Looking back nineteen years on 9-11 I am struck by how it unified America in way that perhaps only the Moon Landing and Pearl Harbor did.

9-11 at 19: Looking back at a Unified America

a Unified America

What lesson did you hope to teach us by your coward’s attack on our World Trade Center, our Pentagon, us? What was it you hoped we would learn? Whatever it was, please know that you failed.

Did you want us to respect your cause? You just damned your cause.

Did you want to make us fear? You just steeled our resolve.

Did you want to tear us apart? You just brought us together.

Let me tell you about my people. We are a vast and quarrelsome family, a family rent by racial, social, political and class division, but a family nonetheless. We’re frivolous, yes, capable of expending tremendous emotional energy on pop cultural minutiae – a singer’s revealing dress, a ball team’s misfortune, a cartoon mouse. We’re wealthy, too, spoiled by the ready availability of trinkets and material goods, and maybe because of that, we walk through life with a certain sense of blithe entitlement. We are fundamentally decent, though – peace-loving and compassionate. We struggle to know the right thing and to do it. And we are, the overwhelming majority of us, people of faith, believers in a just and loving God.

Some people – you, perhaps – think that any or all of this makes us weak. You’re mistaken. We are not weak. Indeed, we are strong in ways that cannot be measured by arsenals.

Excerpts from Leonard Pitts Jr. “Sept. 12, 2001: We’ll go forward from this moment” (September 12, 2001 01:09 PM)

Looking back nineteen years on 9-11 I am struck by how it unified America in way that perhaps only the first Moon landing and Pearl Harbor did. 2020 has beset us with a number of problems but they seem to be tearing us apart instead of unifying us. As I write this there are numerous uncontrolled fires in California and Oregon and at least that effort has not be riven by our tribalism. But too many of our other challenges–Covid-19, improved policing, economic recovery–seem to be dividing us. At the moment it appears that our internal unrest is homegrown, attitudes may shift sharply if it turns out that it is funded or otherwise provided resources by on-US actors. One should never assume malice when stupidity is an adequate explanation.

I hope we resume our historic commitment to civil discourse, the search for common ground, and to leave the next generation a better America than we were born into. I find myself looking back at a unified America and hoping get there again.

Postscript: Where were you on 9-11

We were still asleep in Colorado when the second plane hit the Twin Towers in New York City, to be awakened by a phone call from our mother.

“Turn on the TV,” she said with an insistence one wouldn’t think to question.

“What channel?” was our only question.

“It doesn’t matter.”

Before we knew what had happened, we knew in that moment that it was momentous.

There isn’t much of interest to relate about that hourlong phone call, since it was just the two of us watching our respective TVs, 750 miles apart, and not saying much.

Except for the moment when we realized that one of the towers appeared to have… disappeared.

It was hard to tell through all the smoke and dust, but it looked like one of the Twin Towers — those stabby monoliths that had dominated the NYC skyline since before we could remember — was simply… gone.

Skyscrapers don’t just go away, and yet one had. Soon to be followed by its twin.


We learned on 9/11 that the glue that held America together was still strong. The “blame America first” crowd briefly raised their squeaky little voices to ask “Why do they hate us?” but were quickly shouted down by the Sensible Majority.

We learned just how resilient we are.

What we failed to learn however is just how fragile civilization is, that it requires nurturing, care, and protection lest it fall back into savagery.

Stephen Green in “Where Were You on 9/11?”

This exchange reminds of  the day president Kennedy was shot:

“Turn on the TV,” she said with an insistence one wouldn’t think to question.
“What channel?” was our only question.
“It doesn’t matter.”

I was playing at a friend’s house from kindergarten. His mother heard the news on the radio and started to cry. Which is a scary sight to a five year old boy. They took me home and no matter what channel you turned the TV to it showed an anchorman who knew the president had been shot but did not know anything more.

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Image Credit: Public Domain h/t Wikipedia “September 11 Attacks