Remember the national unity following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks?
The United States was shocked at the horror that unfolded at the hands of 19 Muslim fanatics. Four airliners were hijacked. Two destroyed the World Trade Center Twin Towers in New York. A third crashed into the Pentagon just outside Washington, D.C., and a fourth dived into a field in southwestern Pennsylvania after the passengers forced their way into the cockpit. That plane was likely headed to the White House or Capitol in Washington.
Nearly 3,000 people were killed.
A few days later, members of Congress — Democrats and Republicans united — gathered on the Capitol steps to sing “God Bless America.”
“We stood together here at the Capitol to show our solidarity with one another, with the victims, and with the rest of a nation stunned but not silenced by the face of evil,” Republican Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said. “Our hearts were broken, but our spirits were not. And united in purpose, we resolved to confront those who had done these things, even as we comforted the families and friends of those to whom they were done.”
Most of the rest of the world also stood with the United States after the hate-based al-Qaida attacks.
Sadly, the unity dissolved fairly quickly. The terrorist attacks, unquestionably, significantly changed America.
There was wide support as the United States launched military action against the al-Qaida network in Afghanistan in 2001. In March 2003, the U.S. began what turned out to be a terribly divisive war in Iraq, which had nothing to do with 9/11.
The cost of the two wars has surged well past $1 trillion.
The past few years the country has battled a severe recession. The causes are much more complex than the costs of fighting two wars, but that’s always in the background as the nation moves to revive its economy.
The terrorists struck at symbols of the United States’ economic and military power in hitting the World Trade Center and Pentagon and pushed the nation to a place it had never been before.
The United States and Soviet Union, for example, survived decades in the “Cold War” in a nuclear world partly because of the notion of assured mutual destruction if either side moved to attack. Now the U.S. enemy is not countries but relatively small bands of terrorists who can be based virtually anywhere and consider giving their lives for their sick cause a virtue.
American life now includes the Department of Homeland Security, the Patriot Act and heightened airport security. There have been debates over how much privacy Americans can expect in their day-to-day lives.
Part of the 2004 presidential election focused on whether President George W. Bush or challenger John Kerry served their country admirably during their young adult lives.
Even one of the nation’s founding principles — religious freedom — is an issue in the wake of that tragic day nine years ago.
“As Americans we are not — and never will be — at war with Islam,” President Barack Obama said Saturday. “It was not a religion that attacked us that September day — it was al-Qaida, a sorry band of men which perverts religion.”
The nation will never go back to what it was before the 9/11 attacks. Terrorists that day proved the homeland was vulnerable, and without an incredible level of vigilance they can and will strike again.
What we can hope for is that America can again unite for the common good.
“While Sept. 11 will always bring to mind feelings of sadness and anger, it will also serve to remind us of the special bond we share as Americans — how we put our differences aside and courageously came together as one nation to face this great test of our resilient union,” West Virginian Sen. Jay Rockefeller said on the ninth anniversary of the terrorist attacks.
“As West Virginians, we have faced our fair share of hardship, and we know how to take care of each other — and for that we are truly blessed.
“Today we look back — and we look forward. We thank those who keep us safe every day and we remember our fellow West Virginians and Americans who were lost — as we always strive toward a safer, stronger state and nation.”