(Time Magazine: 9/11 The Photographs That Moved Them Most)
The 9/11 of The Year 2020
By Jane Tawel
August 15, 2020
As of August, at least 168,000 American citizens have died from Covid-19. This does not include any people that we do not know of, who may have died from the virus or from complications from the virus, nor does it include the many thousands that will continue to die while “Nero fiddles and Rome burns”. Our Congress can’t work together so it goes on holiday and our President continues to lie to the people and golf, and we the citizens are left asking those in charge, “Do you really not understand the seriousness of this current domestic terrorism called Covid-19? Or do you just not care?”
This Pandemic on American soil, is our generation’s Pearl Harbor, our D-Day, our Boston Tea Party, our 9/11.
In one of the most horrific events in modern American history, a day forever known as 9/11, 2,977 people died. Our national response to 9/11 was swift, immediate, sweeping, and although in many ways, it has been shown to be wrong-headed, and short-sighted, at the time it was something that every single patriotic citizen of America saw as something our government did for the protection and well-being of our citizenry. The 20/20 of our hindsight about the consequences of America’s reactions to 9/11 should not blind us to the brave and absolutely necessary reaction of our leaders at the time this unprecedented horror happened.
The federal government led by people who had never experienced anything like 9/11 before sprung into action and worked together, President and Congress making the best of their responses to an unprecedented and tragic situation, in order to devise national and necessary changes for increased safety measures, protections from danger for its citizens, and the rebuilding of our trust in our government and in each other. Slightly less than two short decades ago, Americans, having seen the worst that could be thrown at us, rose to the challenge of trying to be the best that we could be – the best we have ever been – by working together, rebuilding literally and figuratively from the ground up. Governments both federal and state-wide enacted historical sweeping measures in security and protection on a national scale. The attack on American soil was nothing compared to the attack on the American psyche and in fact to this day we are fighting two unending wars because we took so seriously this unimaginable thing that happened on September 11, 2001.
Today another unimaginable thing is happening on American soil. Today we are also living in unprecedented times. Today we have the choice humans so often have: Shall we learn from history, and do our best, or shall we ignore history, and make mistakes?
Today, we look back, at the mistakes the government made in its response to 9/11, and we should do this, because by looking at yesterday’s mistakes, we can do better today. But we must also continue to cherish and hold-fast to what our nation did right, and especially to what individuals did heroically and sometimes, miraculously. We should read and reread, tell and re-tell, the true stories about the heroes of 9/11 who from Day One waded into danger to save strangers, and those named and unnamed heroes who continued year after year to work to make this country safer for everyone, and better for every citizen. The moral of the Story of 9/11 was at heart – our hearts! – and the amazing character of the average American who rose to that challenge of the moment.
The federal response (and the responses to 9/11 of New York City, New York, Pennsylvania and the District of Columbia) are overshadowed, as they should be, by the rising up of the often forgotten, often unnamed, unsung, and sometimes even unknown heroes of the average American who waded bravely and literally into the danger, and then the ashes and destruction, and figuratively into the gaping wounds of need that many citizens experienced after 9/11. No one asked, “Why should I?”. Everyone asked, “What can I do?”
What we as a nation did in the shock-waves reverberating from the falling of the Twin Towers and the attack on our nation – what we did, not just in one or two places, but across the plains, from ocean to ocean, and from individual American to individual American, was not perfect, but it was perfectly what we said we wanted to be when we became a nation – “one nation, indivisible with liberty and justice for all”. And leading the way, not trailing behind or excusing itself for not knowing what to do, or hoping that everything was going to be okay in time, was our federal government. This was their responsibility and therefore, their duty to respond to an act of terrorism.
I have seen great things in this United States of America and I have read of many more amazing, miraculous, phenomenal things that both government and individuals have done in the history of this “Sweet Land of Liberty”. And, yet, people are still telling me, in August 2020, that we, this country, this “shining city on a hill”, can not hold our current federal government accountable for a response to a pandemic that is killing Americans on our soil? People are still telling me that our President and our Senate are doing everything they can? What about everything they SHOULD?
