Our country this weekend mourns history’s worst attack on the U.S. mainland, 20 years after extreme Islamic terrorists hijacked four jets and killed nearly 3,000 individuals in one morning.
Yesterday is gone. Today, we may solemnly give thanks for the way goodness and love conquer evil and hate.
Our country lost exactly 2,996 individuals to the attacks. Multiple documentaries show us, from inside the buildings, what it must be like knowing death will occur within moments. We hear the civilian phone calls from hijacked planes and burning buildings. People who knew they would die soon made clear to relatives just how much they were loved. “Keep this message forever,” one husband said to his wife shortly before his hijacked plane crashed.
Footage from in and around the former World Trade Center buildings and the Pentagon shows people knowingly risking and giving their lives so others could survive. Firefighters and law enforcement officers, without exception, conducted search and rescue missions with full knowledge they were probably giving their lives for others.
Because of Sept. 11, we are inspired by passengers on United Flight 93 who selflessly gave their lives to crash a plane the terrorists intended to fly into the U.S. Capitol or the White House.
The magnitude of Sept. 11 is greater than fiction. Unlike movie disasters, few people openly panicked as they faced almost certain death. Sept. 11 teaches us that in the moments before an untimely demise, people pray, they say goodbye, and they mitigate the suffering of others. Perhaps in our final moments, love matters most.
Dozens of survivors, most of whom nearly lost their lives, share extraordinary stories in a six-part Hulu series produced in full cooperation with National Geographic and the September 11 National Museum. In that and other high-quality documentaries, we see people hanging from windows, desperately clinging to life while making the unfathomable decision to jump to their deaths or die from the heat.
In revisiting Sept. 11, we see the psychological and physical suffering that continues for survivors, rescuers, cleanup workers and others who inhaled the toxic dust created by building materials, glass and mercury from crushed fluorescent lights.
As hard as these stories are to hear and see, they should remind us of what happened on Sept. 12. On that day, the world community came together. Civilized countries offered unconditional support to the United States. Midwesterners, Southerners and Westerners suddenly saw New Yorkers as fellow Americans, vulnerably human and not much different than themselves. Democrats and Republicans united around one country.
As we contemplated such a mass and instant loss of life, we forgot our petty differences. No one trying to survive the attacks cared about the race, religion, color, sexual orientation, political beliefs or ethnicity of anyone else fighting to survive.
The falling debris and burning fuel killed millionaire CEOs and low-wage, entry-level workers without discretion. Employees tried to save employers and vice versa. Passengers in first class died in the same moment as those in coach. People were people that day to all but a handful of fanatics who were condemned by most of the world for their hate-motivated actions.
On Sept. 12, 2001, and for months into the future, our notoriously divided government coalesced. The U.S. Senate voted unanimously for a resolution that authorized military force against “nations, organizations, or persons” identified by then-President George W. Bush as supporters of the terrorists. Few balked at our country seeking justice.
Our subsequent invasion of Afghanistan took a disproportionate social and economic toll on Colorado, as thousands of troops deployed from Fort Carson. Men and women left schools and careers so they could fight for their country. NFL safety Pat Tillman walked away from million-dollar paychecks to fight in Afghanistan, where he died in battle.
Among those who fought terrorists in Afghanistan is Democratic Rep. Jason Crow, a decorated former Army Ranger who represents Aurora and other portions of Colorado’s 6th Congressional District. Crow’s predecessor — Aurora Mayor, former Colorado Secretary of State and former Republican Rep. Mike Coffman — left a safe job as state treasurer to volunteer for additional Middle East service. These men are political opponents, yet their shared love of country overrides all that.
Today’s Perspective section of The Gazette features a first-person account from Crow that helps readers understand the difference between watching wars and fighting them. Though no one can fully grasp or understand this anniversary, we can use it to remind ourselves that most humans are good. Innocent life matters. Forgetting this, we too often exaggerate and wrongly prioritize interpersonal, social and political differences that need not be so bitterly divisive.
In the trenches of war or the burning confines of an inescapable building, we are far more alike than different — regardless of our mortal grievances that might have no temporal meaning.
Twenty years and one day past the worst day in modern American history, we should reframe. Don’t let the sacrifices of those who died on Sept. 11, or in subsequent battles, go to waste. We will honor the dead by humbling ourselves and learning from the selfless love, care and bravery they displayed in their final moments.
The Gazette Editorial Board