Van Beek: Was 9-12 our generation’s greatest moment? |

Van Beek: Was 9-12 our generation’s greatest moment?

On Sept. 11, 2001, the United States experienced first-hand the emergence of terrorism as a critical national threat. Since then, we annually honor the sacrifices made by first responders … firefighters, medical, law enforcement, and private citizens, who stepped up, placing their own lives at risk, to aid neighbors and strangers. 

We mourn the loss of innocents in the tragedies, and we united to let the world know that we face adversity as one nation. On Sept. 12, there was no division … we were all in this together, as Americans.

During the 15th anniversary of the attacks, the Military Times, wrote that “after Sept. 11, new signs of unity seemed to well up everywhere, from the homes where American flags appeared virtually overnight, to the Capitol steps where lawmakers pushed aside party lines to sing ‘God Bless America’, together.” 

In less than two decades, what happened? Has unity fallen to the divisiveness of politics? Has identity politics eliminated the category of “American?” If being American is not a unifying factor, what happens to the values associated with that identity? Can’t we value multiple identities at once, after all — isn’t that what we have strived for as a nation? Has the American spirit given way to divisiveness under the guise of progress? 

Of course, there has always been a contentious debate between parties over policy, and protest by citizens on controversial issues, but it was usually limited to specific topics. In today’s world, people seem unable to disagree and remain civil and respectful. Rather than exhibiting pride in unity, we seem to relish in the most contentious of our differences. 

The “melting pot” blend of cultures, ethnicities, religions, and other distinguishing characteristics, which became the backbone of our uniquely American culture, has recently come under attack in our highly toxic political environment. Rather than celebrating our common values of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, we are battling one another on party affiliation, and who is at fault for our less-than-perfect lives. 

This divisiveness is coming from indiscriminately attributing the actions of a few to the many (law enforcement has been a prime target). We are aggressively arguing over issues of race, policing, even mask-wearing.  The level of animosity is tearing at the fiber of our national soul. 

People say, they wouldn’t let political issues divide their family and friends, yet the increasing lack of respect for differing opinions and individual perspective has created a nation of Team Blue versus Team Red, and neither takes prisoners … it’s a fight to the death. The beautiful mosaic of our nation is being chipped away and it’s up to us to remember the lessons of Sept. 11 and how our nation came together immediately afterward.

Perhaps it would help if we thought back to how we felt, at the moment we saw the planes hit. What were we doing? Who were we with? How long did it take before we realized that this was really happening? It was a surreal moment in time. Just as those who remembered where they were when President Kennedy was shot, this is the national shock of our generation. 

Maybe, if we remember our vulnerability as a relatively young nation, and how fragile our democracy is, and how valuable our connections are to one another, we can get past our current prejudices … whether political, racial, religious, economic and whatever other excuses for hatred we use, we can begin to heal. 

For me, 9-11 occurred during a double homicide investigation in Kosovo.  We were in a room with over 100 people from 15 different countries and the televised images seemed like scenes from the next “Die Hard” movie … cinema, not real life.  Tears were shed and we emerged with an even stronger commitment to finding the killers we were seeking. Terrorism and death were the focus of that day. 

A friend was in Denver meeting with Native American and Italian leaders, and city officials, on preventing riots, anticipated for Columbus Day.  Shock and tears were shed by all groups, as they unified in their love for this country.  For them, it was a battle of legacy and search for peace.

When we focus on the good of our nation and compare it to the dreams of others, we realize just how lucky we have it … however, as some would say, there is no such thing as luck.  Thomas Jefferson wrote, “I’m a great believer in luck, and I find the harder I work, the more I have of it.”

On this Sept. 11, remember how much has been sacrificed, for us to be so lucky.  United we stand, divided we fall. 

The priorities of 9-12 will carry us through any challenge … family, friends, God, and country. 

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