Bon Jovi sang “the more things change, the more they stay the same,” in 2010. It’s been 20 years since 9/11, but some things haven’t changed all that much.
In 2001, George W. Bush became the 43rd president of the United States after a weeks-long battle over “hanging chads” and recounted votes in Florida that escalated to the Supreme Court. “Shrek” debuted in theaters in May and the first Harry Potter movie released in November, followed by “The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring” in December.
But what most of us remember the most from 2001, even more than the series of anthrax attacks on major news outlets and political officials, are the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City, the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., and the hijacked plane that crashed in Shanksville, Penn. It was on Sept. 11, 2001, the War on Terrorism began and almost 3,000 Americans died that day.
Now, almost 20 years after the United States first invaded Afghanistan as part of Operation Enduring Freedom, the last military planes have finally left the country, ending America’s longest war.
But what lessons have we learned in the past 20 years?
“Dear Santa, my Christmas wish is there will be no more wars,” wrote Greene County elementary school student B. D. in a letter published in the Greene County Record in December 2001.
“Dear Santa, I would like to have some Harry Potter toys. I would also like to have world peace. Would you help our people in Afghanistan please?” wrote K. R., who also asked for some Pooh Bear pajamas for her sister and Hot Wheels toys for her brother.
“Dear Santa, I would like peace and love for our country. I hope everyone will get along. Our country needs to stick on earth. I wish that this terrible war will end. When all people are acting like brothers and sisters, I will be happy,” wrote D. P.
The children who wrote these messages to Santa Claus are now 20 years older. They may even be parents themselves. Do they recall writing these letters?
One thing most Americans recall from 2001 and the months and years following 9/11 is an overwhelming sense of patriotism—of togetherness. School children practiced a moment of silence following the Pledge of Allegiance each morning. Communities held memorial services and fundraising concerts to help the communities and families affected by the tragedy. The Greene County Record issue dated Sept. 20, 2001, included a full-page American Flag with words from the Star-Spangled Banner printed on the back.
Ads in the Record from September and October of that year featured personal messages from local businesses, reaching out in sympathy to those families who lost loved ones that tragic morning. Students at William Monroe Middle and Nathanael Greene Elementary schools organized their own fundraising drives to support the New York Firefighters Fund and the American Red Cross.
Once the coronavirus pandemic hit our shores in 2020, we saw some of that togetherness with people standing outside hospitals at shift changes, bringing food to first-responders and coming outside their homes to clap at certain times each day for one another. Yet, in 2021, we seem to be falling apart instead of together.
What we’re seeing now throughout the county—and our region and our country—are neighbors fighting each other on mitigation strategies rather than supporting those who are working to eradicate the world of a virus that has killed 649,000 Americans.
More people died from complications of the COVID-19 virus on a single day (5,077 people on Feb. 4, 2021) than in the total of the 9/11 terrorist attacks—and the deaths keep piling up day by day. Twenty-three Greene Countians have died from the virus, the most recent just last week.
Are we all just tired of tragedy? Of feeling powerless in the face of forces we cannot control?
As we look back and remember the tragic events of Sept. 11, 2001, let us also remember the spirit of togetherness that helped us grow as a community in the days and weeks that followed. Let us strive to support one another and to remember that all of us are suffering during this pandemic.
“Our world needs a lot more friendship and more truthful people,” wrote V. L. to Santa in 2001. “If people don’t become more truthful and friendlier our world may not change. I wish you would grant me these things because our world is in a bad way and I would really like it to change.”