Voices: Remember not just the horror of 9/11, but also the unity that followed

Credit: Lisa Powell

Credit: Lisa Powell

The run-up to Sept. 11 is in full swing. Retrospectives on TV. Documentaries. Special coverage.

We’ll pay attention to the worst terrorist attack on American soil for a day or two and then go back to sparring over the things that get us all worked up. Whether it’s Republicans trying to circumvent Roe v. Wade in Texas or still pushing the Big Lie in Arizona; or Democrats inept handling of Afghanistan and the budget package, there’s too much red meat to linger for too long on a true American tragedy that means far more than the pettiness we consume ourselves with.

So I wonder, we have a plethora of days for just about any reason, how about we declare Sept. 11 a National Day of Unity?

No, I’m not talking about yet another federal or state paid holiday (we have too many of those as it is). I’m talking about a day that, if we do it right, would have real meaning.

In my column last week on patriotism, Rob Baker, a professor of political science at Wittenberg University, noted that the last time the country truly come together was during Sept.11, 2001, and its immediate aftermath.

Since then, poll after poll shows America becoming far more divided — and people don’t want that. The one thing (only thing?) Joe Biden gets good marks for is his attempts to unify the country. An NBC News poll from April reported eight in 10 Americans surveyed believe the country is divided. That same survey showed Americans believe the top two issues the country faces are the response to COVID and national unity.

So why not a National Unity Day in which we can, for one day, not only remember those patriots and heroes who lost their lives on Sept. 11, but also remember that we shouldn’t need tragedy to come together?

We will never have unity for all. There will also be a group of people, regardless of political leaning, who relish being disagreeable and dyspeptic. (I’m sure you’re thinking of few people you know right now). I’m not trying to convince them to behave otherwise; I’m trying to convince the majority of America that there’s far more upside to unity than disunity.

A National Unity Day would also be a teachable moment. History has a way of obscuring and blurring events. But as part of unity, we need to remind people that police officers and firefighters willingly, without a second thought, rushed into a burning, crumbling building in an effort to save people.

Credit: Drew Angerer

Credit: Drew Angerer

We need to remind ourselves that we all — well anyone with a soul anyway — felt horror when we saw our fellow American citizens jumping from the top floors of the World Trade Center and to their certain death. I don’t know of anyone who wondered about the ethnicity of the people who fell and died; we just knew they were human beings.

When then-President George W. Bush and then-Mayor Rudy Guliani took center stage in New York City after that terrible event, we didn’t go, “There goes those Republicans.” We praised our president and anointed Guliana as America’s mayor. We supported them, because in doing so we supported America.

We need more of that support and unity. It’s true that most of the disunity happens on national issues; locally, we’re not to the point where we’re ignoring or fighting neighbors over partisanship. Talking over the fence, or sitting in the backyard at night or borrowing a cup of sugar aren’t partisan issues.

But we’ve turned just about everything else into one. That’s why we need a National Unity Day on Sept. 11. To remind us of who we are.

Ray Marcano is a long-time journalist whose column appears every Sunday in the Dayton Daily News. He can be reached at raymarcanoddn@gmail.com

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