by Diane Rufino, September 11, 2017
We look back sixteen years ago and remember the horrific attacks on our buildings, on our fellow Americans, on our country, and on our way of life. The nature of those attacks pushed the bounds of our comprehension of evil, horror, hatred, and ambition. As President Bush remarked, “on that day we saw the very worst of human nature and we saw the very best.” We remember the valor of those we lost – those who innocently went to work that day and the brave souls who went in after them. The pictures of victims jumping from our tallest buildings because that was their best option for death, Father Mychal Judge slumped over where he died, being struck by debris as he was administering last rites to a firefighter who died after being struck by a falling body, bloody, soot-covered Americans being rescued from the burning buildings, policemen and firefighters rushing into the towers, never once pausing to reconsider that decision, collapsing skyscrapers, twisted steel, papers and items, evidencing a life, a fireman’s hat lying on the ground, and countless persons carrying photographs, frantically trying to find out if their loved ones were able to make it out alive…. they are all seared permanently into our memory. 2996 perished that morning. The number is astounding. The number killed on 9/11 was 593 more than the number killed on December 7, 1941 at Pearl Harbor, which was a calculated, strategic wartime attack on our naval base, targeting only naval personnel and facilities. Those targeted on 9/11 were ordinary, innocent civilians, a cherished skyline, and our seat of government. None targeted had access to weapons of instruments to defend themselves. When we think of that day, we try not to imagine the fear and despair that the victims felt because if we dare, we find ourselves reduced to tears and incredible anger. Yet we know that what they endured was certainly worse than what we could ever imagine. And so, we celebrate their lives, their memories, their legacies. We embrace their families because we know that they will continue somehow to live on in them. We also were reminded of the selflessness and courage of our community’s responders. If we ever had any doubt about the metal these men are made of, the carnage of 9/11 erased it. The suffering and peril of others motivate their service and fear and danger are no obstacles for their response. 412 of the victims claimed that morning were emergency workers in New York City who willingly, eagerly, quickly responded to the World Trade Center attacks. That number included 344 firefighters (including a chaplain and two paramedics) of the New York City Fire Department (FDNY), 23 police officers of the New York City Police Department (NYPD), 37 police officers of the New York Port Authority and the New Jersey Police Department (PAPD), and 8 emergency medical technicians and paramedics from private emergency medical services. We will never know how many lives – all strangers to them – they saved. I’ve visited Ground Zero and look forward to visiting the Pentagon memorial and the memorial at Shanksville. I’m glad the name of each victim is memorialized, not only to honor their senseless death, but for our constant remembrance. “To live in others is not to be forgotten.”
We also remember – we MUST remember – the ideology of hatred that gave rise to this horrific slaughter and utter disregard for humanity, and the celebrations that took place across the ocean, in mosques, in caves, and even out in the streets. There was no threat of war and no provocation by the US for war, and so the attacks represented for us the dichotomy between Good and Evil, God and Satan, the teachings of the Bible and radical Islam.
We lost too much on 9/11 to ever soften or downplay the events of Tuesday, September 11, 2001. We lost our precious sense of security. Never again will we feel the sense of comfort and safety that living in the United States of America once blessed us with. Never again can we trust that when we travel on airplanes, travel up elevators to the tallest of buildings, travel on subways, visit the nation’s capital, celebrate a national holiday with fellow Americans, gather to enjoy events such as a marathon race, go out to a crowded nightclub, go shopping at one of our malls, send our children to school, participate in public Christmas celebrations, or engage in a whole host of ordinary American activities we or our loved ones won’t be harmed by the actions of an Islamic radical extremist. Sad to say, given the once-trusting nature of a typical American citizen, that never again will we be able to look at certain individuals in this country and feel a sense of ease in their presence or in their inclusion. All the constant indoctrination regarding diversity can never erase the memory of the planes flying into the Twin Towers, the Pentagon, or into the field at Shanksville, the attacks on the USS Cole, the bombing of our embassies, the bombing of our overseas US barracks, the killing of our men in the downed Black Hawk helicopter, the shootings at Fort Hood, in San Bernadino, at the nightclub in Orlando, or the bombing in Boston, and common sense teaches us that self-preservation is more of a natural reaction than blindly opening up our communities. We also lost our innocence. We lost that childlike, and even Christian, tendency to embrace others, no matter what they look like or where they came from… We lost that innate inclination to embrace them, love them, to welcome them into our country, our communities, our homes. We no longer enjoy that luxury. Innocence has given way to skepticism. Innocence used to be admirable. But now it represents naivete. As 9/11 and the many subsequent attacks in the US have taught us, being naïve is reckless and dangerous. As a result of 9/11, we lost something more concrete – our traditional, time honored freedoms. The freedoms enjoyed for over 200 years are now limited. Our personal privacy rights and civil rights are now surrendered for the greater good – for public safety against radicalized extremists. We are interrogated, probed, and delayed at airports. Our suitcases, purses, pockets, and even our bodies are no longer private. The civil rights of ordinary citizens – of grandmothers, children, beauty queens – are violated in order that there is no profiling of the ones who pose actual threats to us. The Patriot Act enables government officials to scrutinize our movement and communications; to question our motives. The National Defense Authorization Act enables government to detain us, to confiscate our things, and to potentially suspend our Bill of Rights, even indefinitely. Homeland Security has collected a copy of all our communications (and has them stored at a government-controlled facility)… for what reason?
Please let us never think to cover up, dismantle, or destroy our 9/11 monuments and memorials because it may “offend” some new additions to our country. What we have lost that day, in the collective as American citizens, requires constant remembrance of the totality of its planning, execution, devastation, and mortality.
On this sixteenth anniversary of 9/11, remember the lives and the plights of all those we lost that day and pause for a moment or so for them. Think of those thousands of husbands, wives, sons and daughters, mothers and fathers, aunts and uncles, grandmothers and grandfathers, friends and neighbors who called their loved ones to say “I love you” before their plane crashed or building crumbled, or who never even had that chance.
CONTINUE TO REMEMBER. CONTINUE TO TEACH TO YOUR CHILDREN.
Once this day of remembrance is over and the tears have fallen, ask yourselves: What is the proper response to the attacks that day? What should our country do or what should it have done? Have we done enough? And should we do more? What policies should be put in place to preserve our traditional, time-honored essential and civil rights on account of the threat posed by a single group of people? For those who think that 9/11 was an isolated event, please go back and look at the decade or so preceding that date and take note of all the terrorist attacks that were perpetrated on the US, US personnel, and US property. Perhaps it was the failure of our nation to respond adequately to each of these that led to the audaciousness of the 9/11 attacks. Maybe it was the weakness of prior administrations that emboldened the planners to think on a greater scale.
(Photo was not taken by me; I would give credit to its owner but I do not who it belongs to. It speaks a thousand words)