I wrote about the September attacks on the tenth anniversary, back in 2011. It's hard to believe that was four years ago. Hard to believe how much my world has changed since that time. I wrote about the day itself back then, reflecting on what my day had been like those ten years ago. I won't do that again today. You can just go read that post if you'd like to refresh your memory.
What I want to write about today goes beyond that day. I want to talk about how we felt in the days and weeks following the attacks. I want to talk about how we acted, as Americans, in the months following that devastating day. Immediately following the attacks, Public Safety personnel from around the country took leaves of absence to volunteer at Ground Zero, using vacation time to help New York pick through the rubble created by the most horrific terrorist attack in our history. Across America, people donated time, money, and their very blood, in an effort to hasten the recovery of those people affected in areas far from their own homes. In that time following the attacks, we were all Americans. We weren't black or white. We weren't rich or poor. We weren't gay or straight. We weren't Christians or atheists. We were Americans, every single one of us. That unity of spirit extended beyond our borders in the coming hours, days, and weeks. Australia's Prime Minister immediately invoked ANZUS, guaranteeing the American people the support of the Australian military in our mutual defense. After the United States government invoked SCATANA for the first time in our history, grounding all domestic flight traffic and refusing all inbound international traffic, the Canadian government launched Operation Yellow Ribbon. For the first time in their history they shut down their airspace, but left important exceptions in place. Outgoing military, police, and humanitarian flights continued, but the only incoming traffic allowed was international flights originally headed to the United States. All told, 255 flights (of the 500 or so in the air and headed to America at the time) landed in Canada with the help of NAVCAN and the Canadian government. Operation Yellow Ribbon hosted somewhere between thirty and forty-five thousand passengers in the coming days, finding them places to stay, food to eat, and help with coping with the events of that day. In France, Le Monde ran a headline that said "Nous sommes tous Américains". The message was simple on the cover of that paper, "We are all Americans."
Throughout the world we were united in our defense of freedom and disdain of terrorism. Throughout the United States we were united in our strength of character and pride in our country. Yet, something has changed. In the days and weeks following the 11th of September, Bush's approval rating reached ninety percent. I was never a fan of his, but faced with tragedy the American people put aside their political differences and backed their leaders. We weren't white or black. We weren't rich or poor. We were Americans, and in the face of our greatest tragedies we would stand, as Americans, with our leaders, whether we voted for them or not, and say in one voice, "We will not go quietly into the night." In the weeks and months following the September attacks, America lost a great many heroes. New York's Finest and New York's Bravest responded to tragedy the only way they knew how, by running towards it, more than three hundred firefighters and sixty peace officers (23 NYPD/37 PAPD) lost their lives in the tragedy. Then we celebrated the bravery of these young men and women. Now we live in a country where people assassinate police officers, and fire departments are changing their uniform so assassins don't think they're police officers. Then we backed our leaders, and if we disagreed with them we did so respectfully. Now, we fling insults at our leaders if we disagree with them, showing gross disrespect for not only our leaders, but our founding fathers, the Constitution, and the men and women who have made the ultimate sacrifice in the name of freedom.
Now we are black and white, divided by our movements. Now we are Christian, Muslim, and atheist, divided by our beliefs. Now we are Republican and Democrat, divided by how we voted in the last election. Now we are gay or straight, divided by our beliefs in marriage. In a world dominated by the power of the internet it has become easier to be a bigot. It has become easier to choose our own truth, with no basis in reality. It has become easier to be the bully. It has become easier to insult one another behind the cowardly mask of anonymity. We are no longer Americans. We are no longer united. We no longer treat the ideas and beliefs of one another with respect. We no longer work as hard to lift one another up. We no longer respectfully disagree with our leaders, for we've found it much more interesting if we do it disrespectfully. We are a train wreck. We are a country losing its soul. We are a country that moves farther and farther from the ideals espoused in our Declaration of Independence on what seems to be a daily basis. "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, and that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." We are a country where our leaders are bought and paid for by corporations. We are a country where, in the midst of a Presidential election cycle, we are distracted by the circus of insults and the plethora of pantomimes putting on their shows. We can be better than this. We learned that during the September attacks those fourteen years ago. Not only can we be better than this, but we MUST be better than this. We must be a country that continues to shine as the brightest beacon of freedom and opportunity in the world (I'm paraphrasing President Bush there, from his address on 11 SEP, 2001). To be that country though, we must actually want it. We must disagree with one another respectfully. We must elect leaders that will do the most good for the most people. We must respect the processes of government. We must respect the good men and women who choose to serve their countries and communities, and work with the good men and women to make sure that fewer evil ones are infecting the country and their communities with the biases of hatred and bigotry. I believe in that country. I believe that Americans can be, together, Americans. I believe in the betterment of each of us through unity, through respect, through a mutual desire to see America be the land of opportunity, the great melting pot. I believe in the words of Emma Lazarus, who wrote.
To those men and women serving, here and abroad, I give you my most sincere thanks. Your desire to wear the uniform of our armed services, our public safety forces, speaks to the greatness inside each of us. It speaks to the greatness of the American ideal. This country is great because of you, and the honored people who have worn those uniforms in past generations. May God bless each and every one of you, and the families and friends who have sacrificed so much with you during your service to country and community.