At around noon on 9/11 – the actual 9/11/2001– our homicide task force was called out for a murder that just occurred. As the Investigations Commander I was apprised of the situation while driving to what would be the command post at the West Chicago, Il PD. Besides the obvious hell that was breaking loose nationally we had our own coincidental explosion of hell that day. Our murder suspect was a Middle Eastern immigrant. He had beaten his roommate to death with a hammer and then tried to set his body on fire. He didn’t do it for religious or political reasons, but rather for a much more common one; a sexual dalliance the suspect had with the wife of the victim.
We wrapped up the bulk of the investigation by mid-evening and as the interviews were in their final stages and charges were being processed, a dozen or so of us settled down in the department’s break room for pizza in front of the TV. We sat mesmerized by the replayed scenes of the planes slamming into the buildings, the towers imploding, people running, citizens covered in ash, women and men crying, and street interviews – raw and unedited – that exposed the emotion of the New Yorkers dazed, confused and angry, wandering the streets of Manhattan.
A younger detective, maybe in his mid-twenties, was sitting to my right. As he sat staring at the TV, he asked a question within a statement; “This is a day we’ll never forget, huh L.T.?” I know what he meant. He was talking about the anger, the emotion, the rage exhibited time and time again by the people shown in the interviews and news reports.
Without missing a beat and without averting my gaze from that TV I replied, “Nope. You’re wrong. We’ll forget about this in about 18 months.”
Shocked, he turned towards me and said incredulously, “What?! No, we’ll never forget this! We’re gonna find and destroy these bastards.”
“No. We won’t. Because we’ll forget.”
Being too tired to play the appropriate patriotic roll or encourage his beliefs I just stated it like I saw it.
I continued: “You’re right. We won’t forget this happened. This is our Pearl Harbor. It is going to affect our everyday lives to some extent. But what we will forget is how we feel at this moment. We will forget our collective rage, anger, and the desire for retribution. We will forget that an enemy did this to us. We’ll quickly find fault and it won’t be about the people who did this. We will turn on ourselves. We will start pointing fingers at us. We will take responsibility for making those enemies do this to us. In other words, many of us will excuse this.”
Obviously, my quotes above aren’t verbatim, but that conversation actually took place during the evening of 9/11/2001. This young detective and I talked about this for quite a while. He was insistent that my beliefs were wrong and my view of the American people was jaded.
“This is going to bring us together like nothing ever before,” he confidently, almost defiantly stated.
“You’re right. Flags will be flying, patriotic songs will be sung, and we will feel pride like no other time in most of our lives. But it will quickly pass.”
“You’re wrong L.T. You are wrong!”
As you read this, I ask you: Was I? Was I wrong?
Flags definitely flew. Every house on my block had one up. They were on cars. The national anthem was sung louder and prouder than I had ever experienced.
And how about now?
Over the past couple of decades, we’ve decided to take a cultural self-assessment and at this point in my life, my own assessment of us as a country is at an all-time low. My opinion is that we should be ashamed of who we are as a country, as a people, of our imperfect history and today in many cities, of our belief in law and order…or lack thereof.
We used to be proud of being the Greatest Nation on God’s Green Earth, and why not? The people of this country are the most generous on the planet. No one—and I mean no one—gives more time and money to those in pain around the world than we do.
We also lose more soldiers than any other country. You know why? Because we jump in to defend and save the tortured, the subjugated, the starving, the dying. We help the helpless. We protect the unprotected.
That’s EXACTLY what the scores of police officers, firefighters, and emergency medical professionals did on September 11, 2001, regardless of race, religion or political standing. They sprinted straight into the depths of hell on behalf of people they didn’t even know. They rushed to the horrific sights and sounds of terror to rescue those who would be doomed without them…never once pausing in consideration of their own peril. The demons of evil attacked America and the guardians of good—the cops, the fire crews, the medics—came rushing in to help.
Sit on that for a second.
Now, think back to the last time you watched the news. What we’re seeing just doesn’t sync with what we felt—what we knew—in the immediate wake of 9/11. It doesn’t stand true to the real nature of our first responders, and it definitely doesn’t show the respect those who died deserve. In fact, it offends them. It defaces their memories. It’s an embarrassment to all of us.
We are the greatest country on this planet because we do care and we back that up by action. We may not be perfect but are kind and giving to a fault.
We are a nation that values individual freedom and law and order. The enemies who attacked us tried to kill that. They tried to murder our character, our future, our uniqueness. But no one will ever be able to accomplish that from the outside.
Many great Americans have predicted that no foreign government will ever be able to defeat the United States of America. There are too many dedicated people who will willingly defend our country.
However, destroying ourselves from the inside is a different story.
Today we have people openly defying our laws and desire for order. Many of those people are literally the makers of our laws. They are disparaging our history, our origins, our Constitution, our principles, our freedoms.
They are ridiculing and attacking those who enforce those laws and defending those who break it.
19 years ago, everyone was flying the American flag. We were one people.
I warned that young detective that we will forget our anger at those trying to destroy our way of life. We would forget our unison and pride for being Americans.