Division makes country weaker

I’d like to broach a subject with you today that is not discussed nearly as much as it needs to be. I wish to talk about Sept. 11, 2001 and it’s lasting impact on us as a nation, as a collective population. This is a topic that is either avoided or given superficial acknowledgement draped in patriotic correctness. As Americans we must confront the uncomfortable facts we’ve all been too happy to keep locked in the closet.

We don’t acknowledge it, but the attacks on 9/11 inflicted a mass casualty event upon the nation. Thousands died, many more would continue to die in Afghanistan and Iraq, but we all suffered a mental trauma that late summer day that set us on a path of self destruction. A trail of events that spans nearly two full decades now – never ending wars compounded by a once in a century global economic shock, and disruptive technology that we struggle to adapt to.

A swift military response came and we felt vindicated. Our enemies are still winning however because they knew that the only ones who could rip America apart are ourselves. This fact has been noted by America’s adversaries since World War II. For some reason we don’t grasp this. Always outward looking for the next great power threat, we have been killing America from the inside at a stunning rate.

This only stops and changes if we start to be honest about how 9/11 traumatized the nation. Our population felt a vulnerability not seen since 1814 when the British burned Washington, D.C. Whereas Pearl Harbor galvanized us in a common mission, a clear purpose with a plainly stated end point, 9/11 spurred us onto a jumble of mixed missions that few understood and with no definitive end. A generation later, we are still chasing these boogeymen, seemingly blind to all the self harm being done at home. We fought them over there so that we wouldn’t need to fight them here. While most of us have been distracted by the external fight we have lost perspective of what it takes to maintain a healthy democracy.

Our house is in disorder. We need to accept that we are all in pain. All any of us want is to live without fear again, to know we can not be hurt and victimized again. In our fear and anger we have struck out at the people we once, and maybe still do, love. We did it time and again, going deeper down the rabbit hole of self destructive soothing. We’ve divided our society into “us” and “them.” This black-and-white view provided serenity at the expense of our sanity.

We must stop the denial and collective self harm. We need to stop hating ourselves for all our misdeeds and remember how great we have always been. We are still that beautiful city on high. If we allow ourselves to forgive we can mend our way. All Americans share in the moral injury of our actions since Sept. 11, 2001. Only by addressing this burden can we begin to move forward as a nation again.

Sept. 11, 2001, hurt us like never before, but it will not define us. The attacks of 9/11 are something that happened to us, they are a part of who we are, but we are much more than the scared victims that we were on that day. We will move forward to write our own story on our own terms.

We are a nation with a mission and a responsibility. We are an example of civility, we are a country that values freedom and mutual respect above all else. We are a beacon of hope, shining all around the world.

This may seem a far cry from what we see on the news today, but it is true. Throughout America’s history we have strayed from our principles. Our strength is in being able to recognize this, and through civil engagement we have corrected our course. Just as an individual suffering from post traumatic stress will eventually bottom out before seeing the carnage left in their wake we are as a nation at an inflection point where we must find the inner strength to take ownership of our destruction and begin to make amends.

Everyone of us has a role to play in this recovery. It begins with walking away from the hate, anger, and quick satisfaction of lashing out at those who are different. Compassion is what we need, for ourselves and for our fellow Americans. Try stepping out from your comfortable bubble and making friends with someone who you normally would not. Break bread, share a drink, talk and find common ground. There’s much more of it for us to stand on together than we may think.

Tim Stolinski is a Dunkirk resident.

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