. And our cable-news networks go into breathless, wraparound coverage when a private plane crashes into the sea. Because, you know, terrorism...

We don't even talk about this stuff anymore because it's all so depressing. We've spent a baker's dozen of years on bended knee covering our eyes and our ears and our mouths. Meanwhile, the most ridiculous things become commonplace.

How many countries has Arizona Sen. John McCain advocated that we attack lately? So many that my friend, the writer Mark Evanier, could jokingly tweet that "NBC announces new format for Meet the Press: No host...just John McCain each week announcing a new country we have to bomb."

Or how about this? Scotland goes to the polls next Thursday to decide if it wants to become independent of the United Kingdom. It's an honorable exercise of democracy. Yet successful independence depends on Scotland's admission to the European Union and some pundits say Scotland could be blocked by Spain, Romania or even Belgium, nations that fear their own separatist movements could turn to terrorism.

It's 13 years to the day since the 9/11 terrorism attacks and the World Trade Center, the fulcrum of it all, has largely been rebuilt. There's a museum and a memorial, new office buildings and a Transportation Hub.

But we're going nowhere. Thirteen years to the day since the 9/11 terrorism attacks and we are, physically and emotionally, exhausted. We have no answers, no ideas, no intelligent discussion and, it seems, no hope.

And that means the terrorists have won. They wanted to disrupt our lives and make us afraid. They succeeded beyond their wildest, most violent and most twisted dreams.

ABOUT JOE BRANCATELLI Joe Brancatelli is a publication consultant, which means that he helps media companies start, fix and reposition newspapers, magazines and Web sites. He's also the former executive editor of Frequent Flyer and has been a consultant to or columnist for more business-travel and leisure-travel publishing operations than he can remember. He started his career as a business journalist and created JoeSentMe in the dark days after 9/11 while he was stranded in a hotel room in San Francisco. He lives on the Hudson River in the tourist town of Cold Spring.

THE FINE PRINT This column is Copyright 2014 American City Business Journals. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission. JoeSentMe.com is Copyright 2014 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved.