Friday, September 9, 2011

Yes, I'm posting about 9/11 today.

Since this is my last post of the week and I don't plan on making a post on Sunday to coincide with the actual date of the 10-year "anniversary" of the Pearl Harbor of the 21st century, I'm going to talk about 9/11 today.

Like everyone in this country who was old enough to be aware of what happened on Sept. 11th, 2001, I will never forget the images that I watched that day.  From seeing the entire unbelievable sequence of events unfolding live to the days and weeks of coverage afterwards.  New video footage coming in, new angles of the impacts, new perspectives from people who were in the towers and on the ground when it all happened.  I was asleep when our house phone rang, it was my father in-law telling us to wake up and put on our army boots because we're going to war.  Half-awake and confused, I had no idea what he was talking about, but he told me to turn on the tv and I would see for myself.  I got up, turned on the tv and saw one of the twin towers of the World Trade Center pouring smoke out of a hole in the side.  The news was still trying to decide if this was a horrible airline accident or a deliberate act of terrorism.  While I was watching, riveted, to the coverage and in the middle of the speculative conversation by the news reporters, a second plane struck the second tower.

At this point, there was no question this was an attack of the worst kind on America.  Not only were we undoubtedly under attack, but they were using our own planes, filled with innocent people, to carry it out.  It was almost unreal.  This is the type of thing you saw in movies, not actually playing out on live television.  I can't even explain the feeling that overcame me as I watched that second plane hit.  I say this as someone who was sitting in an apartment in Fresno when this happened.  It almost feels insulting to talk about my shock and horror at the unfolding events of 9/11, sitting safely in my living room on the other side of the country, when there were people in New York City - in those towers - who witnessed and lived through a nightmare that I couldn't possibly understand.  Still though, if my blood was like ice in my veins and I had chills running up and down my spine and all I could do was stare at my screen in shock and disbelief, then I can only imagine what it must have been like for the people of New York, at whom this attack was being directly targeted.

As the morning went on, images like this turned shock and horror into frustration and anger.  Seeing innocent people forced to leap to their deaths rather than burn to death or suffocate on choking smoke and no one being able to help them.  Seeing the shaken and disoriented people, covered in smoke and ash, staggering out of the towers or fleeing away from the WTC, the fact that this was clearly a deliberate and malicious attack made me angry.  It made me want answers, it made me want to see justice carried out.  For the people on those planes and in those towers and for their families and loved ones.

Then came the news that another plane had crashed into the Pentagon.  This was war!  America was under attack.  It wasn't just a terrorist attack on a symbol of America's economic strength, it was an attack on America itself.  They weren't just out to shock and intimidate us by taking out our biggest skyscraper, they were going after our nation's capital.  At this point, I felt like nowhere was safe.  Would there be a report coming next of a plane hitting the white house?  What about the west coast?  Would a plane be crashing into a building in the heart of Los Angeles?  Perhaps Chicago?  What was the full scope of this obviously well-orchestrated, large-scale terror attack?

It wouldn't be long before I got the answer to that question.  United flight 93 was reported downed in a field in Stoneycreek Township in PA.  Everyone on board was killed.  In what would be remembered as one of the most heroic acts of the 9/11 tragedy and a symbol of the resolve and sacrifice of the American people, a group of passengers on flight 93 took it upon themselves to rush the hijacked cockpit of the jetliner and bring it down before it could reach it's destination.  A destination which would have been the white house.

By now, I felt numb.  I had just seen 4 separate airline disasters carried out intentionally by a yet-unknown terrorist organization and there was no way of knowing whether this was it or not.  News agencies were speculating, military jets were scrambling, the country was frozen in time, waiting for some sense of what was going on, what to do next.

And then, nothing.

This fourth crash would be the last.  While it was thankfully unsuccessful in it's intent of taking out the white house, the other 3 attacks had done their job.  The Pentagon was apparently tougher than the hijackers had bargained for, it suffered relatively minor damage and low casualties.  As for the Twin Towers, though, the damage was devastating.

When the towers fell, I was again struck with a feeling that what I was seeing couldn't be real, even though I knew it was.  It was like a scene out of Independence Day or something, the kind of stuff you see in one of those over the top doomsday movies, not on live television.  The phrase "9/11 changed everything" has been thrown around and politicized so much that it almost doesn't even mean anything anymore, but when those towers fell, it absolutely changed everything in this country.  It was a sobering wake-up call that America was not immune to the devastating impact of foreign attack, that 60 years later, we were still susceptible to the same kind of shocking attack that we suffered at Pearl Harbor.

But it was also a reminder of something else.  Something incredible and inspiring.

