On September 11, 2001, Americans were reminded of two things—the dangers of terrorism and the greatness of the United States.
The dangers of terrorism were evident in the phone calls various passengers made to their loved ones when they realized the very planes aboard which they were flying had been hijacked. The dangers were also evident in the twisted and smoking remains of the World Trade Center towers, the Pentagon, and a field in rural Pennsylvania.
In all these places, American lives were lost—nearly 3,000 in all—and the United States momentarily appeared vulnerable, if not weak.
But a strange thing happened on the way to cowering and surrendering in the days that followed the attacks: namely, Americans of almost all political stripes united and a sleeping giant was awakened for a time.
We went from staring at our televisions in disbelief to uniting on our core beliefs and sending our military to find those who had committed these acts against us.
This focus was exemplified by President George W. Bush in his famous bullhorn speech delivered on the rubble of the World Trade Center, just days after the attack: “I can hear you, the rest of the world hears you, and the people who knocked these buildings down will hear from all of us soon.”
In this, the greatness of the United States was shining through. And the world could see that terrorists might knock down our buildings and steal the lives of thousands of our citizens, yet they could not steal our ideals or our love for country.
America has always rested on something greater than the differences that exist between her various citizens, something which transcends the diversity of each particular generation, allowing them to shake hands across the decades: thus the motto, E Pluribus unum.
We forget this so easily that it took an unprecedented attack on our homeland in 2001 to remind us it’s true.
On this eleventh anniversary of the September 11, 2001 attacks, we need to remember the Americans we lost—the fathers and mothers, brothers and sisters, and sons and daughters who perished aboard hijacked planes, or climbing stairwells in the World Trade Center, or sitting at their desks at the Pentagon. Yet as we remember these, we must also remember that America’s greatness, recovered for a time amidst the smoldering rubble, is not a thing of the past.
We need to search out again the aspects of our tangible foundation which transcend our personal or political differences, and upon finding them we need to cling to them tightly.
And while it shouldn’t take attacks that cost 3,000 American lives to remind us the United States is a shining city on a hill, the attacks are a reality. Therefore, part of our response to them needs to be a renewed and ongoing attempt to understand the foundations on which this “Shining City” rests.
May God bless the United State of America and the families of those who perished eleven years ago.
Alan Sears, a former federal prosecutor in the Reagan Administration, is president and CEO of the Alliance Defending Freedom, a legal alliance employing a unique combination of strategy, training, funding, and litigation to protect and preserve religious liberty, the sanctity of life, marriage, and the family.