Six Years Later, Lessons Unlearned

Like most people, I figured that the events of September 11, 2001 would change this country forever.

It hasn’t.

Six years after thousands were brutally murdered, we’re more interested in fighting each other than in fighting those who were responsible for this atrocity. Six years later, we have a group of people publicly arguing that what we all saw that day never really happened — at least not the way it appeared. Six years later we’re a nation more divided than we have been since the days of the Civil War. A decent discussion of the issues of the day is nearly impossible. Everyone is entrenched in their own viewpoint, and rare is it to see someone willing to look beyond their own ideological blinders.

In any democratic system, there’s room for debate — in fact, debate is essential. However, this country doesn’t even share the same first principles anymore. Some view this war as just another excuse for “fascism” and are instantly and irrevocably dismissive of anything our government does. Others find themselves unwilling to accept even rational and informed criticism of the government. Everything is filtered through the prism of red or blue, left or right.

Partisanship is one think. Unthinking, reactionary, crude, and childish partisanship is another.

What Osama bin Laden could not achieve on September 11, 2001, we have done to ourselves.

We have failed the memory of those who lost their lives that terrible day. We have once again become a nation that is self-absorbed and uninterested in our position in the world. Our political classes line their own pockets and play to their bases rather than do what’s right in the national interest. Our national culture is still a culture of malignant narcissism — instead of celebrating heroism, our culture degrades it. The image most commonly used to describe the brave men and women of our armed forces: Abu Ghraib, the actions of a few who brought dishonor to their country. Meanwhile, from Africa to Afghanistan and across the globe, our fighting men and women perform more good than any force in history.

During World War II, this country collectively decided to put their petty differences aside and think first and foremost of the nation. Republicans did not insinuate that FDR let Pearl Harbor happen. Party labels were almost immaterial — we weren’t Democrats or Republicans, but Americans.

For a short while, it was that way in the aftermath of September 11. Then our narcissism returned and it was back to the ways of political war rooms and cheap partisan theatrics. The left will blame the Bush Administration, their white whale. The right will blame left-wing anti-Americanism, of which there is plenty. The true culprit stares us right in the mirror. We are all too willing to put our own petty interests above that of the nation.

If we want to honor the spirit of those who died on September 11th, we should start by asking ourselves every day not “what can I do to make my party win in the next election” but “what is legitimately right for this country?” The answer to that question may not be the same for everyone, but at least it is based on some principle other than petty partisanship.

Six years ago, 3,000 people lost their lives. We owe it to them to first and foremost never forget them, and secondly to never let them down. There is so much more to life than the mindlessness of partisan politics. The values that this country stands for — life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are values worth fighting for. Yet the only thing that our political classes seem to value is whether a given politician has a D or an R next to their name.

When the heroes of Flight 93 stood up to strike the first blow in this war, it didn’t matter who was a Republican and who was a Democrat. It didn’t matter who was gay and who was straight. The only distinction that mattered was between those who would kill and those who would stand against them. Six years later, we still need that moral clarity.

We will never be a nation united on every issue — nor should we be. What we should be is a nation united on a set of bedrock principles. We should be a nation that speaks with one voice, convincingly and clearly, and our enemies should know that we will never falter in our efforts to stop them. We live in a world created in large part by the Greatest Generation, people who stood against two of the most evil forces this world has ever seen, and defeated them forever.

When America stands united, miracles are possible. We owe it to all those who died this terrible day six years ago to stand united behind our values once again — else those deaths will have truly been for nothing.