Today is a very solemn occasion for America, as it’s the 17th memorial of the September 11th attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. I thought it might be a good time to write about something other than programming and web design for once.
It’s been 17 years since the attacks of September 11th, 2001, and still, we should never forget. We should never forget the 2,192 innocent Americans killed while they were going about their workday in New York. We should never forget the 343 firemen and 71 police officers who died fighting the resulting fires, stabilizing the remains of the towers, and searching the rubble for survivors. We should never forget the 75 civilians and 55 military personnel killed in the attack on the Pentagon. We should never forget the 246 civilians killed aboard the planes, some of them sacrificing their lives to prevent a fourth attack.
We should never forget how our closest ally, Canada, provided safe haven for all travellers trapped en-route, as we closed our airways, opening their homes and communities to over 40,000 temporary refugees without question, despite fears of additional terrorists among the remaining flights. We should never forget the town of Gander, in Newfoundland, where 6,595 displaced travellers were housed for over a week, almost doubling the town’s population overnight.
We should never forget how the world’s nations opened their hearts to us in our time of grieving, pledging their support and friendship to our nation. Some people laugh about how the Maasai tribespeople of Kenya donated 14 cattle, following the attacks, but we should never forget how all nations, no matter the size, stood with us in our mourning.
We should never forget that were targeted by the Taliban because we are a land of freedoms, that stood in stark contrast to their Theocratic goals. America embraces diversity of religion, race, creed, and lifestyle. The Taliban wanted to take that away, for fear that seeing other people’s freedom would somehow lessen their beliefs. We should never forget that Osama Bin Laden’s plan was to sew xenophobia and fear into the American people and to drive a wedge between America and the rest of the world. We should never forget that they struck the World Trade Center for a reason. Strong, multilateral trade is at the heart of America’s influence. It is not an argument for America to win, but a relationship that spreads America’s culture and ideas to every corner of the world.
As much as we should never forget the victims and heroes of that fateful day, we should also never forget the negative effects it had on our society. We should never forget the feelings of fear and helplessness that drove many political decisions immediately following 9/11. We should never forget how the need to feel “protected” lead to the immediate adoption of the PATRIOT Act, the start of the Iraq War, and the eventual addition of indefinite detention provisions into the NDAA. We should never forget the civil liberties that were forfeited to support the NSA’s wide-reaching surveillance of the American people and the world. We should never forget the way many people wrapped their fear, anger, and hate in the language of God and Country.
We should never forget these darker moments because we know that America is stronger than that fear, and can weather these trials and renew itself better than before. American exceptionalism isn’t achieved through a return to some halcyon days of yore but through sobering retrospection and neverending improvement. We make America great every day, not through obstinate denial of hard truths, but by embracing our best traits and discarding our worst, guided by the lofty ideals set before us.
We should never forget that America was founded on the principle of supporting “Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness” for all people. In its very founding document, America declares these rights, not only for its upstanding citizens but for all mankind. These rights apply even to those who are illegal, unwanted, or even just unliked. We should never forget that it is these principles which Americans have died to defend, not jingoistic symbols of nationalism or political rhetoric.
We should never forget that America was not founded to provide safety through isolation or comfort through homogenization. It was created to provide a home for all who seek liberty.
We should never forget the words of the monument that stands in New York City’s harbour, as a solemn pledge:
Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
MOTHER OF EXILES. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
We should never forget.