On a perfect Tuesday morning, fifteen years ago today, nearly 3,000 people were assassinated by agents of evil in Virginia, New York, and a Pennsylvania field. Their only crime was going about their daily business. Our word stopped for days as details about the horrific attacks came to light. We all remember what we were doing when we heard the incomprehensible news.
More than 400 law enforcement officers (LEOs) and first responders—who see us at our worst and give us their best—died running toward, not away, from danger. We can never forget the images of mounds of mangled emergency apparatus, nor the lines of waiting ambulances that were never needed. The dirge of funereal bagpipes became the music of our sorrow.
We mourned with a single heart, heedless of color, creed, or national origin, crying together for the lost lives, and the innocence of our country. Old Glory was everywhere and treated with love. We still cannot fathom the hate that inspired Islamic terrorists to carry out these vile acts.
Our sons and daughters joined our all-volunteer military to vanquish an elusive but lethal enemy. We honor their service and sacrifice—even Boomers who spit on those returning from Viet Nam found their manners—but less than one half of one percent of our population wears the uniform.
We cried and eventually returned to a new normal, refusing to cower in fear, yet anxiously looking over our shoulders.
America today is a different place.
The war to vanquish those who would do us harm has dragged on for most of a generation with no real end in sight. Our kids come home with dreadful wounds, visible and hidden to be slighted by a badly broken Veteran’s Administration.
The LEOs we honored and respected after 9/11 are now, in some quarters, fair game for the disenchanted. We are more divided than ever.
We thought taking the fight “to them” would protect our homeland. Then came attacks at Fort Hood, San Bernardino, and Orlando that were echoed in Europe. We endure intrusive airport security screenings by TSA agents who all seem to be foreigners, and pray that any bad guys are on another flight. Some argue the remedy for the violence is to ban guns, others to arm citizens to defend themselves.
We can’t help wonder if that woman in the burka at the grocery story is buying food for her children, or cooking for a local terror cell. We want to give everyone the benefit of the doubt, to believe that there is good in all people, but justifiably fear being victimized for our generosity.
Free speech, one of the bedrocks of American culture, has come under attack on college campuses, where all points of view used to be welcome. For people to govern themselves—the revolutionary notion that set American apart from the rest of the world—differing, sometimes distressing, viewpoints must be shared and discussed to arrive at consensus. Dictatorships crush dissent, democracies embrace it and that must not change.
We remember the devastation at the Pentagon and in lower Manhattan though it has been repaired and rebuilt. The field in Pennsylvania will forever honor the souls who rest there.
America has found its way back from dark times before and we will again. God bless America.