This is the 18th anniversary of the horrific attacks on September 11, 2001 that killed 2,977 people at the World Trade Center in New York, the Pentagon in Virginia, and those aboard hijacked United Airlines Flight 93 in Pennsylvania. The victims, ranging in age from 2 to 85, included at least 22 from our region.

Today, as Americans have done every year since, we remember all of the victims who died on that awful September day and their families, as well as the more than 6,000 survivors who were injured in the most deadly terror attacks on U.S. soil. Even after 18 years, the memory of that day of infamy is still hauntingly vivid, the pain and loss still sharp.

Like Pearl Harbor for the Greatest Generation before us, 9/11 was our generation’s wake-up call, a shock to the system heralding the end of the post-Cold War Pax Americana, and a stark reminder that although Americans may not have been interested in war, war was interested in them.

These post-9/11 years have been especially hard on the bereaved; on the surviving victims and their families; on the courageous first responders, who still bear the physical and psychological scars; on members of the military who were sent to fight in Iran and Afghanistan; and on the body politic, which has never really recovered from these cowardly attacks on defenseless civilians just going about their daily lives.

9/11 created feelings of fear and vulnerability that are never far from the surface of American life these days, as is the grim knowledge that even skyscrapers and jetliners—those gleaming symbols of American ingenuity and prosperity—can become instruments of death in the wrong hands.

But while we rightly mourn the lost, we should also be careful not to lapse into sentimentality while the evil forces that unleashed so much death and destruction on 9/11 have still not been vanquished. No matter how politically divided we are, this ongoing existential threat should be one thing that unites all Americans.

Our country has been blessed with a geography that makes a conventional military invasion unlikely. But our open society has also made us more vulnerable to threats from within. The enormous challenge of maintaining America’s basic constitutional freedoms while preventing a future terror attack in our homeland is one of the defining issues of our time. History will tell if we succeeded.

But we’ve been in tough fights before.

On June 6th, the United States also marked the 75th anniversary of the D–Day invasion of Normandy, which was commemorated with a number of solemn observances both here and in France. Although the Allied invaders suffered extremely high casualties, they were able to establish a beachhead from which they eventually defeated Adolph Hitler’s murderous Third Reich and liberate Europe, including some 250,000 Jews and others imprisoned in Nazi concentration camps.

The U.S. would go on to defeat Imperial Japan in the Pacific theater as well, despite the enormous cost of nearly 420,000 military and civilian deaths throughout the war.

So on this 18th anniversary of 9/11, we should steel our resolve and send a message to all those who still wish to do us harm: We’re Americans. Don’t ever count us out.

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The (Fredericksburg) Free Lance-Star

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