This Saturday, America will pause and reflect on the events of Sept. 11, 2001. We will mourn and remember the lives lost and how our world changed in the attacks in New York City, in Washington, D.C., and in the skies above Pennsylvania.
If you were alive that day, you remember the shock even here at the end of the road as we woke up to confused reports of jets slamming into the World Trade Towers. Some of us were there that day, survivors of the attacks. Others lost family and friends. Many had lives disrupted as air travel shut down for days. Like Pearl Harbor, the assassination of President John F. Kennedy or the explosion of the Challenger space shuttle, no one alive in 2001 can forget Sept. 11.
As Homer teacher Duncan Wannamaker said then, “I told my class this morning, ‘You’ll remember where you were when you heard about this, just as my generation did when JFK was killed.’”
We remember something else about Sept. 11: On that day and in those weeks after, we came together as Americans. We sent rescue teams to New York and D.C. On country barns and from city apartments, everywhere we flew flags. Defiant, we pledged to hunt down Osama bin Laden and anyone who gave al-Qaida refuge, and we did. Our war against terrorists has been relentless, and through four presidents, we have made it clear that if you attack the United States or Americans, we will fight back.
Twenty years later, as we remember Sept. 11, we may be united in our memories and grief, but we are divided as a nation. How we became divided and who should be blamed will be a question for historians. All of us share some responsibility.
If you have ever scowled at someone just because they wear a MAGA hat or a Black Lives Matters T-shirt, you’re responsible. If you’ve accepted blindly a social media meme without questioning its source or truth, you’re responsible. If you close your social circles and minds only to those who echo your political beliefs, you’re responsible. If you’ve said someone is a traitor because they’re a Republican or Democrat, you’re responsible.
Our nation has become so divided that we even question how to respond to the public health emergency of the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic. We distrust doctors and health professionals and take our advice from people who have mastered social media but not medicine.
The events of Sept. 11 and the COVID-19 pandemic can be compared only partially. Sept. 11 shocked and horrified us because a singular group that hated us for nothing more than our nationality brought violence to the homeland. Three-thousand died and iconic tall buildings came crashing down.
The pandemic came about because of a freak of nature, a virus that bred perhaps out of ignorance in a Chinese lab leak or because several viruses combined or mutated and became something deadly. No nation directed the attack and all nations have suffered. More people will die of COVID-19 in three days then died on Sept. 11. The pandemic has killed 200 times more Americans than al-Qaida. COVID-19 did not arise out of hate, but it has killed and injured many more. Ignorance has made the suffering greater.
On this Sept. 11 we will raise flags again. We will remember where we were 20 years ago. We will remember the lost. We will never forget.
On Saturday, as we remember, perhaps we can strive to come together, and remember that which makes us great. United and determined, there is nothing America cannot accomplish. In the spirit of Sept. 11, may we rediscover that unity and end the pandemic.
– Michael Armstrong, Editor