I know you normally open this newsletter each morning to hear me explain, or at least make fun of, the overcrowded clown car that today’s political news has become. But I hope you’ll excuse me if this morning, we take a brief break from politics and other trivial and divisive things.
In fact, I hope and pray that at least for this one morning, all Americans will take a brief break from sniping, arguing and criticizing each other and come together as one to observe the 17th anniversary of the terrorist attacks on America on September 11, 2001. They took the lives of 2,977 innocent victims and injured over 6,000 more, and the toll continues to grow as many Americans die too young or continue to cope with the longterm health effects of breathing the toxic air while aiding the rescue effort.
In 2009, September 11th was declared an official day of service. The volunteerism-promoting group 9/11 Day asks politicians not to run campaign ads or give political speeches on this day. They are welcome to attend the memorial at Ground Zero, but not to engage in partisan rhetoric. This is a day for all Americans to come together and show our solidarity to those who would dare attack us, not a day to attack each other.
Today, thousands of people are expected to gather for the annual observance at the World Trade Center in New York City. Vice President Pence will attend a ceremony at the Pentagon, where a third hijacked airliner was deliberately crashed; and President Trump and First Lady Melania Trump will join a ceremony in a field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania, where the valiant passengers of United Flight 93 became the first Americans to start fighting back when they said "Let's roll" and stopped the hijackers in mid-flight, bringing down their own plane and sacrificing themselves to prevent the terrorists from reaching their target in Washington. A new "Tower of Voices" was dedicated in their honor there on Saturday.
Every year, we go through these ceremonies, and I hope we never stop no matter hard as it is to relive the painful memory of that beautiful, early September morning 17 years ago when we turned on our TVs or radios (or in some places, looked out the window) and beheld a tragedy so terrible, it felt as if the world were coming to an end. The media chose never to repeat that horrific footage but it was a futile gesture. Those who lived through it will always carry those indelible images in their heads of those planes crashing, the buildings burning and collapsing, and nearly 3,000 innocent people being murdered before our eyes. They were people just like us: innocently going to work in offices, flying on business or vacations, working to protect the public – just going about their lives as we all do every day, when suddenly, everything changed.
That blow did not knock out America – no blow is strong enough to do that, as we proved after Pearl Harbor. When an enemy dares to knock us down, we get back up and strike back harder than they could possibly imagine. But the blow did shake our confidence. It made us realize that in the age of international transportation, mass migration, and militant Islamic radicalism that allows for no compassion or assimiliation, only death to those who are different, we had let down our guard and allowed ourselves to become vulnerable to attack, even as our enemies’ ability to attack us on a greater scale with fewer resources had been growing.
The World Trade Center was destroyed (the destruction so devastating that rebuilding still isn’t complete); the Pentagon, symbol of our military might, was seriously damaged; and nearly 3,000 people were dead, and all because of 19 Islamic militants with box cutters who had taken advantage of our hospitality and plotted to kill us right under our noses. As we gather today to remember those we lost, let us also vow never to forget the hard-won wisdom we were forced to learn that day.
It’s also important to continue holding these remembrances because time has a way of making things slip away if you don’t hand it down to the next generation. Today marks 17 years since the 9/11 attacks. That means the incoming class of college freshmen were just babies when it happened. Next year will see a class of college freshmen who weren’t even alive when 9/11 happened. To them, it wasn’t an unforgettable horror that they can still see in their mind’s eye (another way the media blackout of 9/11 images backfired.) It’s ancient history. That makes them easy prey for radical teachers who attack law enforcement and border security and promote a “blame America first” agenda -- and for recruiters for the very same beliefs and organizations that were behind the 9/11 attacks.
Even after the incomprehensible evil of 9/11, we saw the rise of ISIS, and young people raised with all the advantages of peaceful Western civilization being persuaded to run off to the Middle East and join a group of conscienceless killers. We’ve seen mass murder attacks in Europe and America, at places as seemingly secular as rock concerts and a gay nightclub. And even in New York City, where vigilance and the watchwords "never again" should be at their strongest, last year, a man in a truck mowed down eight people on a bike path near the World Trade Center and a would-be suicide bomber set off a pipe bomb in a subway passageway near Times Square. Both were inspired by the Islamic State group. Yet there are many in that very city who now assail the people working to secure our borders and keep threats out.
The writer George Santayana is famous for observing that those who can’t remember the past are doomed to repeat it. As another September 11th passes, and as we remember the dead, comfort the survivors and renew our resolve that it “never again” happen, let us also vow that we will never let those who refuse to remember the past trick us and our children into repeating it.