As I saw so many posts remembering the loss and the sacrifice that characterize our collective memories of the September 11 terrorist attacks, I was prompted to ponder the national response and massive relief effort which took place in the wake of the attacks.
For those unfamiliar with the context, on September 11, 2001, a group of militants from the Islamic extremist group known as al Qaeda launched a series of suicide attacks against targets in the United States by hijacking airplanes and flying them into buildings. The targets were the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and the White House. The plane intended to target the White House was retaken by the passengers and crashed in Shanksville, Pennsylvania. The other hijacked planes were successful in hitting their targets. Approximately 3,000 casualties were suffered from the attacks.
A recovery effort ensued immediately following the attacks which persisted for many months around the area where the World Trade Center used to be, an area referred to as “Ground Zero” or “The Pile.” Many local first responders were killed when the buildings collapsed on them as they attempted to facilitate an evacuation. The following day, a small army of volunteers from around the nation converged on Ground Zero to begin clearing debris and searching for survivors. Emergency responders and construction companies brought in equipment to move the heavy debris and “bucket brigades” of humans moved small pieces rock-by-rock, stone-by-stone to clear the rubble. Churches and other humanitarian organizations assisted by bringing food and medical supplies for the emergency workers and survivors pulled from the site.
By early October, the mission at Ground Zero shifted from rescue and recovery to just recovery. In mid December, the fires which had been ongoing for months were finally declared extinguished. Cleanup and recovery continued for many more months as the operation was downsized with progress being made. Many areas and services gradually reopened and the safely-accessible areas at Ground Zero expanded. Recovery operations formally concluded on May 30 the following year.
The collective effort of the United States and the American people to rapidly rise up and recover from the attack while rescuing survivors reminds me of the value of a nation and why I am grateful to be part of one. As I understand, a nation is a collection of people who share a common history, value system, and moral framework who, together, are more than they are alone. While any one of those people involved in the rescue and recovery effort would not have been able to make much of a difference by themselves, working together as a team – as a nation – they were able to pool their knowledge, resources, and willpower to orchestrate a massive relief effort which saw life in the area largely return to normal in less than a year. The unity displayed by those who responded to the terror attacks serves as an inspiration to all of us across time and space about the importance of standing together in time of need. United by a common vision, the nation extols the value of teamwork and cooperation.
While spoken in a very different context, I find myself reminded of Benjamin Franklin’s comments on July 2, 1776 when the Continental Congress agreed upon the Declaration of Independence. He said: “We must hang together or surely we shall hang separately.” When blessed with a nation, the people are able to coordinate a massive amount of effort and resources toward achieving strategic goals too grand for a few souls to muster, let alone for one on their own. No matter how brave or how strong we are, we can surely achieve more as a team than we do operating alone. Hence the common saying, “there is no ‘I’ in ‘team.'”
That is not to say some tasks are not better suited for a lone operator. Surely there are. Also, a team is only as strong as its weakest link. A nation which champions individual liberties is strongest of all by building a team of robust members. A nation which neglects the rights of the individual is no nation at all, but a horde of mindless husks which think not for themselves, completely at the whims of the hive. This is why the greatest nation which can ever be achieved is the one which is built up by a group of people who protect first and foremost the virtue of individualism, while still retaining the ability to work as a team.
I am inspired by the legacy created by the Founding Fathers of the United States and the wealth of literature they have left behind to guide us. It is amazing to see how far we have come and what we can accomplish when we unify behind a common goal. I know we face many challenges ahead, both from Nature and from our fellow Man. Threats to freedom and liberty shall assail us until the end of time, both from without and within. Yet by staying true to the principles which shaped the nation during its founding, I believe we can overcome any trial and best any foe.
Just as those who rushed into the fires of uncertainty on September 11 stood together as one in their endeavor to preserve life and heal the nation, I do believe that we today can and must exemplify the same excellence in moral character wherever we are by holding true to the ties that bind us together as one people and one nation. There is no darkness too great and no evil too strong. Where there is a will, there is a way. Some tests may break us down, but we have the power within ourselves to stand back up after a thousand falls and rise again stronger than ever.
For my part, I am honored to take this day to remember those who perished on September 11, 2001 and those who spent months toiling away to save others, repair the damage, and restore life to the nation. Most honorable are those who charged into the storm and gave their lives so that others may live. Most cherished are their souls among the halls of the dead. While they fell, their memory lives on forever and inspires us all to live our lives in such a manner worthy of their sacrifice. May the fallen be at peace, and the survivors find theirs.
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