I recently finished General (Ret) Michael Hayden’s book, Playing to the Edge. He has also been making the rounds on television as well promoting the book and offering his thoughts on the current presidential campaign, so I’ve gotten a lot of Michael Hayden lately. I’ve come to really appreciate what seems to me a very reasonable approach to security, policy, and politics from him. He comes off as extremely thoughtful and a true critical thinker.
Anyway, the book takes the reader through Hayden’s career, the bulk of it during his time as the director of the NSA and CIA. There was a passage where he describes a sign in one of the headquarters buildings (I don’t remember if it was NSA or CIA) that read, simply:
“Today is September 12, 2001.”
It was simple, but striking. If you were an adult on 9/12/2001, it’s hard to overstate how that felt. The sign is designed to stoke the fire that burned in those days and months directly after the September 11th attacks.
I found myself feeling ambivalent about the sign. On one hand, I can see the utility of stoking that fire, especially long after the event when complacency sets in. On the other, is there not some value in moving away from that fire over time? Is an action we may have taken on 9/12/2001 as appropriate as on 9/12/2016?
It’s just one of those things that gets me thinking.