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Another loss from Sept. 11 -- missed opportunity

911-Flags

The extra sorrow of 9/11 was what didn’t happen on 9/12.

So many layers of sadness pile onto this 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. For me, one wound that may never heal is the desperately tragic lost opportunity of 9/12.

Once those towers came down, once that plane plowed into the Pentagon and that other plane went down in Pennsylvania at the hands of Americans who looked the enemy in the eye and fought him back, Americans wanted to do something.

The tremendous and untrammeled spirit of accomplishment was waiting to be harnessed. If this was our Pearl Harbor, then we wanted a job, a goal. Not everyone could, or should enlist. Task the rest of us with something unifying, something purposeful, something to strengthen our spirit and resilience and resolve.

The answer from our leaders? A resounding  ... nothing. So much had failed before 9/11, and thereafter, our leadership failed.

Nobody asked us to rally, to become real citizens once more, aware and engaged. Our civic equity -- the opportunity to be Americans, together -- was squandered. Our chance to be called upon to be the next ''greatest generation'' vanished. Our leaders only asked us to be consumers.

At the juncture of the most important public event in our lives, our leadership wanted us to be spectators, not participants. Passive. Complaisant. No war bonds or war stamps, no tax increases or rationing. No plea to go back to school, to college, to learn new skills and new ideas for this new world. No sacrifices.

Here is the column I wrote comparing the nation on the one-year anniversary of 9/11 to the nation one year after Pearl Harbor:

After 9/11, people recollect that President Bush told us to go shopping. He didn’t use that word. But he pitched his appeals to the mercantile side of us. Here is what he said over the course of the days after the attacks.

"I ask your continued participation and confidence in the American economy."

"Terrorists attacked a symbol of American prosperity. They did not touch its source. America is successful because of the hard work, and creativity, and enterprise of our people. These were the true strengths of our economy before Sept. 11, and they are our strengths today."

But it wasn’t just the economy that had been hit. It was the very essence of being American –- the daily liberties of life, life itself. As allied bombers hammered the mountains of Afghanistan within earshot, Osama bin Laden told a Pakistani interviewer, "This place may be bombed and we will be killed. We love death. The U.S. loves life. That is the big difference between us."

Commerce is part of life, but life is not commerce. "Get on board" airplanes, is what the president said instead. "Do your business around the country. Fly and enjoy America’s great destination spots. Get down to Disney World in Florida. Take your families and enjoy life, the way we want it to be enjoyed."

Spend, use your credit card -- just as the administration was about to do to "buy" two wars that would beggar us. Just as Osama bin Laden had hoped.

It was a global war on terror –- everywhere except here. We weren’t even asked, as Americans were in World War I and especially World War II, to save on expensive and vital supplies, from meat to fuel.

Collecting scrap metal and saving aluminum foil would not have been the home-front battles of 2001, but there were equivalents. In 2001, the White House did not mention trying to save on gas and oil; don’t let us concern ourselves about the national Achilles’ heel of energy dependence, which had led us into so many overseas misadventures already.

Four months before 9/11, Vice President Dick Cheney, formulating the administration’s energy policy, said, "Conservation may be a sign of personal virtue, but it is not a sufficient basis for a sound, comprehensive energy policy."

Well, it sure helped during World War II, when "personal virtue" became a national virtue. Where did that go?

I guess the administration got one part right. Flag sales went through the roof.

Anyone can buy a flag. What we needed after 9/11 was a leadership to rally us to find a way to live up to that flag.

RELATED:

God and 9/11

Get smarter on security

A legacy of resilience and fear

Essays revisited: Reflecting on 9/11

Patt Morrison Asks: Memorial man Peter Walker

-- Patt Morrison

Photo: Ruth Gillespie carries a flag to Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park on Saturday to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the terror attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. Credit: David Tulis / Associated Press.

 

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