In Our View: Healing Together

One decade after the tragedy of 9/11, Americans have changed, but we can do better

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Ten years ago today, a nation mourned — for innocents lost and innocence lost.

The horror of the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, remains vivid. There were visions of planes crashing into buildings, and people jumping out of high-rise windows, and two iconic buildings being altered from symbols of American power and ingenuity into symbols of American vulnerability.

Those visions are seared into the national consciousness, along with the memories of 2,977 victims who died that day.

We vowed at the time to never forget. And we haven’t. Our own state, for example, has a high school named for Todd Beamer, one of the heroic passengers on United Airlines Flight 93. Those who were lost have been remembered often, and they are at the forefront of our thoughts during this weekend of reflections and memorials.

It was a day of unfathomable carnage and unfathomable heroism. Yet while we pause to ponder that moment in history, we also must reflect upon what the 10 years since then have brought us. Americans are not defined by tragedy; they are defined by their response to it, by the strength and resolve that such tragedy can unearth.

In that regard, we have done well, but there is much left to do.

In 2004, the 9/11 Commission issued 41 recommendations for helping to prevent another attack. Many have been adopted, but commission members recently identified two key provisions that have not:

• The development of so-called “D Block” radio frequencies, an unused portion of the airwave spectrum that first responders could use to communicate. The New York City Fire Department lost 343 members on 9/11, and experts have said that improved communication could have prevented many of those fatalities.

• A clearer chain of command when multiple agencies respond to the same emergency.

As Lee Hamilton, who was vice chairman of the 9/11 Commission, said recently: “Ten years after 9/11, we are not yet in the place in this country where the first responders can talk to one another. Ten years after 9/11, we are not yet at the place where we know who’s in charge at the site of a disaster.

“In my mind, there isn’t any doubt that we are much better prepared than we were 10 years ago. Are we where we ought to be? No, I don’t think we are.”

The American public — and the victims of 9/11 — deserve better.

Without a doubt, the world changed 10 years ago today. As the terrorists crashed their hijacked planes into the towers of the World Trade Center, as those towers collapsed, as another plane crashed into the Pentagon and a fourth into a field in Pennsylvania, the psyche of a nation was altered.

We’re still figuring out how to deal with that. We’re still figuring out how to deal with our place in the world and with the notion that the United States is not invulnerable to the scourge of international terrorism.

There have been successes and missteps along the way, and yet we persevere, struggling to balance the dearly held idea of personal liberty with the task of keeping our citizens safe. Struggling to balance the thought of unfounded fear with due diligence.

The United States hasn’t been hit by a large-scale terrorist attack in the past decade, but it hasn’t been for a lack of trying by those who would hide behind cowardice while inflicting harm upon others. For example, quick-thinking citizens have thwarted an attempted car-bombing in Times Square and an attempt to detonate a bomb aboard a Detroit-bound airliner.

That, perhaps, points out the stalwart nature of Americans. We will never cower before those who hate us. We will never allow tragedy to warp our ideals. We will never forget, and we will use those memories to make us stronger as a people and as a nation.