TERRE HAUTE —
In America, our “we moments” are few.
Strange as it sounds, that’s a good thing. No other place on the planet is quite like the good, old US-of-A. We protest against each other, publicly question the intelligence of our elected officials, sue our neighbors and argue over unsolvable social problems, — and then wind up side by side in the bleachers at a high school basketball game. Such awkward situations could never happen in repressive nations. In the Land of the Free, dysfunction can happen, and does, daily.
The rest of the world, undoubtedly, looks on in confusion as we tolerate, for example, an inane, unending debate over the validity of our president’s birth certificate. They probably mutter, “Those wacky Americans.”
But that head-scratching turns to envy in one of those instances when America shows what it’s made of. The “we moments” make us unique. Two such moments are directly connected to the horrific terror attacks on Sept. 11, 2001 — that day etched into memories simply as “9/11.”
By midmorning on that sunny Tuesday, the obvious sank into our collective consciousness: “We’ve been attacked.”
The trauma struck hardest, of course, on the victims of the diabolical acts, and the victims’ families and friends.
Yet, even if we didn’t know any of the nearly 3,000 people killed, it still felt like the terrorists’ had assaulted “us.” Those who died when hijackers crashed airliners into the Twin Towers in New York, the Pentagon in Washington, and a rural area of Pennsylvania represented the “melting pot” label this nation wears. They were brokers, restaurant workers, firefighters, police officers, moms, dads, sons, daughters, brothers, sisters, cousins, best buds and college roommates, delineated from virtually every race, ethnic and religious background.
The loss seemed horrendously real as the unimaginable images replayed on CNN.
On Sept. 12, 2001, America showed the power of we. Evidence could be seen right here in Terre Haute.
People here, and elsewhere, assembled to pray in churches and synagogues, as well as the Islamic Center of Terre Haute. Folks stood in somber candlelight vigils around town. American flags sold out. And there was a line of 252 people waiting outside the Terre Haute Community Blood Center for their chance to donate. Two-hundred and 52 people — they weren’t waiting in line to receive anything; they were there to give.
As young men and women joined the U.S. military response to the attacks, millions of other Americans back home started volunteering more, and the numbers hit a national peak from 2003 to 2005.
Late Sunday night, nearly a decade after 9/11, another “we moment” unfolded. In a televised address, President Obama told the nation that American special forces had killed the mastermind of those terrorist attacks — Osama bin Laden — during a raid of the fugitive’s heavily fortified compound in a Pakistan suburb. The news sparked chants of “USA, USA” at the Phillies-Mets game Sunday night in Philadelphia. Spontaneous crowds cheered the strike on bin Laden outside the White House gates in Washington and in Times Square in New York — the two cities targeted by bin Laden’s minions.
Both presidents involved in the post-9/11 hunt for bin Laden — Bush and Obama — emphasized that justice had been done. Justice took a long time, as it often does. One American senator, John Kerry of Massachusetts, made an important distinction in explaining the lengthy, determined quest to stop the Al-Qaida leader. “We are a nation of peace and laws,” Kerry said Monday, “and people everywhere should understand that our 10-year manhunt [for bin Laden] was in search of justice not revenge.”
Yes, the battle against terrorism won’t quit, because Al-Qaida and others like it won’t quit. Setbacks and disagreements inside our country about how to handle those challenges are inevitable, here.
That said, the headline in the New York Post on Monday seemed appropriate, at the moment: “We got him.”
Mark Bennett can be reached at (812) 231-4377 or firstname.lastname@example.org.