Tribune-Star Editorial graphic

Apply lessons of the past to today's new challenges

As the years passed and mounted, Americans who experienced the terrorist attack on their country — either up close or from afar — often observed that it always seemed like it just happened yesterday.

Such was the impact — emotional and physical — of September 11, 2001.

Today is the 19th anniversary of that terrible series of events which took almost 3,000 lives. What once was unthinkable to ordinary Americans — that terrorists could hijack passenger airliners from U.S. airports and fly them into buildings — suddenly became shockingly real. Both towers of New York City's iconic World Trade Center were hit, as was the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., which houses the U.S. Department of Defense. Both WTC towers burned, then collapsed. A huge gash was opened in the Pentagon. A fourth hijacked plane, believed to be headed for either the White House or U.S. Capitol, failed to reach its target because passengers rallied against their attackers, forcing the terrorists piloting the plane to crash into a Pennsylvania farm field, far short of their destination.

The day left an imprint on everyone. And despite the passage of time, it always seemed like yesterday.

If any traumatic event, situation or circumstance was ever going to push those awful 9/11 memories farther back in our minds, it is this year. The year 2020 is certainly searing a place in human consciousness. And we're not even three-fourths through it.

The collective trauma of 9/11 generated a range of emotions, from disbelief, anger and rage, to grief and intense sadness. Yet it unified this country in ways unseen since World War II. Americans stood together to face down a common enemy. That sense of togetherness was psychologically soothing during difficult times.

As America confronts an invisible yet destructive enemy in the coronavirus that has swept over the world, the type of unity it takes to counter a national public health threat does not match the resolve America demonstrated after 9/11. Despite rhetoric that "we're all in this together," the collective spirit it takes to prevail over a pandemic has been lacking.

In the absence of national leadership and a cohesive public health strategy, measures to slow the spread of COVID-19 have been largely limited to the states. Some are doing well, others are not. And an effective response to the crisis is hindered by divisive partisan allegiances that have only been made worse by inept political leadership at the national level.

While many other countries took successful steps to control the virus spread, it continues to run rampant through the U.S. To date, more 190,000 people have died in this country alone. The U.S. economy, after 11 strong years of growth and expansion, collapsed and continues to struggle.

These are troubled times. But as we pause to remember those who died or saw their lives forever changed 19 years ago on 9/11, it would be wise to reflect on lessons learned. That crisis was met with collective resolve and an American spirit that did not wane. President George W. Bush was at his best when he unified the country and set a course to battle the enemy.

Let us never forget the courage of those who answered the call to arms and rallied to the cause. And let us hope that we can still muster the courage to duplicate that effort as we battle today's unrelenting challenges.

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