It was a reminder that our nation is full of heroes.  Ordinary men and women who are capable of extraordinary things.  The brave and selfless actions of the NYFD and NYPD first-responders who rushed into those burning towers and saved as many innocent people as they could, often at the cost of their own lives, was the first and most powerful act of American heroism in the face of the 9/11 attacks.  These men and women didn't think about anything except doing their jobs, saving lives and giving as many families as possible the greatest gift they could have hoped for, the safe return of their loved ones.

The 9/11 first-responders are personally responsible for drastically reducing the loss of life that resulted from the attacks on the Twin Towers.  Many brave men and women gave their lives to accomplish that goal.  Many more gave their health.  The long-term affects of breathing in the smoke, fumes and toxic dust that poured from the towers and their subsequent wreckage have been devastating.  Not to mention the basic physical and psychological injuries these brave Americans sustained in the course of doing their jobs.  They risked everything and asked of nothing in return.  They did what they did not because they expected praise and accolades, but because it's simply what they do.  Firemen fight fires, emergency crews respond to emergencies, police protect and serve.  This wasn't a special circumstance, this was what they signed on for.  This was their job, their responsibility, their duty and they performed above and beyond the call of duty.

10 years later and much has changed.  10 years later and much has stayed the same.  Our country was forever changed on 9/11/01.  We entered into two wars, embarking on an open-ended and incredibly costly war on terror.  We created bigger, previously non-existent government in the form of the Department of Homeland Security and the TSA.  We passed unprecedented liberty-restricting legislation in the form of the ironically-named Patriot Act.  We entered into an era of fear, uncertainty, mistrust and suspicion.

Osama Bin Laden said that the goal of Al Qaeda in orchestrating the 9/11 attacks was to destabilize our country and bankrupt our economy.  He wanted to turn America against itself and create political and economic chaos.  Over the next 10 years, Bin Laden would get to see his goal come very close to fruition.

10 years later and America is mired in recession.  10 years later and America is more ideologically divided than we have been since the Vietnam War.  10 years later and we have done an almost complete 180 from the "United we stand" mentality that brought our nation together in the aftermath of those attacks and unified us as a country determined to seek justice for the victims and their families.  10 years later and the heroic first-responders who risked everything to save innocent lives are still suffering the effects of that day and languishing in desperate need of medical care that they aren't being provided.

Fortunately, President Obama approved the mission that ultimately insured that Osama Bin Laden will never get to see if his plan is truly successful or not.  The man who orchestrated the worst domestic terror attack in our nation's history is shark bait in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean with half his head blown off.

However, we still have heroes in the middle east, making the ultimate sacrifice every day for a war that doesn't need to be fought.  We still have heroes in hospitals or suffering in their homes because the government that owes them everything for their brave actions on 9/11 can't get their act together enough to agree to provide them with the basic and essential health care they need and rightfully deserve as American heroes.  Our country still suffers through recession, record unemployment and a destabilized economy.  Our nation is divided, our government is divided.  Al Qaeda's goal is as close to realization as it's ever been and it's as if no one is even paying attention anymore.

If we don't bring our soldiers home.  If we don't take care of our first-responders in a manner befitting their heroism.  If we don't come together as a nation once again.  If we don't work together as one nation, under God, indivisible, to put our country back on track and get our house in order.  If we don't do the basic and essential things demanded of us by our sworn allegiance as American citizens to get back on our feet and move forward as a republic again, then 10 years after 9/11, the terrorists may win after all.

I hate to even say it, I hate to even think it, but the evidence is clear.  We are a nation that is divided, destabilized, demoralized and financially weakened.  We are a nation that has moved from "One nation, under God, indivisible" to a nation divided against itself.  The definition of "patriotism" has changed from a collective pride in our country and each other to a collective distrust of our government and our neighbors.

9/11 did change everything... for the worse.  It's up to all of us to decide whether we continue down the path to fulfilling the terrorists plan to divide and destroy America or do we finally come together again as one nation, one people, one republic and stand shoulder to shoulder with our fellow Americans to dig ourselves out of this hole we've spent the last 10 years digging ourselves into.  It's not about politics, it's about patriotism, true patriotism.  It's about putting the greater good of the country over our own selfishness.  It's about those who can stepping up and following the examples set by those brave men and women who rushed into those burning towers 10 years ago.  Following the examples set every day by the brave men and women who leave their families and loved ones and travel into hostile territory to fight and die for America not because they were forced to, but because they volunteered to do it.  It's time for our government to put petty politics aside and come together for the sake of our country and our people and do what needs to be done to get our country back on track and back on the path to a healthy and prosperous future - not because it's popular or easy, but because it's the right thing to do.

It's time to bring back real patriotism in America again.  It's time to restore America to her rightful glory and make her a country that is once again the beacon of hope, opportunity and freedom to the rest of the world.

10 years later, it's time we learned the lessons of 9/11, lest we doom ourselves to repeat them.

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