Sept. 11, 2001 is not simply a historical date in America. Like Dec. 7, 1941, it is a line of demarcation.
There is Before 9/11 and After 9/11. We are now 15 years past that dreadful day. More than 3,000 people died in coordinated attacks by Islam terrorists who hijacked airliners and flew them into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
Among them: Lemoore native Otis Vincent Tolbert, a naval intelligence officer and former Fresno State football player. Tolbert’s grave is in Arlington National Cemetery's Section 64, along with others who perished in the attack.
A third plane would have crashed into the Capitol or some other iconic edifice but for the heroes who forced the terrorists to crash United Flight 93 into a field in Pennsylvania. All on board died, including Todd Morgan Beamer, who attended Fresno State in 1987. Todd Beamer Neighborhood Park in north Fresno was dedicated in 2010.
There are people who will vote for the first time on Nov. 8 who have little or no memory of the attacks. Future generations will have to be reminded about what happened.
Sadly, the tremendous unity that nearly all Americans displayed in reaction to the attacks is a fleeting memory. Today we are divided – broken apart by blind political allegiances, mass dissemination of pseudo-facts and outright falsehoods, and evaporation of civility in a society that favors shouting on social media over talking face-to-face with your neighbor or finding common ground with what used to be respectfully termed the “Loyal Opposition.”
Sept. 11 changed our world on many levels. Wars were waged in Iraq and Afghanistan, resulting in more than 4,400 deaths of American soldiers. Much of foreign and domestic policy since has focused on preventing another 9/11. The Department of Homeland Security, a post-9/11 creation, is the second-largest cabinet department. Each terrorist attack, whether at home or abroad by al-Qaida or ISIS, becomes a 9/11 signpost.
Americans traveling by air are asked to remove their shoes, their belt, their laptops, their larger-than-3-ounce liquid bottles, their coffee cups, their nail clippers and their pocketknives. We put up with it, though resent it, so that we can be relatively certain that no one flies with so much as a box cutter, the tool that helped enabled 19 al-Qaida hijackers to seize control and turn passenger jets into bombs. As our military and CIA wage an air war with drones, we periodically hear of another terrorist leader obliterated.
The death of 9-11 mastermind Osama bin Laden, ordered by President Barack Obama and executed by Seal Team Six, touched off celebrations in the United State and beyond. Said Obama: “The cause of securing our country is not complete. But tonight, we are once again reminded that America can do whatever we set our minds to. That is the story of our history.”
America can do whatever we set our minds to. These words should be embraced by all; they are words that will sustain us in the face of our greatest challenges.
Politicians of both parties, however, employ whatever rhetoric matches the moment in the echo chamber of 9/11. Are they tough enough? Nimble enough? Prescient enough? Presidential candidates focus on who would be the best defender in a post-9/11 environment.
The United States was not an innocent place prior to 9/11, but we may have naïvely believed in our invulnerability. We have been spared another catastrophic direct attack on our soil, largely because of the great and expensive efforts mounted to prevent them.
We adjust; those who hate America adjust. Now we deal with the attacks of so-called homegrown terrorists in a street war that offers only faint hope of a finish line.
As we recall that deadly Tuesday in 2001, the attacks incongruously set against a morning sky across America, we remain on high alert in defense of our people and our freedoms.