By Tom Ehrich
On 9/11 I learned two things.
First, at a time when I knew my nation was under attack but didn’t know yet how widespread that attack was, I felt a powerful urge to protect my family. America is many things, but first and foremost, it is where people I love make their homes, alongside other people and the ones they love. What binds us to this land is love.
Second, I saw firsthand the ultimate worth of a free and inquiring press. As we drove hastily from a conference in Gaithersburg, MD, to our homes in Durham, NC, we listened to National Public Radio’s assiduous efforts to gather accurate news. I didn’t want propaganda. I didn’t want politicians’ blatherings. I didn’t want patriotic songs at top volume. I wanted information. I wanted facts. I wanted a trustworthy news media to cut through the “fog of war” and present the accurate accounts that would help me be an effective husband, father, neighbor and citizen.
In the days after 9/11, I learned other things. But one stands out. This attack wasn’t about religion. It was about extremism pretending to be faithful. It was about nihilists seeking to destroy, and frightened people seeking to terrorize others. It was about evil, not Islam, Judaism or Christianity. We wouldn’t make ourselves safer by burning mosques, any more than others could make themselves safer by burning synagogues and churches. We would make our world safer only by standing together against extremism.
In the fourteen years since 9/11, many have tried to turn love of nation into hatred of minorities. They have tried to distort the media and offer propaganda as truth. And they have elevated extremism to a first principle of presidential politics.
It is tragic what happened on 9/11. It is tragic how little we ended up learning.