What a difference a quadrennium makes.
Four short years ago, a Nation sat transfixed, watching in horror as the most deadly terrorist attack on American soil unfolded. We all remember what we did that day, where we were, what we said. The curiosity at the news of the first plane striking the World Trade Center; the dread, the chill, upon hearing news of the second. This was a disaster of unprecedented proportions. Mistakes were many, and forgiven. Radio frequencies didn’t work, people acted outside the chain of command, mayhem was rampant, But through it all, America’s Mayor, Rudy Giuliani stood, calm and cool, seemingly unflappable and inexhaustible, working ’round the clock, walking through the streets, meeting with rescue workers, attending funerals, talking to Washington.
The Nation rallied around its new President, too. He stood on a pile of rubble, bullhorn in hand and famously said, “I hear you — and America hears you…” it was a great moment, brought us off the mat, if just a bit, boosted our spirits from subterranean levels. But mostly we all rallied. The Congress — the bitterly partisan, hopelessly divided Congress — stood on the Capitol steps and spontaneously burst into a chorus of “God Bless America”, and precious few could get through it all without the words catching in their throats. It was a moving scene. We had suffered a great loss and we pulled together. The country knew no party, if just for a moment.
Fast forward to September 11, 2005. It matters, we suppose, that the attack this time wasn’t willful but random. Still, it was an attack nonetheless, with loss of property every bit as great, although blessedly with a lesser loss of life. But many more people will be displaced from their homes as a result of Hurricane Katrina. It will take them years to rebuild. Yet somehow the reaction is so very different from the clear Fall day of four years ago. Almost instantly the finger-pointing started, almost instantly the partisan rancor rose to a fever pitch. What the hell has happened to us?
September 11 is a day (as we said below) to honor those who died in the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. In every city in America today, people will pause, bow their heads, and remember. In New Orleans, Gulfport, Biloxi, people — the newly-homeless, those hanging on by a thread, the rescue workers, soldiers, National Guard — will all pause and remember our countrymen who fell just four short years ago. May we also suggest that we also resolve this day to honor those who fell by uniting anew to rebuild the Gulf Coast?
How great would it be if September 11, 2005 became known as the day the finger-pointing stopped.
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