As is doubtless the case with most every American,
ten years of time has failed to extinguish my memory of the horrific events of
September 11th, 2001.
I remember my mother telling me of the attacks on
New York and Washington when she woke me up that morning. I remember pensively
driving to high school and standing in awe with my classmates as we watched the
World Trade Center towers collapse just before the school day began. I remember
the surreal experience of going from class to class and watching each teacher
attempt to walk the tight rope trying to decide whether to continue with the
planned curriculum or stand down to simply discuss the day's events. I remember
the eerie and seemingly unending silence of a sky devoid of aircraft.
Without a doubt, any American who lived through that
day would have no difficulty recounting his or her personal experiences from
that late summer day a decade ago, whether those experience were—like mine—removed,
distant, and sheltered, or tragically were much more first hand. As a nation,
we have made quite good on our vow never to forget the events of that day.
We have also done well in remembering and honoring
those who lost or gave their lives that day or in the years since. Thousands
died needlessly that morning, for no other reason than being in the wrong place
at the wrong time. Many more gave their lives in the hours, days, and weeks
that followed, attempting to save as many of these innocent victims as
possible. Still more have died over the last decade, defending our country and
our way of life while fighting for specific military objectives with which
perhaps they themselves did not agree. The value in honoring the memory and sacrifice
of these brave and unfortunate Americans is unquestionable.
However, while we as a nation have done so
splendidly remembering this tragedy and honoring those lost and affected, we
have all too quickly forgotten two extremely valuable lessons we learned that
day at tremendous cost. Firstly, the events of September 11th proved
unequivocally that the cavalier bravado of America's leadership on the
international stage rubs a good many the wrong way, even to the extent of
putting our citizens at great risk. Secondly, the experience showed that
Americans can band together as a unified force in the face of great adversity.
To the first point, while no American would condone
the attacks on our nation, a good many were willing to admit that in some way,
we as a nation and a people may have been somewhat responsible for creating the
resentment that ultimately bore these terrible acts. This is a lesson that we
have apparently forgotten.
The military "accomplishments" that America has
realized since that infamous day—namely the removal of Sadaam Hussein and Osama
bin Laden from power—are somewhat debatable in their ultimate utility. However,
the heavy-handed means used to bring these dubious ends to bear are
questionable at best. Furthermore, the raucous,
celebratory, and vindictive reaction of the majority of Americans to the news
of the deaths of Hussein and bin Laden has surely done little to improve the
international perspective of our nation.
To the second point, while the image of the smoking
and crumbling twin towers is forever seared in the national memory, we seem to
have dismissed some other powerful images from that day which should have
proven equally if not even more influential. People everywhere began to wave
and display the red white and blue, strangers dropped their biases and
preconceptions and helped one another without hesitation, and Democrats and
Republicans set aside bitter political disputes and stood hand-in-hand on the steps
of the Capitol singing God Bless America.
For a time, everyone was decidedly cooperative, happy to be alive, and proud to
If this sentiment had lasted, America could have
wrested something truly wonderful from one of its darkest days. However, the
speed with which this positive by-product dissolved back into "normalcy" is
arguably nearly as tragic as everything else we as a country lost that day. Ten
years later, the average American is just as introverted as he or she was on September
10th, 2001—perhaps more so. Distrust runs rampant as there are perhaps
more people today who believe our own government perpetrated these attacks on
its own people to justify a military invasion in pursuit of natural resources
than believe NASA faked the Apollo 11 moon landing. But maybe worst of all,
political animosity is arguably at an all-time high, when we need cooperation
more than ever.
Bitter and illogical, almost childish disputes
between politicians nearly caused a government shutdown months ago as leaders
from both parties held thousands of federal employees hostage by refusing to
pass a national budget more in an effort to prove a point to their opposition
than out of any genuine concern over the terms of the proposed compromise. The
economy is in shambles, but politicians are more concerned with attacking their
supposed adversaries than working toward solutions that could help the
constituents who invested faith in them by voting them into office.
The problems facing America today are daunting, but
they become nearly insurmountable when we as a country are spending more time
fighting each other than banding together to fight them. As we pause to reflect
on the tenth anniversary of one of our country's darkest hours, let us also
remember the positive lessons that emerged from that tragic day. Our inability as
a nation to retain these lessons has been sorely disappointing, but the good
news is it's not too late to dust them off and use them to our best advantage
Keep the Faith!
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