Paul Dame: Greatness in the wake of tragedy on 9/11

This commentary is by Paul Dame, chair of the Vermont GOP.

Maybe it’s because the day fell on a Sunday, but somehow this year the memorials for 9/11 seemed a little muted. It can be a hard day to remember sometimes because the tragedy of the day was so immense and unexpected that some want to push it out of our minds. But it’s also the case that nearly a third of Americans today are too young to remember the experience for themselves.

Paul Dame, chairman of the Vermont GOP

When the Berlin Wall and Communism fell at the end of the ’80s America seemed unbeatable, un touchable — we truly lived up to the ideal that President Reagan set before us, as a shining city on a hill. America seemed to be unrivaled and unmatched, and so we experienced an incredible time of prosperity and relative peace through the ’90s.

Then suddenly our “this can’t happen here” mentality was punctured abruptly as we all stared at our TV screens across the nation in a way that hadn’t happened since the Kennedy assassination.

Despite the fact that America was under attack, the response of American’s people, including America’s president was one of resolve — not defeat or surrender. The country pulled together, in a way that could have been completely unexpected less than 12 months after the Bush-Gore election controversy.

For a time, we put our differences aside, and the country came together to act in a sense of national unity that I think would be difficult to expect today. It wasn’t a political moment — it was personal. The attack on 9/11 didn’t just affect politicians and generals — it cut much deeper into the every day American experience that transcended everything political.

And while it’s important for us, with the benefit of hindsight, to reflect on everything our nation did in response to those attack and ask the right questions, we must never let that kind of honest assessment, which is done in the hope or working toward a more perfect union, be a distraction from the unbelievable human suffering and individual bravery that was thrust on our people on that day.

I think many Vermonters are still especially proud that it was a group of F-16 fighter jets from our own national air guard that took to the skies that morning to patrol the skies of NYC in the immediate aftermath.

But one of the most compelling and touching stories was not just the bravery and courage of the police, fighter fighters, and other civil servants that did their job in the face of unprecedented uncertainty, but also the regular Americans who had no training, no duty, no specific responsibility who did everything they could to help anyway.

If you’ve never seen or read about the 9/11 Maritime evacuation of Manhattan, I would recommend this 10-minute video.

In that time of uncertainty and panic, every available captain rushed to Manhattan with whatever sea worthy vessel they had. Tug boats, fishing boats, private yachts, all rushed to rescue their distressed neighbors and countrymen in their hour of need. The NY Coast Guard estimates that in less than half a day over 500,000 people made it out of New York, making it the largest maritime evacuation in history. By comparison Winston Churchill’s remarkable evacuation of Dunkirk during WWII rescued about 338,000 trained soldiers.

And the Manhattan Maritime Evacuation wasn’t exactly a shining example of the brilliance of central planning or a well-funded government. It was really the joint venture of a government humble enough to first ask it’s citizens for their help, input and resources, and then to trust in them to do what was necessary along with an American public who saw the necessity and the self-evident value of the effort and rushed in to support the cause with urgency.

That’s what has always made American the envy of the world — it’s people. That’s what makes America the wealthiest nation in the world — our most precious natural resource is our human resource. Because even though that day two iconic buildings to the American spirit were taken down, the American spirit that built them (and later rebuilt them) continued to tower over the harbor and the world.

When we believe the best about each other and are willing to humbly serve one another and respect one another, even the most tragic events can forge a special bond that is found on our shores that no other nation can match, and makes America great even when times are terrible.  We will not be able to prevent every tragedy from coming our way — but part of the story of 9/11 is that Americans are well suited to make sure that no tragedy continues to stand in our way indefinitely.

Image courtesy of Public domain
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