In 2001, I was just 10 years old. 9, 1, and 1 were the numbers I was to dial if there was ever an emergency. News channels were something my parents watched when they wanted to bore my sister and me into playing outside. The World Trade Center consisted of a couple really tall buildings in New York City, and Islamic terror was nowhere on my radar. I had never even flown in a plane at that point. But as I watched the towers fall on September 11, the entire world was changing.
Nothing has had a comparable impact on this nation as 9/11. The immediate rallying of the American people was an inspiration to my young heart and mind. Seeing American flags flying in vast numbers gave me the courage to face this new world. I witnessed the love for freedom of our people, the strength of Lady Liberty, and the courage of our soldiers in a way that I will never forget. In the face of great tragedy and heartache, the true nature of the United States of America came to the surface to carry us forward. Our strength and the values of liberty and individualism showed the world that “these colors don’t run.”
That period was as inspiring as it was brief. Soon after calling for war, the people tired of its slow pace and angrily told President Bush to bring our boys home. The nation answered our new threat with a new government department, increased bureaucracy, and rules and regulations intended to keep us safe. We began to worry about political policies that might encourage discrimination, so we let TSA grope our grandmothers instead of watching for true threats. We have given up our liberty for security; our individualism for bureaucracy.
This decision was gradual and ill-made. Our gradual slip into dependence will leave us helpless in the face of a threat. Increased government and a huge bureaucracy do not deliver what they promise. Bureaucrats have a tendency to follow procedure instead of using the common sense that comes out when you have to solve a problem for yourself. The more we rely on the Department of Homeland Security and the TSA to protect us, the less vigilant we become. The American people have forgotten that we too have a role to play in protecting ourselves. We have also forgotten that it is our individualism that separates us from the rest of the world, the value which made us great. It is this self-reliance is what makes us strong, not the number of screeners at an airport.
The small glimmer of hope that emerged amidst the terror on September 11th was the heroism of the passengers on Flight 93 when their actions prevented the hijackers from reaching their intended target. There was no approval pending for the courageous actions of the passengers; there was only the decision of the individuals on that flight, the decision to go down fighting. That is the power of individualism. To be truly great, we must once again embrace the value each of us brings to the table when we are given the freedom to make our own decisions.