When I was little, I remember Mama always talking about remembering exactly where she was when she heard that President Kennedy had be shot. She was in gym class for the last period of the day and their principal came over the intercom to announce the news. She said everyone went into a daze.
I remember Granny Wham talking about coming home from church on Sunday, December 7th, 1941 and listening to the radio announcements that were just coming in from the west coast about the attack on Pearl Harbor that launched us into World War II.
I know that I’m not unique with these experiences. I just thought that my “where were you” tragedy had already come and gone when I was a freshman in high school. It was January 28, 1986 and some of us had skipped lunch to watch the Space Shuttle Challenger take a teacher named Christa McAuliffe into space. I still can see the Y-shaped smoke trail on the TV and hear Dr. King, our honors English teacher, gasping, “Oh my God!”
I figured that was my moment I’d tell my children about right up to the minute Ms. Pat Harvey knocked on my classroom door a little before 10AM on September 11, 2001. She told me two planes had just flown into the World Trade Center. Of course, at that early stage lots of us thought it was some kind of horrible aviation accident. Then the reports started coming in of fighter jets being scrambled and every plane in America except military aircraft and Air Force One being grounded.
Our principal at the time was a former military man and he liked to keep news like this downplayed as much as possible to avoid panic and chaos so we taught on and kept as quiet as we could. Then the intercom started going off every thirty seconds as another parent picked his child up. By noon, the school was a ghost town. Over three-fourths of our students had been released early. Attendance was spotty the rest of the week and all our district schools rescheduled their Friday night football games. I remember going home and being glued to CNN from 3:30 PM to after 10 PM that night. Sleep was a long time coming.
Remember how it was then? Seven years ago today? Congress sang “God Bless America” on the steps of the Capitol Building, a Capitol Building that was still standing intact because of the heroics of a group of terrified men and women aboard United Flight 93 . . . a group of men and women now strewn all across the bottom of an abandoned, non-reclaimed coal strip mine.
Flags started sprouting on cars. People of all political leanings and stripes were calling for blood. Remember all those JPEG files that started circulating around the ‘Net? There was one of Liberty Enlightening the World holding a baby in one arm and a Dirty Harry styled handgun in the opposite hand. I liked the one with the eagle sitting with his legs crossed sharpening his talons. Country music singers wrote songs; some were contemplative and touching; some were rabble rousing. Other celebrities organized benefits and rallys to help support families of the thousands of victims. Pat Tillman left the Arizona Cardinals and a pile of money to join the thousands of young men and women who went to their local recruiters and joined up to fight the threat of terrorism. What came to be called The War on Terror was on.
So it’s seven years later. I’m in a different school and the war is still going on. It’s a much different war now because it became more about politics and less about “justice.” Osama Bin-Laden is still out there somewhere. The towers are still down and lots of monuments have been built to honor the dead.
I don’t usually take sides and I don’t want to be political, but we can’t win this war . . . ever. To win a war like the War on Terror, we would have to abandon the principles and tenets that make us America. Oh, make no mistake, we could win the war. We could easily kill Bin-Laden, put his head on a spike, and display it atop the Brooklyn Bridge. But we wouldn’t be America anymore. What makes us great is what makes us hated and what some think makes us weak. We are America and we try to play by the rules.
We try not to torture to gain information. We try not to destroy whole villages and we try not to kill innocent men, women, and children even when they harbor those we have branded as our enemies. Had an attack like 9/11/01 been perpetrated on a country ruled like ancient Rome or Sparta that possessed modern weapons, Bin-Laden would be dead now. “Justice” would have been served. And most of what we call Pakistan, Afghanistan, and several other countries would be smoldering wastelands under an iron fist. Fields sown with salt, or worse.
But we are America. We are not weak. We are not perfect, we delight in pointing out our own faults to each other, but we are not weak. We may not stand forever as a nation . . . no nation has ever lasted forever, but we will always be remembered. We consistently strive to do the best we can as a country and many time in the process, we disagree with each other and we fuss and fight and carry on like a bunch of sore tailed cats.
But we are America. We are envied and hated . . . sometimes by our own citizens, but we are America so they have that freedom and right. We could win the War on Terror by using the full spectrum of devastating means at our disposal, but in doing so, we would lose ourselves, prove our enemies correct in their assessment of us, and in the end, see our victory become our downfall.
So remember the fallen. Remember the heroes. Remember to vote your heart or your head or both come November but most of all remember this . . . regardless of who sits in the Oval Office, regardless of who occupies the seats of Congress, and regardless of who sits in a cave making movies calling us the Great Satan, the great and noble experiment in democracy begun over 200 years ago continues.
We are still America; we are still standing; we are still free.