People are telling me we can not hold our neighbor accountable? People are still telling me that every citizen is free to do whatever they want no matter what the consequences to other citizens; that we can not be expected to give up our politics in order to all work together? People are telling the essential and emergency workers that what they are doing is pointless because many citizens are still unwilling to give up a little here, and share a little there, and build back our safety and health from the ground up? And I have to ask, What country is this? Surely it isn’t the same country that responded to 9/11?
People are telling me it’s only a “small percentage” of people dying, or getting sick, and I have to ask, “Is that how you responded to the 2, 977 people who died in 9/11? Did you comfort yourself with the fact that only a very small percentage of Americans had died?
People are telling me we can’t make voting by mail safer in same way we made flying safer? Or that we can’t all wear masks in public for a while in the same way we all learned to take off our shoes at the airport? That we can’t give up a trip or two, or a bar party or two, or a church service or two in the same way people gave up their families and homes to fight the war on terror? People are telling me we can’t possibly require some people to make a little less money out of the millions and billions they make so that other people can have a place to live, and some electricity, and their children can have enough food today because the idea of unfettered capitalism is more important than human life? People are telling me their weapons of terror are more important as a freedom than the freedom to walk safe streets? People are telling me that America is no longer the nation of “Yes, we can” but a nation of “No, we won’t”?
And I just can not, for the life of me, understand. Because I woke up the morning of 9/11 not knowing, not understanding as I watched the same horror that every American citizen watched that day, a horror we could never have imagined, a thing incomprehensible even as we saw it happen before our very eyes. And none of us knew what to do. And then, as a nation, we did it.
I don’t understand so many leaders and people today in America; I can not get my head around their hard hearts and illogical, uncaring, foolish behaviors. Because I once saw this nation simply pull up its sleeves, and say, “We aren’t sure how, and we aren’t sure we will do it all right, (we most certainly won’t) but we are sure we will try our best. Because if we aren’t in this together to succeed “one for all and all for one”, to rise from these ashes like a phoenix; then we will certainly be in it together to fail and fall.” Divided we will fall, and united we will stand. That is who we were after 9/11, and as much as we mourn those who suffered and continue to suffer because of some of our bad decisions made in the wake of 9/11, and as much as those in charge then regret now some of the things we did because of 9/11, we did not shirk our duty to all that is ethical and true and right about our responsibilities to our ideals and to each other. I love the America that we were on 9/12/2001. And I find myself wondering, what happened to that America?
People keep telling me that Americans don’t have to do anything anyone tells us to do because that is our right. And I just keep thinking – have we become our own worst terrorists? Will the 9/11 of the Corona Virus be the thing that finally defeats the great American Dream?
All I can say is, Oh dear God, I hope not.
Today in 2020, we are guardians of a great legacy, the legacy of our forefathers and foremothers, the legacy of our brave warriors who fought not just for our own freedoms but for the freedoms of countless nations in countless wars, on countless shores. We are guardians of the legacy of those on our own soil who insisted that all have civil liberties, and of the legacy of September 11, 2001. Will that legacy die at the hands of our own unwillingness to fight this new enemy of the American people? Will a virus be the one seemingly small thing that defeats this great, big nation?
No, it will not be a virus that defeats America. It will be our own selfishness, pride, greed, and ignorance. It will not be our inability to change, it will be our unwillingness to change.
If the Corona Virus is the thing we as a people can not rise up to defeat, then even if only a “small percentage” die from it, it will be the thing that kills the very soul of our nation.
Aren’t we bigger than that, Americans? Aren’t we braver, and truer, and kinder than that? Aren’t we more alike than we are different, because we are Americans, after all? Aren’t we able to rise above this new challenge? Together? United? Can’t we, together, envision the legacy we want to leave in the wake of this new terror and trial?
I want to believe we can. If you’re with me: “Let’s roll!”
(c) Jane Tawel 2020