At some point Friday, maybe many points, the vast majority of us will find ourselves recalling those horrifying moments 14 years ago when we realized our world had changed. It’s unavoidable.
Some of us will attend services to remember the brave firefighters, police officers and others who rushed into the smoking buildings, not out. Others will grieve those lost on airliners commandeered and turned into weapons then sent crashing into New York City’s twin towers, the Pentagon and one, because of the passengers’ bravery, into a Pennsylvania meadow. Some of us will find tears welling in our eyes upon hearing the determined words, “Let’s roll.”
Anyone who has visited the Freedom Tower in New York City has paused, perhaps in silence, to read some of the names on the black granite monuments. People of all religions, ethnicities, genders and ages died in those buildings. Their names are carved into waist-high blocks, formed in squares resembling the foundations of the towers. It is a fitting monument; somber, moving, inspiring, appropriate. More than a million people visited it within the first three months of its opening last year.
This date will forever carry tragic significance for Americans. And it should. None of us who lived through those moments, even the breadth of a continent away, will ever forget the horror, the sense of loss, the stunned inability to comprehend what was happening.
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What followed provided, perhaps, one of the most truly inspiring and uplifting moments in our living history. Americans reacted as one. We pulled together. We set aside our grief, and put everything we could into digging away the rubble from that site – first in hopes of finding survivors, then in obligation to the dead. We vowed to bring justice to those who had perpetrated this heinous, indiscriminate, cowardly attack.
His reaction to Sept. 11 defined George W. Bush’s presidency, both his inspiring performance in the days following and his tragic fumbling of the strategy to respond.
Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney took us down a dead-end path, pursuing a despot whose overambitious grasping had provoked a previous confrontation. Unfortunately, Iraq had nothing to do with the attacks. The effect of our misguided war on Iraq was to destabilize the entire Middle East and likely is responsible for the current problems we face – empowering Iran, emboldening Syria’s dictator and allowing terrorists to gain footholds throughout the region.
Our friends in Saudi Arabia and Israel do not approve of our nuclear weapons deal with Iran. Meanwhile, millions flee Syria and the brutal Islamic State. We wonder how many more refugees Germany, France, Austria and the rest of Europe can accommodate? We must be willing to help bear that burden; President Barack Obama’s call to make room for 10,000 was a good start. But only a start.
We do not want to see more photos like the one of a 3-year-old boy, lying face down on a beach, dead after the boat carrying him and dozens more refugees to Greece capsized.
As we remember the tragedy we saw on 9/11, we also should recall the great heroism we witnessed that day and the days that followed. We should remember the connection we felt to Americans everywhere; the desire to help, the determination to remain strong. By reliving those moments, perhaps we can make those other, inevitably sad memories more bearable.