It has been a year since the worst assault in United States history took place on American soil. One year since the terrorist attacks on the Pentagon and the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001. The day approximately 2,819 innocent civilians were murdered for living in a country that allows them to be free. The day when we all sat dumbfounded in our classrooms, realizing there wasn’t any reason to try and learn American literature when American history was being written all around us. The day that would alter our lives forever.
I have seen many things change since that day.
I saw a people, nearly 300 million strong, throw off the classifications and the labels that we impose on ourselves in this society and become one, not just New Yorkers, but all Americans. I saw people lending helping hands to those they had never even met, risking their own peril to save the lives of others, which they perceived to be one of their own. And they’re right; we are all Americans.
And there is pride again in being an American. Not simply because we wear the “Proud to be an American” slogan on our shirts, hats and bumpers, but because it is an idea that exists inside of the body made public once again. We have recognized that this is the wealthiest, most powerful country in the world, and we are all a part of that. Whether we contribute to that system now or in the future, we are Americans because America, simply put, is each and every one of us.
There is pride in the American flag again. When I drive around this city or walk across this campus, I can see it; it is a visible part of our society again. There was a dark time where the only time you saw the American flag was on the nightly news, when a group of radical extremists burned it because this country stood for “evil” in the world. These are the same maniacal lunatics who rule over their lands with guns and tanks rather than the free voice of the people. The world faces their threat with every day they live. But now the American flag flies here in the light, with the people who deserve it and cherish it. Those whose ancestors fought for it, those whose friends and family fight for it now. It is also held in the firm grasp of the thousands of immigrants who flock to these shores every year, hoping to trade poverty, pestilence and government corruption for salvation and opportunity. These are the people that have seen the true evil in this world, and they know where it is and where it isn’t.
I saw our nation’s civil servants – the firefighters and the policemen – finally being treated the way they have always deserved. I saw a nation that opened its eyes to the fact that these brave men and women exist to help and protect the civilian population, not simply to abuse their authority through phony investigations, racial profiling or police brutality. I saw a nation that recognized its true heroes, not only in the civil service but in the military as well, those who put their lives on the line to ensure that the treasured American way of life is allowed to exist.
These are the things I saw in the months after Sept. 11, 2001.
As we pass the anniversary of that terrible date, one might think the unity we once had is starting to break. Part of this disturbing picture of fragmentation was the decision of the Ninth District Court in California, which deemed requiring recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance unconstitutional. Yet that court has proven itself, time and time again, to be nothing more than a confused circus, willing to cast anything in order to receive attention. Its motions will be overruled, as they always are. In politically correct America, it isn’t up to 99 percent of the population to decide what we can do; the one percent of the population decides what we can’t do. Why is saying “under God” deemed unconstitutional when government-funded school vouchers are acceptable? But one confused little courthouse aside, the strength and unity of this country are still strong.
Nor should we worry about the conflicts among the president, the House and the Senate. It is in this country’s best interest to have these sides debate and broker deals through communication, rather than one body’s silent obedience to the others. Blindly agreeing with everything the president says and does is a mockery of the democratic system we cherish in our country. There are many governments around the world that were created to carry out the actions of one individual’s supposed wisdom. They can be seen nightly on the evening news, burning flag in hand. This government was developed to nourish independent voices.
As we pass the one-year anniversary of Sept. 11, it is important to take ample time to remember those who lost their loved ones, or their lives, on that terrible day. It is just as important to remember that they died because they chose to live in a country that let them live free, a country that offers us opportunities that exist nowhere else in the world. For a long time, we as Americans took those liberties for granted. Sept. 11 changed all of that. As I look around me, I see a nation that is more resilient and proud of its heritage than it was a year ago. It is our responsibility now to take that resilience and that pride, as well as the memories of those who died, and hold on to them for all the years to come.