The terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, can never be forgotten. The senseless loss of almost 3,000 American lives, including 400 who ran toward danger to help others, was a tragedy that still torments the soul of our country. It always will, and it always should. Because as unthinkable and horrific as 9/11 was, we found ways to learn from it.
The 9/11 attacks illustrated for America the destructive power of hate. We learned that just as it brought down jets and buildings, hate can bring down people. Following the attacks, we found out that while it was wrapped in extreme ideological fervor, at its core, the motivation of the 9/11 attackers was pure hatred for our way of life, including the liberty and diversity that define America. We also learned that to be truly safe as a country, we must continue to reject hate in all its forms. The antidotes to hate include understanding, tolerance, and empathy – all of which are built by education, civility and sensitivity. It is in support of these things that we must rally.
The 9/11 attacks illustrated for America the importance of our first responders – people we literally cannot live without. As they rushed to try to help others, many were left with lasting scars, both physical and emotional. Recognizing as much, we were reminded of the importance of investments we need to make in keeping our first responders healthy. We learned that this means access to behavioral health services as much as personal protective equipment. And that our support of first responders must be consistent and lasting. We never know when the next emergency will strike. Only by ensuring that we are always there for our first responders can we guarantee that they always will be there for others.
The 9/11 attacks illustrated for America the true nature of patriotism. Having seen the ugly aftermath of blind allegiance to unwavering extremism, we were forced to reflect on what it meant to be a true patriot. As James Bryce said, “Patriotism consists not in waving the flag, but in striving that our country shall be righteous as well as strong.” To be righteous, we must be open – to fresh ideas, to differing viewpoints, to new scientific discoveries, and to our own fallibility. There simply can be no one-size-fits-all patriotism. And patriotism itself can never be a valid rationale for prejudice, bigotry, or narrow-mindedness, because the very nature of the word itself dismisses all of these things.
Nineteen years from the day that forever changed America, we must continue our collective healing. We must remain mindful of the need to respect our fellow Americans regardless of whether they share our opinions, religions, or world-views. We must reject hate in all its forms, and we must be true patriots. Only then will we fully honor those who lost their lives on September 11, 2001, and only then can we as a nation fully move forward.