Two years after a 9/11 remembrance, my heart breaks for our lack of unity

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Guest Commentary
by Amanda Young Rigby, Vista City Councilmember

At the San Diego Memorial Stair Climb, first responders from not only around our county but from across the globe gather to remember the first responders who were murdered in New York on September 11th, 2001, when our nation was attacked by Islamic terrorists.  I have attended this event multiple times and — even after all these years — it is absolutely gut wrenching while at the same time so very heart warming.  

On that beautiful Tuesday morning 16 years ago we were a nation at peace.  The people on those planes and in the towers — the moms and dads, the grandmas and grandpas, sons, daughters, brothers, sisters, aunt, uncles, husbands, wives, boy friends, girl friends, best friends — all of those innocent and unsuspecting people were just going about their day. Like every American that sunny Tuesday morning, they too, were living and working their American dream. 

And on that day, THAT is what was attacked. Not New York, or the Pentagon, per se, but our American ideals, our American principles, our American way of life, our very identity as Americans. As President George W. Bush said at the time, “Our enemies have made the mistake America’s enemies always make. They saw liberty and thought they saw weakness.” Those terrorists thought that murdering innocent Americans would somehow extinguish the American spirit that burns inside every one of us and that we would simply crumble under the weight of their vile hatred. But they learned just how wrong they were when the crew and passengers of Flight 93 took it upon themselves to become the first fighting force of this new war, for it was in that moment the terrorists learned that the American Spirit is a fire that burns deep within us and when those flames are fanned becomes one of the strongest forces on earth. It is our American Spirit that enables us to rise from our own grief and come together united as one people, with a resolve like no other.  

The attack on 9/11 did not destroy America. On the contrary, it reinforced our foundation, it steeled our resolve, and it strengthened our commitment to who we are as Americans. And now, 16 years later, America is still that shining beacon on the hill, burning a little brighter. America is still the land of opportunity for millions of people who continue to flock to our shores, not for a day at the beach, but for our freedoms and our ideals. They, too, want to stand in the light of our American Spirit, and maybe, just maybe, our light will spark within them and burn just as brightly. 

After 9/11, we also recommitted as a world leader in this new global war, a war where the innocents are the targets, and our workplaces, restaurants, schools, houses of worship, transit centers, and shopping malls are the new battlegrounds. This is how the enemy thinks they will defeat us, by a thousand cuts. But we will not let that happen. We must not, as Margaret Thatcher so famously said, “go wobbly,” but instead we must stand firm.  

On this day as we remember and honor the victims of the attacks of September 11, 2001, and those lost in the war since,  I am reminded of the words our 16th President, Abraham Lincoln, spoke at Gettysburg, as they seem as apropos today as when he spoke them.

He said, “It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us, that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion, that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain, that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, and for the people shall nor perish from the earth.” 

~~ I wrote and gave that speech two years ago. My naïveté and rose colored glasses are gone and the reality of where we are now as a nation can no longer be ignored.

Today, as we near the anniversary of the attacks on September 11, 2001, I reflect back to the immediate aftermath of those events. The enemy thought that they could break us that day but instead, we came together as one people — 281,421,906 Americans came together with a single vision and a fighting spirit forged in the fires of the hell that was that day.

Two years ago, I spoke about our American resolve and still being the shining beacon on the hill. But this year, 18 years after the devasting attacks on our country, I see that we have quickly become a fractured people, having lost sight of our shared vision, forgotten our shared history, and with no fighting spirit as a united America fighting a common enemy.  Instead, we now fight each other and tear each other down. Power, money, and influence are all that matters. Ignorance and hatred abound. Justice, respect, and the American ethos be damned.

We have lost our way and strayed from our path. After everything that has happened since 8:03 a.m. on September 11, 2001, after all the lives lost, after all the speeches given, after all the promises made, we are a nation divided like never before. We all recognize our nation’s foreign enemies but President Lincoln specifically warned us of the enemies from within. We did not take heed. The enemies from within are the worst of all our enemies and they have found a way to destroy us, to extinguish the flame, and it is our political correctness that lets them. We have all but lost the war.

I think of my ancestor who signed the Declaration of Independence, I think of my ancestors who fought the American Revolution, World War I, and World War II, I think of my family’s blood spilled on foreign soil to protect America, our ideals, our very identity. And my heart breaks.

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