Eight years ago this week, everything we had assumed about the security of American life exploded in a blood bath of a magnitude we had never experienced on native soil.
We, and our allies and foes around the world, watched hijacked planes crash into the World Trade Center, learned of the terrorist plane flying into the Pentagon and heard accounts of the courageous actions of the passengers aboard United Airlines Flight 93. Their response to passenger Todd Beamer’s call to action, “Let’s roll!,” became America’s rallying cry in the months and years to come.
Of the four aircraft hijacked on Sept. 11, 2001 — including American Airlines Flight 11, American Airlines Flight 77 and United Airlines Flight 175 — United Airlines Flight 93 was the only aircraft that failed to reach its intended target. That fact is solely due to the actions of its passengers. We will never know the level of devastation they may have saved America from sustaining.
On that fateful day, 3,017 people from more than 90 countries died and 6,291 were injured. After-effects of the World Trade Center cleanup debris are still impacting the health of hundreds, perhaps thousands who worked there during the rescue effort..
And the perpetrators, the al-Qaeda organization led by Osama bin Laden, are still the target of an ongoing military action.
The war on terrorism continues, with our soldiers still rotating into the Middle East on tours of duty. Their sacrifices have been monumental. And they deserve our lasting support, gratitude and respect for the price they are paying in response to our government’s call to action.
But what about us — the folks back home — what is our duty in the aftermath of an event that made such a profound and lasting impact on our society and our way of life?
Some folks have called for a nationwide day of volunteering. Fine by me, but not enough. If we are to prepare America for future challenges that are as tough as 9/11, maybe tougher, we have to get to the core of what it means to be a citizen of the greatest nation in the world. And we have to get serious about defining our values, and on a daily basis, living to that standard to the best of our ability.
You and I — all of us — are, as author Cavett Robert notes in his book “Success with People” published by The Napoleon Hill Foundation, the trustees of the future of American society. And we are responsible for preparing our children, grandchildren and great grandchildren to take on that same commitment.
In his book, Robert quotes from a letter to the editor he found in a small newspaper, author unknown:
“Freedom’s greatest enemies are indifference of spirit, weakness of will and compromise of principles. This is the stern lesson of history.”
Robert, inspired by those sentences, wrote “The Creed of the Great American.” If we are to be able to staff and support our military in future generations, so that it can protect us and our descendants, there are tough steps we must take in our own personal lives.
The text of Roberts’ creed, which contains that plan of action, is as follows:
“I am proud of my country.
And I believe in the free enterprise system that made her great.
I’m thankful for my sacred heritage.
And I pledge to do all in my power to protect it.
To this end, I don’t just want security, I want opportunity.
I don’t want to be a kept citizen.
I don’t want others to do for me what I can do for myself.
I seek no career in poverty.
I want to earn my paycheck, not just collect it.
I want to be able to hope and dream and take chances. Yes, and even fail, and with the nobility of a second start, rise and fight to win.
I know that without this challenge, my soul and spirit and all that is within me will shrivel and die.
I’ll not sell my birthright for a handout.
I’ll not exchange my liberty for a dole.
And this I know above all else:
If I cling to these principles, if I hold to these ideals, then and only then can I stand erect, with head high, marching forward to the music of a greater destiny, facing my flag with good conscience and proudly say, “I am an American!”
I believe in my country and her destiny.
I still believe in the original dreams of our founding fathers.
I shall keep faith with my sacred heritage.”
If we strive to live by Robert’s code, or a similar one of our own, we will raise a generation of young men and women who are physically, morally and emotionally ready to carry America into decades that lie ahead.
If we do not, it won’t take a terrorist act to bring this nation to her knees. We will do that to her ourselves.
(Ida Holyfield is the editor of The Post newspaper, Big Stone Gap, Va.)