To paraphrase the popular political question: Are we better off today than we were 11 years ago?
On this question, we can say unreservedly: Absolutely.
No one the age of discernment and of sound faculty on Sept. 12, 2001, can adequately explain the feelings that day. Fear, dread, sorrow, anger, compassion, loathing, patriotism and more were all dumped in a vat of anxious soup. It’s easy to forget how much was unknown then: who did this; how; why; who else might still attack and where; is anyone safe?
Then, on Sept. 18, came the frightful anthrax attacks through the mail on political and media leaders. Was this the 9-11 terrorists striking from beyond the grave? Their colleagues? An opportunistic domestic malcontent?
It all still rocks many of us to the core. The images are difficult to watch. The thought of being in those towers that day – looking up to see the nose of a plane outside your window, or choosing to jump to your death to escape the inferno – is too much even for the vivid human imagination.
Remember the hundreds of broken hearts and muddled minds wandering the streets of New York for days, desperately wondering where their husbands, wives, fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters were. In a hospital somewhere? In the debris that wouldn’t be cleaned up for months? Can you imagine the torment?
Perhaps the reason why we were caught so flat-footed by the 9-11 attacks is the fact that Americans have a hard time imagining the level of hatred that leads someone to commit such barbarity.
Today, we have lost much of the patriotic cohesion of the moment, and that’s sad. It shouldn’t require attacks on the homeland to bring the American family together.
But in almost every other way, we have risen from the ashes of 9-11, more determined to protect ourselves and, hopefully, more aware of our blessings. Especially as an all-volunteer military continues to give of its own lives to protect ours in the misbegotten country whence those attacks were hatched.
We’re hassled at the airport as never before, and it only takes one nutcase one bit of luck to strike again in some small way. But there can be no doubt that we have gone a long way toward routing the terrorists. We are still at risk, certainly. But we are safer and stronger today.
We’d love to add that the world has joined us in a comprehensive search for peace, a dedication that 9-11 would never be repeated – anywhere. Sadly, much of the world, while initially sympathetic, has largely gone about its way, foolishly thinking this was our fight alone. The United Nations not only has failed to fully seize upon the 9-11 attacks as a catalyst for peace, but has shown itself utterly impotent to prevent mass killings in Syria – because Russia and China are more attached to their dictator friends than to any notions of human peace or freedom.
All the more reason to appreciate how far we have come from the toxic smoke and emotional fog of those difficult days. And to remember those whose earthly journey ended that blue September Tuesday.
Todd Beamer, one of the heroes who rushed the cabin to prevent Flight 93 from being used as a fourth missile, famously exhorted his fellow travelers and heroes: “Let’s roll!”
We have, Todd. And we always will.