Every year on September 11, we pause to remember the day foreign terrorists hijacked four planes, attacked the Word Trade Center with two of them, hit the Pentagon with a third, and were aiming at Washington, D.C. with the fourth when a passenger named Todd Beamer shouted, “Let’s roll.” He, with other heroic passengers and crew, gave their lives and saved the U.S. Capitol.
This month we paused on the twentieth anniversary of the day we lost our innocence. Somehow it felt different this time, but I don’t think it had as much to do with the number “20” as it did with the changes we have seen in recent years. Two stand out in my mind.
One is that we now fear domestic violence as much as we do foreign terrorism, maybe more so. Just as 9/11 has taken on a special significance in American life, so I believe will “January 6,” the day the mob stormed the Capitol that 9/11 heroes saved.
The other is that American troops are no longer in Afghanistan, America’s longest war. Once again, we have discovered that certain kinds of wars don’t work out very well. The withdrawal was chaotic, and as I watched the televised somber arrival at Dover Air Force Base of the thirteen U.S. Service members killed in Kabul on August 26, I was reminded of the 2009 must-see movie “Taking Chance.” It depicts how the military transports its fallen soldiers from Delaware to their families.
As you can see, this column is different from my usual monthly essay. I write it with a heavy heart. I can’t help wondering what will become of us. Will we become a nation of vigilantes, free to carry unlicensed guns, turn in our neighbors for exercising their constitutional rights, and allow a minority of extremists to rule? That seems to be a possibility, something I never would have imagined taking eighth grade Civics at Stevens Junior High School in Claremont.
Or will we recover from the traumas of the last twenty years and return to a degree of normalcy and the quiet certainty that we are a law-abiding society that believes in the Constitution and the Bill of Rights and learns from our mistakes?
I wish I could say, with confidence, that it will be the latter.
Those of us old enough to remember 11/22/63 can say exactly where we were that afternoon when we learned that President Kennedy had been assassinated. I was about to attend a law school seminar that was never held.
The same is true of 9/11/01. We remember where we were that day as we watched in horror when the second plane hit the World Trade Center. I was in my office that morning, on the phone with someone in a mid-town Manhattan office building. He was looking out the window towards downtown, and I remember his exact words. “You won’t believe what I just saw.”
And now we can add 1/6/21, just a few months ago. We watched from our homes as a mob attacked our Capitol, threatened to kill the vice-president and members of Congress, and attempted to prevent the peaceful transition of power from one presidential administration to the next.
This lawlessness, whether from abroad or home-grown, has to stop. We have enough tragic dates to remember.