I saw my assistent principal -- the principal was out that day -- talking earnestly with the teacher across the hall. I stepped out of my fourth-grade classroom to see what was up. She just said there were reports of a possible terrorist attack. We'd avoid upsetting the kids with any announcement, but she wanted us to be aware. By the time my planning time rolled around I had gathered the gist of what was happening from quick forays into the hall and whispered snips of conversation with other teachers. I walked into my neighbor teacher's classroom where she had the news on, now that the kids were at PE. I saw the smoke rising from the towers, several teachers were crying. And then the unthinkable happened. A tower collapsed. And soon the other. It turned out I was watching a tape: the others teachers assumed I had known. I don't think any image has ever affected me so dramatically.
You, dear Reader, also know exactly where you were and what you were doing, I'll bet.
Of course, the terrorists had made a horrible mistake. They had succeeded in inflicting great pain and sorrow, but if we were terrorized we were also galvanized. No action could have united our divided country so completely or garnered us more allies around the world. Firefighters and police officers of both parties and no party fought side by side to save the occupants of the Twin Towers and the Pentagon. Passengers of a miscellany of political stripes rushed the hijackers on the fourth plane and likely forced it down before it could hit one of our national shrines. Leaders of both major parties worked to give the executive the authority it needed to punish the terrorists. Soldiers of all races, religions, and parties risked their lives, and some gave their lives, to take the fight to Al Qaeda in Afghanistan. Those of us still bitter over the debacle of the election of 2000 immediately put partisanship on the back burner and gave wholehearted support to our national leadership. No one was concerned about red vs. blue any more, we were concerned for the Red, White, and Blue.
Few leaders in all of history have had so golden an opportunity to show greatness as did America's leaders in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks of 2001. Much of the world declared themselves "Americans" in spirit. America, itself, was united in the face of this escalated threat to our nation.
What would a Lincoln or a Roosevelt have done? Or a Clinton or a Reagan?