In a 9/11 commemorative speech I watched, a statement was made that will probably become one of those oft-repeated historical quotes: “The terrorists soon discovered that a random group of Americans is an exceptional group of people.” I have repeated that quote over and over to myself since hearing it and pondered on how our country has changed in the past two decades.
As a nation we vowed “never again!” Never again would we be attacked on our own soil. Never again would we allow ourselves to be so vulnerable. Never again would we be caught with our guard down. We vowed to remain united in fighting this war on terrorism, a unique war because our enemy was usually unseen until the blood was spilled. Have we kept our vow?
After 9/11 life began to change, especially with travel. Bit by bit we agreed to lose some of our autonomy for the sake of security. We exchanged some of our human dignity for safety. So what if we have to walk barefoot or have our bodies groped? as long as our plane doesn’t explode, that’s what matters, right? We soon settled into this new normal and life moved on. Flash forward 20 years and our country is now paralyzed with fear. This is hardly the same place that recovered so boldly from the carnage of 9/11. What happened?
From its founding, America has been developed and protected by its citizens. Expansion and progress, as controversial as some of them may have been, were based on the ideals of freedom and personal liberty. Civil rights and liberty banners have been waved throughout the course of our short national history- why? Because it’s common knowledge that America is the land of the free: here we are free to live, free to grow, free to worship, free to speak our minds, free to make our dreams reality. Opportunity beckons because we are free. But a subtle change has been happening and the mindset of independence has begun to fade.
As a society, we have entrusted our well-being to federal government. We have abandoned the resilience and courage of our ancestors: the ones who crossed oceans, fled brutal regimes, settled new territory, braved the Underground Railroad. We have minimized the sacrifices of the noble hearts of those who came before us, the ones who left the safety of our borders in order to fight for the freedom and liberty of those oppressed. As a people we have agreed that the government must not only protect us abroad but at home as well; we have become so comfortable that we now value comfort and convenience over integrity and strength of character.
Presently, our personal autonomy is being threatened in the name of “the greater good” and “safety.” Our indivisibility is disappearing as we are separated into groups: the vaccinated and unvaccinated. Our rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness are vanishing as we are required to jump through vaccine hoops in order to enjoy to what we are rightfully entitled. When we glance over our shoulder and see the astounding strength of our ancestors who stand behind us, can we stand taller and hold our heads higher? Or are we confronted with our weakened stature because we have believed empty promises and swallowed flimsy arguments about safety at all costs?
The more we acquiesce to government overreach, the more we lose ourselves. We forget how to be and do and think on our own; we forget how good it is to be free! Heroes don’t have to be a thing of the past. Let’s remember September 11, 2001 and embrace that phrase made famous by Todd Beamer: “Let’s Roll!” Yes, heroism cost him his life but he recognized that there are things worse than dying with integrity. Living as a shadow of one’s self is much worse.