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Opinion: We must find resolve and unity we had after 9/11 if America is to shine bright again
9/11 flag
A flag is hung outside a store window near Times Square on Sept. 14, 2001, after the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City. - photo by Associated Press

Everywhere you looked Friday, there were reminders of Sept. 11, 2001, the day terrorists attacked the United States and killed thousands. Newspapers, television, social media, radio, podcasts – all reminded us of the heavy toll paid on that sad day 19 years ago.

The memories are vivid for all who are old enough to remember. The towers crumbling, the billowing smoke, the Pentagon, the field into which an airliner crashed, first responders rushing to help, faces of confusion, loss, pain, anguish. So much pain and suffering, so many families in torment, so much death and destruction.

A common theme for Friday, and for each of the previous anniversaries of that dark day, was that “we shall not forget.” And most of us never will.

But even as we collectively remember the events of 9/11, you have to wonder if, as a nation, we also still remember the days and weeks following the attack; if we can call to mind the spirit of unity, the love for country, the joining of hands and hearts and minds for all of those proud to call themselves Americans into a unified community, standing strong against the evil of the world.

Just fewer than 20 years later, that sense of unity, patriotism, community and brotherly love seems sorely lacking in much of our daily discourse.

Times editorial board

Staff members

  • Norman Baggs, general manager

  • Shannon Casas, editor in chief

Community members

  • Cheryl Brown

  • David George

  • Mandy Harris

  • Brent Hoffman

  • J.C. Smith

  • Tom Vivelo

Nineteen years ago, we were rolling up our sleeves and standing in line for hours to donate blood for those in need; today, some of us find reasons not to do something as simple as donning a mask to protect others from disease.

Nineteen years ago, we extolled the praises of first responders — police, fire, EMTs, rescue workers — who put their own lives in danger time and again to save others; today, there are a few of us who set fire to emergency vehicles in the streets, make broad accusations against officers of the law, and hold first responders in contempt rather than in awe.

Nineteen years ago we stood side-by-side, people of various skin tones, ethnic backgrounds, religions and economic classes, unified by our belief in the American way of life and proud of the country in which we live; today, we argue over which lives matter and which lives don’t, who deserves to make money and who does not, who should be free to worship and who should not, whose freedoms should be protected and whose should be forfeited.

Nineteen years ago, we were able to hold different political beliefs yet respect the opinions of others; today, we ridicule, dismiss, “cancel” and hate those with whom we disagree.

We promise never to forget the tragedy of that horrid day, yet we live our lives today as though there were no lessons learned in the aftermath worthy of remembering.

How many people do you think posted to social media on Friday promising never to forget, just to scroll down and offer words of hatred on a conversation about race, or politics, or immigration, or social need, or religious belief?

Remembering what happened to our nation in an attack by terrorists is not enough. We have to also remember the lessons learned from that attack, and how, working together under the concept of belief in a way of life, we rebounded, recovered and overcame.

The lessons of Sept. 11 are not just those of wanton, senseless destruction, but also of a commonality of belief in our country and its people, faith in our fellow man, the strengths of being united as opposed to the weakness of division. While we remember the pain of the destruction, we too easily forget the emotion, character and strength that emerged in its aftermath.

It is not enough for us to be united in defense of our way of life against others. We must also be united against destruction from within, from division that sows seeds of rancor and hatred.

After the attacks, President George W. Bush spoke to the nation and said:

“A great people has been moved to defend a great nation. Terrorist attacks can shake the foundations of our biggest buildings, but they cannot touch the foundation of America. These acts shatter steel, but they cannot dent the steel of American resolve. America was targeted for attack because we're the brightest beacon for freedom and opportunity in the world. And no one will keep that light from shining. Today, our nation saw evil -- the very worst of human nature -- and we responded with the best of America.”

The challenges of the current year have made it easy to forget the unity of 2001. This year has been marred by missteps in handling of an international pandemic; an election year spiraling down to the lowest possible gutter politics; civil strife leading to armed confrontation, violence and death; strident, discordant, accusatory debate over faith, freedoms, human rights. It has been a while since we were witness to “the best of America.”

Nineteen years ago, we banded together against enemies from outside our country. We can use that same resolve and strength to end the divisiveness that threatens us from within. Our nation is worth fighting for. That lesson, too, is worth remembering.

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