Watching all the network specials and tributes to 9/11 proved something very powerful to me: I’ll never be “over it.” I thought I was. I thought I could look back on the event more objectively and easily critique the errors we made following that awful day. But to even attempt to do so means lying to myself.
Last week, for the first time in almost 10 years I watched the towers fall. I listened to the tales of widows, friends, and comrades as they recounted that day. I saw footage I’d never seen of firefighters running into the towers as others staggered out, and once again remembered the virtues of courage, sacrifice, and what it truly means to be a hero. And I cried. Just as hard as I had that day—maybe even more so because of what we’ve been through and where we are as a nation ten years later.
All the pain, all the frustration, all the hatred for those who did this to our nation broke out again. I truly remembered what I felt that day. But there was more; I can see how that day changed me, this country, and the world forever. It’s sad to think of how 9/11 united us, and the fall out has divided us, possibly more so than anytime since the Civil War.
It is always difficult, if not impossible, to vanquish fear and emotion and look at such an event rationally in the immediate aftermath. It is easy now to realize the mistakes our leaders made, but the tenth anniversary has allowed me to absolve some of those sins. It doesn’t necessarily justify all the actions of the past ten years by both the Bush and Obama administrations, but it puts them in context.
As president, the number one goal should be to protect the American people. People who believe President Bush didn’t feel the pain of those 2,977 deaths, or the deaths of the Soldiers he put in harms way in the War on Terror, are deluding themselves. So are those who think President Obama doesn’t care about the troops that have died in the past 3 years. President Obama has expanded the war into Pakistan, strengthened the Patriot Act, and kept Guantanamo open because he cares, and he never wants anything like 9/11 to happen again.
And I hope we have learned something else: another 9/11 will happen someday. Fortress America is no more. We need to adopt two traits: that of the “stiff upper lip” from the British, and taking the long view from the Chinese.
The “stiff upper lip” means continuing on in the face of adversity. Not that we Americans don’t, but we are prone to hysterics and our news media constantly tries to scare us with one deadly problem or another. We must realize that no person or group can destroy our country as long as we perceive and heed FDR’s warning: “The only thing to fear is fear itself.”
The other trait, taking the long view, is the more difficult of the two, especially in the internet age. Everything is immediate. We want information NOW. We want a reaction NOW. Sometimes we need to take a step back from events so we can sort out our emotions and act rationally. Sometimes we need to forgo immediate vengeance in order to make the best decision for the future of our well-being.
This not only goes for the events after 9/11, but to the predicaments we find ourselves in now. Rather than kick the can down the road, or do what looks good for re-election without solving, our problems, we need to do what is in the best long-term interest for this country, even if it means short term pain.
I hope that the tenth anniversary has given you time to reflect on everything that has happened. I hope it made you remember how you felt, and better understand why our leaders have done what they have done during the War on Terror. And I hope it helps us to remember to love our neighbors again. We’re all in this together and we need each other to succeed. United we stand, divided we fall is as true as ever.