Many have forgotten what happened on Sept. 12

Published 7:57 pm Tuesday, September 10, 2019


The Advocate-Messenger

Eighteen years ago today, terrorists flew two commercial airplanes into the World Trade Center towers in New York City; crashed a third plane into the Pentagon; and attempted to target Washington, D.C., with a fourth plane, but were thwarted by passengers who crashed it instead in a field in Pennsylvania.

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The Sept. 11 attacks galvanized an entire nation, led to multiple wars and changed the fabric of American society forever. In some ways, the terrorists who led the attacks achieved their goals — they killed thousands of Americans. They decimated cultural progress in their home countries by instigating conflicts with the U.S. that continue to devastate families and communities.

But we believe on the whole, they failed miserably. They united a nation that had been divided. They hoped to spawn only more evil acts of retribution out of their initial evil acts, but were instead countered with countless examples of selfless heroism and volunteerism.

The bad that came out of that day was mitigated, if not matched, by the good that came in response.

Do you think the same would happen today?

We’d love to offer a resounding “yes.” We’d love to say that America learned its lessons and has only grown stronger since Sept. 11, 2001. We’d love to say that while it’s infinitely harder for the same attack to happen again, even if it did somehow happen, Americans stand more ready than they’ve ever been to support each other and neutralize evil with love.

But we can’t say that. In fact, we fear if a similar attack happened today, our response as a nation would be worse than it was 18 years ago.

We have not just condemned our political opponents; we have dehumanized them. We have not just given up on empathy, compassion and forgiveness; we have forgotten the definitions. We have not just retreated further into our personal bubbles of belief; we have abandoned critical thinking.

We overcame an enormous tragedy after the planes hit the towers. We defeated evil. But we’ve allowed a very different and perhaps worse evil to overtake our nation in the years since.

Far too many of us spend every day hating our fellow men and women. We stare zombified at our iPhones — which didn’t exist when 9/11 happened, by the way — over-consuming media from only the sources we agree with. We spiral deeper and deeper into fear-based, apocalyptic world views that look less and less like the world we all saw on Sept. 12, 2001.

Fear has driven much of the change. Politicians have used fear to turn off our brains. They have corralled us into radicalized political camps that can be counted on to get angry, and to vote for the politicians who made them angry, and not much else.

Ironically, fear is exactly what the 9/11 terrorists wanted to spark. They hoped fear would spread across the country like a wildfire and we would destroy ourselves from the inside.

They utterly failed. But it seems like we might be doing a better job of it ourselves.