ON A BRIGHT SEPTEMBER DAY America watched with horror the drama unfolding on our television screens. Even the ever-knowing media, which kept re-running the video of the airline going through the South Tower of the World Trade Center, couldn’t answer the basic questions concerning why and how this had happened.
Yet everyone over the age of six will remember where they were on September 11 when they heard the terrible news. My parent’s generation could tell you exactly what they were doing on December 7, 1941. My generation could tell you what they were doing on November 22, 1963 when President Kennedy was assassinated. Unfortunately, it is horrors like these that define our lives as much as joyful days.
Today and into the coming weeks this nation will come together to help the victims and their families, but the residual effects will be longer lasting. We had come to think that flying across the country was as easy and safe as taking a bus. The horrific pictures of planes slamming into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon have eradicated that carefree attitude.
We believed our nation was immune to terrorist attacks of this magnitude, even though we watched the barricades go up around the Congress and the White House. Our security bubble was shattered that day, just like the financial bubble of the ever-rising stock market was dashed in the past year.
The ramifications of September 11 will haunt us for years, if not decades. With this country already facing a recession, it is highly likely that it will deepen as people cut back travel, postpone making the big decisions, and play it safe.
As the concern for security mounts, we may find that the civil liberties upon which this country was founded will be sacrificed on the altar of safety. I predict that airport security will become more like the security demanded by Israel and El Al Airlines. Our public buildings will be harder to walk through and everyone will be required to prove their identity, similar to the omnipresent European passport.
It is almost impossible to prevent fanatics of any kind – religious, political, or insane – from performing acts against humanity if they are willing to pay the ultimate price in performing those acts. We, as a people, don’t comprehend fanatical action. Our values differ from theirs; after all we put a higher value on human life.
All those who have paid the ultimate price for living in this country on September 11, 2001, should be regarded as freedom fighters. Each one – whether a rescue worker killed while trying to save fellow Americans, a passenger on one of the ill-fated airlines, or someone trapped in a burning building – died because they were Americans. They deserve our praise and our thanks.
Across from the charred remains of the World Trade Center stands our beacon of freedom, The Statue of Liberty. This great lady shed tears today as she watched the tragedy across New York Harbor. Yet, despite her tears she kept her hand held high and the beacon of freedom still shines, the same beacon of freedom that has beckoned to countless peoples across the globe.
To those refugees, our country has represented freedom. It began with the persecuted Pilgrims who landed at Plymouth Rock. Our founding fathers were willing to give up their land, their lives and their sacred honor to create a country conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men were created equal. In the mid-nineteenth century, the exodus from Europe continued with the Irish and Germans who came here to escape the famines. Around the turn of the twentieth century it was the Eastern European Jews who came to escape religious persecution, while the Italians, Czechs, and Hungarians arrived to escape poverty and overpopulation. In the last half of the twentieth century, Cubans came to Miami in boats of all descriptions to escape Castro’s Communism; while across the globe the South China Sea was filled with Vietnamese boat people who sought our shores after the fall of South Vietnam.
In our search for security we must not forget those people yearning for freedom.
My father and my husband’s parents came through Ellis Island to escape the totalitarianism of Stalin and his despots. In the search for solutions to this great national tragedy, we must remember that one of this country’s strengths is its dedication to freedom. We must not let fanatics rob us of it.