On the 15th anniversary of 9/11, like on all previous anniversaries of that cataclysmic day, millions of people recounted where they were when 19 terrorists hijacked four planes and killed nearly 3,000 people in the Twin Towers, Pentagon and a field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania.
As always, accompanying many of our remembrances was the mantra “never forget.” For those of us who witnessed that day’s events, forgetting 9/11 is an impossibility. Instead, the mantra now serves as a reminder for us to keep sharing our stories so that future generations will understand the tragedy that befell our nation when the towers fell.
Running a close second to “never forget” is our oft-repeated collective plea for Americans to somehow come together again like we did in the days following the tragedy.
“Do you remember the days right after 9/11?” we ask each other. “We came together as a nation. We had each other’s backs. We were all one.”
Our shock and sorrow drove a good portion of that response 15 years ago. Collective, conscious choice did, too.
The terrorists chose to kill. The first responders chose to risk their lives to save others. In the aftermath, the rest of us chose to put aside our differences and seek common ground-or at least it felt that way. For a little while, anyway.
In the years since, America has become more divided than ever, and in more ways than we could have probably ever imagined. As painful as it is to think about, it would probably take another 9/11-or worse-for us to approach that feeling of unity once again. Given the heightened security and surveillance measures now in place since 2001, however, the chances of another 9/11 happening have (thankfully) grown less and less likely. The changing face of global terrorism has made a similar event less likely, as well.
Bin Laden is dead, and ISIS has eclipsed al-Qaida as our biggest terroristic threat. Instead of big, well-funded, well-coordinated operations like al-Qaida’s multiple hijackings on 9/11, the fragmented ISIS is satisfied to use propaganda to inspire small groups and lone wolves to carry out smaller-scale attacks like the ones we’ve seen in Paris, Brussels, San Bernardino and Orlando. While horrific, these smaller events don’t give us pause like 9/11 did. We grieve in the moment, but in a few hours (or even minutes), we’re back at each other’s throats on social media and elsewhere, somehow blaming each other for these attacks-and everything else under the sun, for that matter-and slowly destroying our collective souls in the process.
When terrorists choose to hijack a plane or shoot up a nightclub, they no longer see people, only enemies who must be destroyed. When we look at those we disagree with, we must do all that we can to not see enemies, but people. While it’s so easy to hate, it’s so much better to love.
Can we all come together again like we did after 9/11? I don’t know. But if we can, we’re going to have to choose to do it.
Former Chattanooga Pulse Editor Bill Colrus writes about (in no particular order) local news, culture, music and media. You can find him on Facebook, follow him on Twitter or reach him at [email protected]. The opinions expressed in this column belong solely to the author, not Nooga.com or its employees.