Thursday marked two years since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Two years since 19 terrorists commandeered four passenger jets and used them as weapons against innocent men, women and children.
The hijackers, members of the al-Qaida terrorist organization, used box cutters to gain control of the aircraft and then used their skills learned at American flight schools to fly planes into the World Trade Center buildings in New York and the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. A fourth plane went down in Pennsylvania as passengers fought the hijackers.
As we pause to remember the victims on the airliners, in the World Trade Center and the Pentagon and the rescue personnel in New York who walked into a disaster and were caught in the towers’ collapse, we must also never forget the way Americans rallied in the hours and days following the attacks.
The image from that day that stands out the most isn’t a burning skyscraper or an exploding airliner; it’s three New York City firefighters raising a flag amid the ruins of the World Trade Center. That photo, by Thomas E. Franklin of The Record, illustrated Americans’ unbowed spirit, even in the face of a disastrous terrorist attack.
Miami Herald columnist Leonard Pitts Jr. spoke directly to the terrorists in a column that quickly spread across the country via e-mail. His words best sum up the feelings of Americans in the attacks’ aftermath:
“You monster. You beast. You unspeakable bastard.
“What lesson did you hope to teach us by your coward’s attack on our World Trade Center, our Pentagon, us? What was it you hoped we would learn? Whatever it was, please know that you failed.”
Americans came together in the days and weeks after the attacks. A nation that had been obsessed with trivia pulled together to offer aid to a stricken New York. Americans were sick with grief, but they helped in any way they could, donating money, labor or even blood. The country united in support for President George W. Bush, and he received praise for his leadership at the time.
Unfortunately, the attacks also brought out the worst in some people. There was a backlash against immigrants of all nationalities. There were several instances of hate crimes against Arabs, Muslims or those perceived as Muslims. Overzealous patriots tried to equate legitimate criticism of the U.S. government with treason. And Congress, in its haste to back the president, overwhelmingly passed an anti-terrorism bill without reading it carefully first.
Two years later, sentiments have cooled somewhat. We don’t hear much about hate crimes against Arabs, but many Americans still think that a good patriot never questions the government. However, Congress and the rest of the country are taking a critical look at the USA PATRIOT Act, which gave the government too much power and too much potential for abusing that power.
We hope and pray that the United States of America never again endures a trial like the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. But Americans showed the world on that terrible day that we can and will rise to the challenge.