The 20th anniversary of the al-Qaeda terrorist attacks on the United States is now a few days old. The news media was filled with stories, interviews, and opinions about the legacy of that fateful day. Social media was overflowing with images, audio clips, movies, and thoughts around how important it is to remember and “never forget” that terrible, devastating day.
Twenty years… they have gone by so fast. Once we paused to stop and think about it, it didn’t seem like that long ago. For at least one day, we almost seemed united in our hearts and minds about how we all felt all those years ago.
A lot has happened in the last 20 years. A lot of good and a lot of bad. While September 11 was one of the single most horrific days in American and world history, it did unite us as a country — as Americans. For all the fear, uncertainty, and heartbreak surrounding that day, we did come together as a nation. Republican or Democrat, black, white or other, male or female… whatever. None of it mattered.
It did not matter to the firefighters and police officers who instantly rushed to the World Trade Center after the planes crashed into the towers. It did not matter to the people who were desperately trying to help each other escape the impending doom of those two buildings. It did not matter to the brave passengers on United flight 93, who we determined to thwart the murderous intent of their hijackers. And it certainly did not matter to the al-Qaeda terrorists who conducted this diabolical attack on unsuspecting civilians.
There is a profound lesson in all of that: We are already forgetting.
A Very Different Place Than 20 Years Ago
We are, for better and for worse, not the same country we were 20 years ago. As poignant as all the reminders and memorials for September 11 are to me, I can’t neglect that we are split and fractured. This is very disturbing to me. We are polarized and angry at one another. We are not united.
We all demand tolerance and acceptance. Yet, the worst epidemic we are really facing is the lack of acceptance and the vitriol we have for everyone who does not think as we do.
In an effort to break down walls and barriers and in the name of “progress” we have created new and worse barriers. Lines are being drawn, and for each label that we claim we try to erase, we instead create two more. Dialogue is nonexistent and any form of alternate opinions or viewpoints are canceled and shut down.
In an effort to impede or prevent authoritarianism or fascism, we are ironically becoming more fascist. In an effort to build a “more perfect union” the union between us is less perfect than ever.
We are currently not a united group of states. Not in any way.
Are We Really So Different?
As Maya Angelou wrote in Human Family,
In minor ways we differ,
in major we’re the same.
I note the obvious differences
between each sort and type,
but we are more alike, my friends,
than we are unalike.
We are more alike, my friends,
than we are unalike.
I cannot ever read or hear that poem, and not be touched. I feel it. And just as this applies to our human family, it applies to our American family, even more. This is just an excerpt, of course, and it illustrates the point beautifully.
Many of our ancestors came here by choice and because they felt they had no other choice. And most regrettably, many of our ancestors came here with no choice at all. Yet, here we are. Together.
While I am painfully aware this might sound overly naive, dreamy, or out of touch, and old-fashioned, I simply don’t care. I am a true believer. I believe in this country and believe in the cause and framework laid by our Founding Fathers. I believe in it and have faith in its ability to make something better — for everyone. I believe in “We the People” and the potential of our people.
The Lesson of September 11
On the morning of September 11, Congress was evacuated from the Capitol Building for fear of more attacks. Later that night, when it appeared that everything was over, they all joined one another on the steps of the Capitol and sang “God Bless America.” Republicans and Democrats. All of them together in unison, side-by-side. It was perfect.
I think it’s probably pretty safe to say that that would not happen today. Not only would Congress not do anything side-by-side, but they also wouldn’t sing, and certainly not “God Bless America” as it would probably offend somebody. They wouldn’t even be able to agree on what song to sing without debates, bills, and split votes along party lines. Or, even if they should be seen side-by-side with those other people.
However, this is the lesson of September 11. Unity. The Union. Too many people have paid a terrible price for us to forget that lesson. Too many brave men and women — of all walks of life — have given too much for us to forget, and throw it all away. Is this idealistic? Absolutely.
As a military veteran, I took an oath. As a Soldier, I took that oath for everyone, for all the American people. I did not take that oath for some and not others. I did not choose to play my small part in American history to help create a “more perfect union” only for those that look like me, or think as I do.
Because, you see, that is exactly the point.
“We are more alike, my friends, than we are unalike.”
I believe there is more that unites us than divides us. We need to stop allowing ourselves to be divided.
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