A year ago, I visited the 9/11 Memorial and Museum in New York for the first time in my life. The experience, of course, was emotional for everybody inside that museum. Names and faces filled out the walls like memorials too small to fully encapsulate and appreciate the lives that were drastically cut short. Remnants of the attack were scattered around the museum as if it were ground zero. Harrowing video and audio clips looped over and over again, capturing the horror of the day in vivid, haunting detail. It was a powerful experience, and it stays with you long after you’ve left the museum.
Yet I had a different reaction from others at the museum. I could see veterans crying, visibly shaken by how this horrible event continues to haunt the country they love to this very day. I watched families mourn for the loved ones they missed on the walls, children confused by the sadness surrounding them.
Yet despite all of the grieving around me, I didn’t cry inside the museum. Not once. I was actually a little disturbed at myself, to be quite honest. Somebody even questioned me about my reaction, asking me why I wasn’t overcome with emotion like everyone else was around me?
I WAS overcome with emotion; just not in the outward, visible way others were. I have a tendency to internalize my feelings and thoughts, and while everyone was saddened and consumed by everything that we had lost, I was instead focused on what this catastrophic event has meant to us all these years and what it will mean to us going forward.
And every time I looked at the names, the faces, the clothes, the debris, and the videos, a heartbreaking thought crossed my mind that devastates me every time I think about it:
The terrorists won.
Before you react, let me clarify what I mean by that. Before and after the attack, Al-Qaeda clearly stated that their intentions were to weaken the United States for their actions against Iraq and Saudi Arabia. They aimed for targets that were symbolic and significant to our nation. The Pentagon for its strength. The Capitol Building for its democracy. The Twin Towers for its prosperity.
Sure, part of their goal was to hurt America deeply and profoundly; wound it so much to the point where it collapsed to the ground in loss and despair. But it wasn’t just that. After all, we are a formidable force to be reckoned with. Destroying the United States, therefore, was an unrealistic goal, despite how much they may have wanted to.
No, their goal was much more specific — much more intentional. What, you may ask? And the answer is simple: they wanted to cripple us, and they utilized the most potent tools at their disposal to do it. Those tools weren’t knives. They weren’t box cutters. They weren’t even the airplanes themselves.
No, their goal was to cripple us using fear. Using anger. Using hatred. These are potent weapons, because their effects last much longer after their use.
For a time, their attack failed and their cause was lost. America was united in its grief and came together stronger than ever, rebuilding our world and striving towards a better one tomorrow. But somewhere along the way, we lost that unity and that sense of respect and decency. We let fear takeover. Our anger festered and grew. And the seeds of hatred spread so deep that it tore away at our roots, weakening us much more than it ever had before.
The terrorists won.
And they’ve been winning ever since.
I’ve been replaying that moment in the museum over and over again in my head, strategizing how we may overcome our shortcomings and make sure our enemies lose, this time for good. A year later, I still don’t have the answers. I fear I will be old and gray before those solutions present themselves.
I know this much: we cannot win using the enemy’s weapons. Every time we give in to our primal instincts, we lessen ourselves as a country and weaken the foundations that made us so great in the first place.
Instead of fear, we should turn to understanding.
Instead of anger, we should turn to patience.
Instead of hatred, we should turn to love.
And instead of isolation, we should turn to unity in the founding principles that made this country great and rely on them like a bedrock. We need those foundations now more than ever.
The terrorists won.
But they don’t have to.
And one day, I pray they won’t.
– David Dunn