Princeton Times

Opinion

September 14, 2012

What happened to one nation, undivided?

GARDNER — Senseless acts of immeasurable malice threatened to break our nation on Sept. 11, 2001.

As 19 terrorists manned planes they turned into mammoth missiles and a network of evil conspirators watched a world away, al Quaeda declared war on America, our freedom, faiths, democracy and way of life.

They killed 2,996 people inside the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and the planes.

In an instant emblazoned in flashes of violent fire, obscene plumes of black smoke, and in broken bodies of Americans falling dozens of floors to escape the blaze, the terrorists proved that they could hit harder than we ever imagined and that they could wound to the core the superpower they hated more than they loved life.

But, America confirmed that we would not be broken so easily.

The terrorists on a misguided mission to bring the United States to its knees indeed demonstrated they could claim precious lives of almost 3,000 beloved people, but they could not kill the American spirit — the perseverance, determination and commitment to freedom that shaped so much of life in the nation that we love.

On Sept. 11, 2001, the world we woke to was not the one we had known to that point, but we made a decision to be strong in the face of hatred, to match the dark opposition with brilliant red, white and blue and to face the threat together.

In the days and weeks after the planes hit and the buildings fell, Americans didn’t ask many questions about political parties. We didn’t pick on people of other faiths, because we needed all the inspiration and comfort we could find anywhere. And lawmakers actually worked together to pick up the pieces of a government and a culture that could have crumbled under the strain.

We were one nation, undivided.

•••

Eleven years, two wars and many unanswered questions past the terror attacks that forever changed life’s landscape, America is anything but united.

In fact, it seems we’re divided over just about everything from supersized soft drinks in the Big Apple to who can marry whom in what state.

We’re divided by finances, faith, political parties and our feelings about a particular chain’s chicken sandwiches.

Those of us who are unemployed don’t know how, when or where we’ll change that dim reality, while employers argue they can’t find people willing to work.

Our economy is so slow, we’re not sure it isn’t moving backward.

All the while, we all blame someone else.

Conservatives fault liberals. Democrats point the finger at the Tea Party. Poor people argue it’s the wealthiest citizens’ fault. Obama condemns Bush, and the GOP blames Obama.

And, because this is an election year, nothing will happen to change this vicious cycle until or unless Americans quit all the pointless bickering about things that don’t matter and force the focus to the things that do.

•••

Tuesday, on the 11th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, Americans were once again in the cross hairs of extremists’ sights.

The attacks began on Tuesday, in Egypt, when militant demonstrators breached the walls of the U.S. Embassy in Cairo and tore down the American flag to replace it with a black banner bearing Muslim insignia. The protesters said they acted in outrage of an obscure movie — reportedly produced by an Israeli-American using a pseudonym — that wrongly portrayed Islam’s prophet, Mohammed.

Within hours, more terrorists stormed the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, setting fire to the facilities as Ambassador Christopher Stevens did his best to save the consulate’s workers from the citizens he recently helped gain freedom. Stevens and three other Americans died in or after the attack.

Wednesday and Thursday, the attacks spread to Yemen.

What’s next? Maybe the flames of fury will settle, or they could burn hotter.

One of the things most striking in the devastating aftermath of this week’s senseless violence is that even the unprovoked attack of our people abroad hasn’t unified us at home. While most agree that the attacks shouldn’t have happened, there are those among us who say it’s America’s fault, because a man claiming to be an American made an Internet movie that made radicals mad.

While it’s true, Americans’ freedom of speech and religion should never be used to unduly ridicule any faith, society or individual, it’s a long leap to go from being offended about a low-budget movie few people would have ever seen without the help of Egyptian television’s ill-advised decision to broadcast clips to brutally killing innocent people who had nothing whatsoever to do with the irresponsible, reprehensible project in the first place.

•••

Where do we go from here? Only time will tell.

But as America remembers the people we lost 11 years ago and the strength it took just to survive that beautiful day that turned dark in a split second, I find myself longing, certainly not for the pain and vulnerability inflicted by hateful hearts, but for the solidarity Americans showed as we vowed to survive and thrive when we healed.

I long for us to be one nation, undivided.

Tammie Toler is Princeton Times editor. Contact her at ttoler@ptonline.net.

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