9-11, 20 years later

It has been 20 years since a double handful of terrorists, 19 in all, carried out the most vicious and cruel attack on America that we have ever seen. They hijacked four jetliners and turned them into weapons, caring nothing for the lives of those on board. Two planes crashed into the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York. One crashed into the Pentagon. The fourth, heading back to Washington, was crashed into a Pennsylvania farm field when the passengers on board heroically rose up to take back the plane. That prevented it from destroying its intended target. Whether it was the White House or the U.S. Capitol, no one knows.

Nearly 3,000 people were killed. The devastating attack stunned and shocked the U.S. and the rest of the world. For a moment, we were united in our grief and anger. We supported President George W. Bush in his retaliatory attack on Afghanistan to rout out al-Quaida. A host of allies joined us. We were united in one purpose as we had not been since World War II.

Today, as we look back, we don’t have much of that unity left. In some ways, the attack has taken its toll. We are much more security conscious. Airports have become labyrinths of checkpoints and security gates.

We are more aware than ever that we are targets for terror attacks from groups like al-Qaida. Twenty years later, Muslims in the U.S. deal with the suspicion and hostility. We have buttoned up our borders, not trusting anyone who wants to come here, it seems.

Wariness, suspicion and hostility has pervaded our politics, our culture, even our public health system. We are not just suspicious of foreign threats, but our own fellow citizens who don’t agree with our views.

We could use some of that post 9-11 unity today. We will hold services and ceremonies, ring church bells, read out the names of those who died and remember the courage of the 400 or so New York police and firefighters who died trying to save people, and the passengers aboard Flight 93 who fought back against their hijackers.

As we do, let us also remember that feeling of solidarity, that unity of purpose and that determination that America would remain strong in that unity. We should not let the divisions that split us today overtake the essential idea that we are the UNITED States of America.


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