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Sept. 11 attacks changed us but also showed what holds us together

It was 20 years ago today that terrorists hijacked four jetliners, flew two of them into the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in New York and crashed one of them into the Pentagon. The fourth, United Flight 93, went down in a Pennsylvania field after passengers and flight attendants counter-attacked the hijackers, reportedly with fire extinguishers and pitchers of boiling water.

On that day, 19 al-Qaida terrorists took 2,977 innocent, unsuspecting lives. Those who died were, for the most part, regular people going about their daily lives. They were people like you and me. They didn’t see it coming.

President Franklin Delano Roosevelt described the Dec. 7, 1941, attack on Pearl Harbor as a “day that will live in infamy.” On that day, 2,403 Americans died. They were Marines, sailors, soldiers and civilians. Nearly half of them were aboard the USS Arizona. They, too, did not see it coming.

When we reflect on Pearl Harbor, we think of it as the event that precipitated the U.S. entry into World War II, a cataclysmic conflict that defines the 20th century but which ended definitively with the defeat of the Axis powers.

The War on Terror is not so easily concluded or even defined.

I’m not talking about our withdrawal from Afghanistan after 20 years of conflict and the rapid resurgence of the Taliban.

While I suspect that will be a scar on our national psyche, not unlike the fall of Saigon, my thoughts are closer to home.

I’m thinking of increased security at airports and entertainment venues and how, while most of us find these things inconvenient, they are really signs of the new times.

I’m thinking of the encroachments on our freedoms and privacy that we have accepted in the interest of national security.

I’m thinking about travel bans and the political swing back toward isolationism, and I’m wondering whether the tribulations of the past 20 years have made us better or just less tolerant.

And now I’m thinking of Dec. 2, 2015, when two ISIS-inspired terrorists murdered 14 and wounded 22 others at a Christmas party in San Bernardino, which is here, right here, too close to home.

Even 20 years later, we continue to grapple with the legacy of Sept. 11, haunted by the ghosts of the Twin Towers. The attacks that day triggered the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq as well as a new kind of asymmetrical conflict that sadly goes on and will continue to go on.

It has wrought changes in our society and culture and in the fabric of our politics.

It also reminded us that we are strong and resilient, a people who pride themselves on their indomitable will and it has shown us that we are a nation of heroes – from the firefighters and police who rushed toward the smoking skyscrapers to the Marines, soldiers, sailors and other military personnel who have given and risked so much to defend our nation even half-a-world away.

It has also reminded us that our democracy is not so fragile after all and that spirited debate and disagreement are part of our political process.

And it reminded us then, as it should today, that the one thing we all share is that we are all of us Americans, and it is that common bond that makes us strong.

Source: Orange County Register

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