Recall the lessons of post-9/11

York Dispatch editorial board
The Tribute in Light rises above the lower Manhattan skyline, Tuesday, Sept. 10, 2019 in New York. Wednesday marks the 18th anniversary of the terror attacks against the United States of Sept. 11, 2001. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)

In some ways, the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, seem very far off. This year’s college freshmen, for instance, weren’t even born when the events of that dark day took place.

But in many other ways, the shock and reverberations are still very much present as the twentieth anniversary of the single worst day of terrorism on American soil arrives tomorrow. The acts were so brazen, the destruction so unimaginable, the number of fatalities so unbelievable, the loss so unbearable that the events have remained seared in the American psyche.

But while most Americans over the age of 30 will likely have little difficulty recalling where they were or what they were doing 20 years ago tomorrow, less vivid is the memory of where they were and what they were doing in the months after the attacks.

Where they were: United.

What they were doing: Rallying together to support the families of victims, the first responders, the ongoing rescue and cleanup efforts, and the president and America’s military as retaliatory responses were plotted and launched.

More:What 9/11 may have taught the US: How to avoid being drawn into another unwinnable war

Perhaps it was a reflection of the unprecedented scope of the attacks: Four commercial airliners hijacked; three flown intentionally into New York’s World Trade Center and the Pentagon; a fourth forced down in Shanksville, Pa.; nearly 3,000 lives lost and twice that many injured. But Americans came together in a patriotic display of national unity.

Volunteers poured into lower Manhattan — or, at least as close as authorities would allow them — to prepare meals for rescue and recovery workers.

Corporate and personal donations flooded charities and relief agencies — more than $650 million within a month of the attacks.

American flags adorned all manner of public space, from bridge overpasses to retailers’ windows to car antennas.

Political partisanship was, for the most part, set aside. Congress quickly and overwhelmingly approved an Authorization of Use of Military Force and the U.S. Patriot Act.

Public partisanship was likewise scant. President George W. Bush’s approval rating in the weeks following 9/11 soared to 90 percent, a heartening show of support for a president whose controversial, Supreme Court-enabled ascension to the Oval Office less than a year earlier had divided the nation.

It was arguably the last time America pulled together in unison to such an extent. But predictably enough, as the immediate shock and fear that surrounded the attacks subsided, so too did national cohesiveness. It’s been downhill ever since.

The years following 2001 have seen vast factions of Americans drift farther and farther apart — politically, economically and socially. The divide has gotten to the point where ideology even dictates whether various realities — pandemic viruses, social injustices, global climate crises, presidential election results — are acknowledged or denied.

It has made for a very unhealthy nation.

That nation will pause this weekend to reflect on the events 20 years ago and, as it does so, it should consider not just that moment in history but the moment it finds itself in today.

Could we rally to a common cause, if necessary? Could we face an outside enemy with one voice? Could we set aside individual differences for the greater good?

This is exactly what the 40 passengers and crew members of United Airlines Flight 93 did 20 years ago. They joined together to fight as one against their hijackers, sacrificing themselves to bring their plane down in rural Somerset County, Pa., less than 20 minutes’ flying time from its intended target of Washington, D.C.

Their example of selfless unity was emulated by the nation at large in the weeks and months after 9/11. It’s an example that needs to be revived and revered in the weeks and months ahead.

As we pay tribute to those lose in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks this year, efforts to take steps toward some semblance of post-9/11 unity would be an appropriate and positive way to help heal not only the wounds of 20 years ago, but the nation.