Nous Sommes Tous Américains
No one who was old enough to be aware of what was happening will forget that moment. We will always remember where we were, what we were doing when the deadliest terrorist attack in our country’s history struck America. I remember watching on television in real time when the second plane exploded into the south tower of the World Trade Center. The moments afterward were almost surreal, trying to piece together a sensible thought about what I had just witnessed. My mind could not conjure up a logical explanation of what, and why, and how this all could be happening. And as the day wore on, and bits and pieces of information dribbled out, the picture became much clearer.
These attacks were acts of terror, meant to strike the fear of God into every American, in an attempt to divide America, in order to destroy America. Bin Laden chose the World Trade Centers because he believed that America was so driven by greed that if he knocked down the center of our financial system, America would eventually implode into itself. But ironically, these attacks produced the opposite of the desired effect. As sad, and tragic as September 11, 2001 was, on September 12, 2001, we had become the country we had always strived to be, that we were always meant to be, that we had glimpsed from time to time throughout our history. We were unified. One nation, under God. We put away our petty differences, we ignored the things used to divide us, and focused on what unites us; our common humanity, our love of country, our founding principles, our freedom, our rights, our fellow citizens. We became stronger as a nation, friendlier, more caring, more compassionate, more empathetic, more unified.
We rallied around our unifying symbols, our flag. It waived from flag poles, from sides of houses, car antennas, jacket lapels, out of windows. It was everywhere, and it meant something. It meant what it was supposed to mean. It stood for freedom, and human rights, and justice, and democracy. The flag was important. We knew it had been stitched to the uniforms of every fire fighter, every police officer who willingly climbed the stairs of the World Trade Center while everyone else was fleeing, knowingly laying down their lives for the hope of saving another. Nobody knelt for the flag that day, or any of the days in the near future. Nobody disrespected our National Anthem either. We knew then what was right.
The unity the attacks brought was not exclusive to America, or Americans. In the September 12, 2001 edition of the Paris newspaper, Le Monde, the headline read, Nous Sommes Tous Américains — We Are All Americans. That night hundreds of Parisians gathered at the Cathedral of Notre Dame and sang, “The Star-Spangled Banner” – a tribute not only to the tragedy we had just suffered, but to everything that the United States of America represents to the world. For the terrorist attack on America was not simply an attack on one country, but an attack on everything that America stands for; it was an attack on all of the freedom-loving, human right ensuring, democratic countries in the world.
America is not a perfect nation, but it is a great nation. Even in our worst of times, the greatness of America shines through. Over 600,000 Americans laid down their lives to end the scourge of slavery in our country. 600,000 people who could have turned a blind eye to that atrocity, sacrificed the one and only life they were given so that others could live their lives as free men and women. And 75 years later, a new generation of 420,000 Americans laid down their lives to end the horror of Nazism and Totalitarianism that was spreading across Europe. Once again, young men and women laying down their lives for the freedom and rights of others, for citizens of other countries. And it is that greatness in our history that we should focus on, that we should remember, that we should commemorate. But far too often, people want to define America for its worst moments, not it’s best moments.
I have often wondered, why couldn’t we have been on September 10th, what we became on September 12th? Why did it take September 11th to turn our September 10th selves into our September 12th selves? What is it that causes the unity that we so need in our most trying times to dissolve away in our times of ease? Why do we not appreciate that unity, and value it even when it is not needed?
In the 20 years since 9/11, and 9 years since Bin Laden’s death, we have done to ourselves what Bin Laden only hoped to accomplish because we allowed the anti-Americans a voice, we permitted those who hate our country, who want to “fundamentally change” our country to have power, to steer America in a direction opposite of its founding principles. We allowed those people to mischaracterize our history, pervert our principles, alter our vision, turn our past selves into something we never were, so they could turn our present selves into what we were never meant to be. These people use America’s goodness against America. They have exploited our compassion and empathy for victims of injustice to tear us apart, to destroy all that is good and great about America.
For a brief moment in time 20 year ago, we, Americans had put aside our differences and united under one flag, one nation. We were all Americans with a common bond. Over time those differences have been thrust back upon us, pitting one American against another, in the attempt to divide us by those who want to change us. Those people who continually judge and define others by race, or gender, or LGBTQ status, or religion, or any other protected group identity, and not as unique inherently valuable individuals, are the real racists, sexists, and bigots they claim they are fighting.
Their rejection of individual rights in favor of group rights, of equal justice in favor of social justice, of equality in favor of equity, of meritocracy in favor of victimhood, of freedom in favor of security, have flipped the founders’ vision upside down, and are poised to drive a dagger through the heart of America in a way that Osama Bin Laden had only dreamed of doing. And when it does, the “Great Satan” will have died, not by an outside enemy, but by its own hand.
Judd Garrett is a graduate from Princeton University, and a former NFL player, coach, and executive. He has been a contributor to the website Real Clear Politics. He has recently published his first novel, No Wind.