The terrorist attacks that struck America 18 years ago today – on September 11, 2001 — can now seem distant, despite bumper stickers after the attacks that urged citizens, “Never forget.”
The sad truth is that many of us have forgotten that fateful day when 19 terrorists hijacked four airliners, crashing two of them into the World Trade Center in New York and another one into the Pentagon. The fourth plane, almost certainly headed to another target in Washington, D.C., instead crashed in a Pennsylvania field when the passengers, hearing of the other hijackings, rebelled against their captors to thwart their evil plan. All told, nearly 3,000 people lost their lives in the attacks.
Among those in uniform killed was a young Navy lieutenant from Baton Rouge, Michael Scott Lamana, who died at the Pentagon. Four other Louisiana natives lost their lives in the attacks: Kevin Yokum, Louis Calvin Williams, Leo Russell Keen and Robert J. Hymel.
As a country, we have also too easily forgotten the spirit of unity that the attacks inspired. Gone is the sense that we’re all in it together, regardless of party, as we confront challenges here and abroad.
That destructive partisanship has in the years since 9-11 seeped into Louisiana politics, too. A state where Democrats and Republicans once often worked together for the common good is bitterly divided these days, as the current campaign season makes clear.
All of this reminds us of a timely warning sounded by former Secretary of Defense James Mattis in his new book, “Call Sign Chaos,” coauthored with fellow former Marine Bing West.
“What concerns me most as a military man, coming out of a diverse yet unified culture,” notes Mattis, “is not our external adversaries; instead, it is our internal divisiveness. We are dividing into hostile tribes cheering against each other, fueled by emotion and a mutual disdain that jeopardizes our future, instead of rediscovering our common ground and finding solutions. At Gettysburg, Lincoln spoke of our nation having a new birth of freedom. Today’s disruptive civic climate would confound and sadden the Great Emancipator.”
Those words are well worth noting as America observes another solemn anniversary of 9-11. The best way to defeat the enemies of representative government is to show them that it can work well in this, the greatest country on earth.
That mission summons all of us to reclaim the unity we found 18 years ago today, in one of the darkest chapters of American history.