EDITORIAL: 9/11: What we can't forget

Miguel Becerra assists Madeleine as they place a flag on the Montrose County Courthouse lawn Saturday, Sept. 11, in commemoration of the 9/11 victims 20 years ago. (Katharhynn Heidelberg/Montrose Daily Press)

Never forget.

These words are spoken after times of national stress and national tragedy like the one of 20 years ago today.

No one has forgotten the event itself: Terrorists aboard hijacked planes targeted the United States. The killers piloted a Boeing 767 into the North Tower of the World Trade Center at 8:45 a.m. on Sept. 11, 2001. Eighteen minutes later, a second Boeing hit the South Tower. Then, Flight 77 hit the Pentagon, killing all on board and 125 people inside the facility.

Another flight, the doomed United 93, was headed for the Capitol, but its passengers fought back and the plane crash-landed in Pennsylvania. Like the passengers aboard the other planes and like so many on the ground in New York and at the Pentagon, those passengers died.

Subtracting the 19 murderers involved, 2,977 people from 78 countries lost their lives. Most of the casualties were at the World Trade Center and the death toll included first responders who rushed into the mayhem to save lives.

The death toll mounted in the coming years, as more first responders succumbed to health issues caused by what happened that day.

Forgetting a tragedy of this scope is impossible — and it should be.

The 9/11 terror attacks touched off war and worsened conflicts — and, shamefully, it prompted xenophobic violence and discrimination against those who looked like the attackers — but in the immediate aftermath, it also showed us that we are meant to come together, to work together, and survive together.

The stories abound.

Smithsonian Magazine on Sept. 9 highlighted one of them, the “9/11 boat lift,” in which boats of all sorts made their way to Manhattan’s Battery to evacuate by water a half-million people who were trapped in Lower Manhattan after the towers came down. (It is worth the time to read about it at tinyurl.com/smithflotilla)

This rescue flotilla was just one of many expressions of unity and concern for other human beings — and this type of unity and concern didn’t end at America’s borders. Glance up a few lines right now and reread: The 9/11 attacks killed citizens of 78 countries. America did not suffer alone and it did not stand alone.

Condemnation of the attacks came from all corners, some of them surprising — Iran, as just one example. “The September 11 attack was the ugliest form of terrorism ever seen,” Iranian President Mohammed Khatami told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour.

From friendlier countries came an outpouring of sympathy: In France, Le Monde’s headline read “We are all Americans.” Ireland was among the countries to declare a national day of mourning. Then-Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder of Germany said the attacks were “not only attacks on the people in the United States, our friends in America, but also against the entire civilized world, against our own freedom, against our own values, values which we share with the American people.”

The unity and support flowed from headline-generators like those above, right on down to personal experiences of Montrose Daily Press staff who were overseas on 9/11. In Wales, shopkeepers noted American accents and promptly offered sympathy. In England, a banner outside of a church read “Pray for America” and invited people inside to do just that. This, from the United Kingdom, which had suffered its own terrible losses on that day. Those shopkeepers, those churches, they stepped outside of themselves to serve a greater good — however small the gesture.

No, we cannot forget 9/11. We cannot forget how we realized, in the worst way possible, that we, too, were vulnerable to an outside attack on our own soil; such amnesia would be dangerous. We cannot forget the 2,977 people who started that day by taking a flight, by going to work, or by checking in for their service to the nation at the Pentagon, and who never went home.

Whatever we think of the wars the United States then engaged in, we cannot forget that American men and women; our allies; our interpreters and others all died in our service. And although it may be uncomfortable, we should not forget the civilian casualties of those conflicts. We cannot forget that allies who remain in Afghanistan are now in mortal danger and that the gains for marginalized groups and women are being speedily reversed.

Some of these remembrances and lessons invite hyper-partisanship; we need to remember the line between healthy disagreement and destructive, nation-ending division.

And we need to remember 9/11, the day itself. On that day, we walked outside of our individual, comfort-zone boxes and much of the world walked with us in solidarity and shared loss.

Twenty years on, it is time to step outside of those boxes again.

This From the Newsroom column was prepared by Daily Press staff.

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