I was waiting for the car’s oil change to be finished when the cellphone chirped with my wife’s number on display. “What’s up, Sue?”

“A plane just crashed into the World Trade Center! It’s all over the news!”


I thought it must have been a small private plane; it never crossed my mind that America could be under attack. We turned the waiting room TV to the news and watched in shock as another plane crashed into the second tower. Later, we heard that the Pentagon had also been targeted.

Today is the 17th anniversary of those attacks. On Sept. 11, 2001, three passenger flights were commandeered and turned into weapons aimed at the World Trade Center, the Capital and the Pentagon. Brave passengers gave their lives to force the plane targeting the Capitol to crash in rural Pennsylvania. 2,996 people perished in the attacks, many thousands more injured.

Over the next hours, shock turned to uncertainty – what else might happen? Would other planes become weapons? The government closed offices, out of concern that there might be other attacks, and the country’s defenses went on high alert. Fighters were scrambled and ordered to shoot down planes that refused to answer challenges. Uncertainty turned to fear, and the nation needed to be reassured that we were safe.

We learned we were not alone. Our allies rallied behind our nation: NATO declared its solidarity with America the very same day of the attacks. The following day, the French newspaper Le Monde proclaimed, “We are all Americans.”

The German prime minister stated the events were “not only attacks on the people in the United States, our friends in America, but also against the entire civilized world, against our own freedom, against our own values, values which we share with the American people. We will not let these values be destroyed.” Even enemy countries, including Cuba and Iran, expressed condolences for our country’s losses. Cuba and Canada both offered the use of their nations’ airspace to American planes.

President George W. Bush projected an image of calm as he responded to the crisis. Days after the 9/11 tragedy, his State of the Union speech thanked Congress for its unity and service to the country. He continued with a message to Muslims, “We respect your faith. It’s practiced freely by many millions of Americans, and by millions more in countries that America counts as friends ... The enemy of America is not our many Muslim friends.” The White House knew how important it was to emphasize that our strength comes from our unity as a nation and our friends, not just our military might.

At a time when our nation needed unity, our leaders put aside their differences, recognizing that patriotism transcends partisanship. Our alliances held strong, reaffirming their support for America. And Americans came together to support the survivors and the families of those who did not survive the attacks, donating nearly 36,000 units of blood and millions of dollars to help them. Sept. 11, 2001, was a dark day for our nation, but at a very personal level, America came as close as it ever has to realizing its motto, “E pluribus unum” – out of many, one.

I wonder. Had those attacks occurred today, instead of Sept. 11, 2001, would our country have the capacity to set aside political differences for the country’s safety? Would this president have the skill, the patience, the temperament to inspire a fearful nation? Could he bring a divided government together even as he divides his own party? Could he overcome his long record of attacking America’s Muslim population? Would his long history of denigrating our alliances, alienating our allies and insulting their leaders give them reason to be hesitant about supporting us? Would our enemies offer their condolences or side with our attackers? Perhaps most importantly, would these questions ever come up with a more stable person in the White House? Let’s hope we never find ourselves having to discover the answers.