Let’s Remember Who We Are

Message to the State of Ohio delivered on the 20th anniversary of 9/11 in Ashtabula, Ohio

Dave Yost | September 11, 2021

Let’s remember who we are.

Twenty years ago today, nearly 3,000 people died at the hands of America’s enemies.

More than 100 of them died in a last, desperate act. As the steel towers twisted and groaned around them, as the flames and smoke choked out their only path of escape down 110 flights of stairs — 2,071 individual steps — they jumped to their deaths.

We gather here today to remember them, and to remember that grim day. 

Each of them had plans for the rest of that day – work to do, meals to share, loved ones to go home to. Kids’ soccer games to watch, groceries to pick up, maybe a Tuesday night date night and a walk in Central Park.

And we are here today to remember that – while our enemies meant to strike a death blow – they failed. 

America survived that day. They did not drive us to our knees; they caused us to rise to our feet.

Yes, we are here to touch those memories. And perhaps, to remember what we have forgotten.

Have we forgotten why our enemies hate us, or even that America actually does have enemies that wish to do us harm?

Many of our enemies hate us because of who we are, and what we stand for.

They choose to be our enemies because in America, women own property and vote and run their own lives, and businesses.

They hate us because we are free to worship as conscience leads, and not as the government or some cleric demands.

These enemies do not understand why we allow public dissent and criticism of our leaders, or why we do not stone people for their sexual orientation. 

Here is the bedrock of America: We believe in freedom because we believe in the dignity and worth of every human being. All of us created equal, from the strongest to the weakest, from the wise to the foolish – worthy of life, of freedom and the right to chase after our dreams.

These truths are obvious to us and need no further proof.

We believe in the rule of law, and not the whims of rulers, the same rules for everyone, rich and poor alike.

Have we forgotten? These truths that make us strong, our enemies see as weakness.

Have we forgotten that the world is a dangerous place?

On 9/11, for the first time in modern history, the carnage of war came to our beautiful shores, a land that had been spared devastation of two World Wars. The oceans that had been our ramparts protected us no longer.

On that day, we felt newly insecure. But the world has not become safer in the last 20 years, and the oceans today provide less protection than they did even on 9/11.

America’s enemies can attack us now through cyberwarfare. Ocean lanes and airspace can be protected by ships and planes, but now the enemies can reach America through fiber optic cable. Our financial system, our energy grid, even our economy.

Most of all, have we forgotten what it meant to be united? Have we forgotten the days after the 9/11 attacks, when partisanship slithered back into its hole? When we treated each other with respect and kindness? When we had a sense of shared purpose?

This Fourth of July, I read a story about a farmer in New York named Peter Treiber. He has an American flag displayed on his produce truck. Business at the farmer’s market was slow. 

Finally, in discussions with a customer, he found out why: the flag. People in his liberal town were reluctant to do business with him because they thought he was some kind of political zealot. Peter actually leans liberal himself. But he’s not a political zealot, he’s a patriotic American who loves his country, and loves his flag.

That flag is a shared symbol of who we are. Alternating red and white stripes, neither dominating the other, a bold blue field from which a field of stars blazes with light.

I also am reminded of the brave Americans on United Flight 93 who learned of the other hijacked planes and chose to sacrifice their lives so that other Americans might live.

 Have we forgotten who we are?

Today it seems that many of us are unwilling to make even modest sacrifices for the safety of their neighbors and communities.

In the midst of the flames, fear and panic on 9/11, I thank God for the passengers on Flight 93, and the hundreds of first responders who willingly put their lives on the line to save strangers they’d never met.

Imagine with me, for a moment, a dark night. The power is out, so there are no lights, no glow of a city reflected off the nighttime clouds. It’s so dark that we cannot see anything. And imagine that it is war, that there are enemies shooting at us with bombs and rockets exploding like thunder that is too close. The momentary flashes of light from the explosions are all you have to get a glimpse, a guess of what is going on around you.

You’ve been in this place, through the words of one of our most famous songs:

            And the rockets’ red glare

            the bombs bursting in air

            gave proof through the night

            that our flag was still there

These are dark days. Often, it seems as if there is not enough light to see.

America does have self-appointed enemies, and the world is more dangerous that it has ever been. 

But on this anniversary of our darkest day, let us remember who we are, what we stand for, these things that we believe to be true.

When the dawn comes again, our flag will still wave over the land of the free. Over America, over all of us.

I will be standing there with you.

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