Thomas E. Franklin/The Bergen Record
For many Americans, the unimaginable images of 16 years ago today are burned into our national fabric, never to be forgotten.
Those searing memories of mass death and destruction resulted from coordinated attacks by the Islamic terrorist group al-Qaeda aboard four hijacked airliners.
Two hijacked jets toppled the Twin Towers of New York’s World Trade Center while a third slammed into the Pentagon in Arlington County, Virginia. Aboard the fourth hijacked plane, which initially changed course toward Washington, D.C., passengers bravely fought the terrorists and the plane crashed into a vacant field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania.
In all, the attacks killed 2,997 people, injured more than 6,000 others, and caused at least $10 billion in infrastructure and property damage. The deaths tragically included more than 325 responding law enforcement officers and nearly 100 firefighters.
The 9/11 legacy, however, goes far beyond the attacks. It rattled our national consciousness, our sense of security and it changed our lives in ways we previously took for granted. A generation of children born that year are now teenagers entering their final years of high school, about to enter adulthood in a world far different than before their birth. They have never experienced our nation at peace.
What they have seen is that the attacks spurred the War on Terrorism, which continues to this day, the longest war in our history. They have learned the 9/11 events also spawned increases in hate crimes, overarching government surveillance and profiling. They have observed that as the war progressed it created bitter political partisanship and has cost billions of tax dollars. They have watched as it’s divided those who believe the money should have been spent to cure deep domestic ills with those who say the far-away fighting is protecting our freedom, security and values.
As citizens and taxpayers, we must consider it all as we try to set a positive example for the future. While we need to oppose those who engage in hate and violence and uphold the principles our nation was founded upon, we must always hold government directly accountable when it oversteps or misleads.
Importantly, we must also never forget the pain and loss of life from 9/11, and we must never lose sight of the incredible heroism and sacrifice it provoked or the national unity that surfaced in its wake. On that day and those that immediately followed, we weren’t Democrats and Republicans, we weren’t divided by race and cultural issues. We unified as one nation, people helping people, sacrificing when necessary, all Americans.
It’s not the first time we’ve had that national unity, and it won’t be our last. It’s in our blood and dates to our nation’s birth. It heroically rises like the American flag hoisted by three firefighters at ground zero in the 9/11 aftermath, and it proudly flies like the Star-Spangled Banner over Fort McHenry in Baltimore 203 years ago this week during the War of 1812.
Each time our freedom is threatened, and whenever the country or a region suffers a calamity, Americans always respond. The outpouring of national support for the victims of hurricanes Katrina, Sandy and Harvey provides recent examples. Our history is filled with countless others.
What we must do is to continue to learn from these lessons. They teach us all that our strength as a country is in our unity, not in our divisiveness.