On Sunday, my family and I watched several tributes to the devastating terrorist attack of Sept. 11, 2001. Not the smarmy memorial shows (and that's what they were, shows) like the one at Ground Zero that featured babbling politicians and their tired bags of homilies and speeches, nor the manipulative retrospectives offered by the networks and cable news channels. We watched several documentaries on the History Channel about the day itself. We also watched a tremendous minute-by-minute rebroadcast of the NBC newscast from that day, which was featured on MSNBC.
I expected that we would be transported back in time to the shock, sadness, and even fear of those seminal moments that changed our world forever.
Instead, I was surprised at the reaction in my living room.
While we each expressed sadness for the lives lost and the horror of seeing people jumping from the 100th floor of the tower, my family's overriding emotion was rage.
At one point, my wife was able to isolate a lot of that emotion into a single statement, claiming she wished we could go get Osama bin Laden, bring him back to life, then kill him again.
She's almost right; only her math is wrong.
I wish we could find him, resurrect him, then kill him another 2,995 times to atone for the lives robbed by his evil act.
We were outraged watching the shows dissect the fumblings of an inept FAA that received a warning of a hijacking from heroic stewardess Betty Ong aboard American Airlines flight 11 more than a half hour before the first plane crashed into the World Trade Center, a warning that included 23 minutes of inquiries and repeats of the same questions while the air traffic controllers tried to play Sherlock Holmes in deciding who Ong was. We were astounded by a military charged with protecting our country that didn't know how to respond or defend, an air force that actually sent F-16's in the air over Washington, D.C. armed with no missiles, dummy practice bullets, and no orders on what to do if they encountered a hijacked plane. We were enraged all over again by a president that was told "America is under attack," then went on listening to a class of Florida fifth graders reciting lines from a reading book. That same president then took an aerial sightseeing tour of the eastern U.S. aboard Air Force One while New York and Washington showed the confusion and incompetence to be expected from any entity left scrambling without a leader on the ground.
Worst of all, we were astounded all over again during the replay of the news coverage that day when NBC's Tom Brokaw reported that a journalist had interviewed someone named Osama bin Laden just a few days before, a terrorist who had issued a warning of the attack - a warning which our intelligence agencies apparently missed or ignored.
Of course, all of these things are hindsight.
The documentaries were also marked by the heroism of individuals who ignored their own safety to save the lives of strangers, like the first responders who raced into buildings that other people were racing to abandon. Our present-day anger was fueled by the knowledge that the surviving first responders were not welcomed or included in the dog and pony show held by the politicians at Ground Zero on Sunday.
The greatest heroism was again recounted during one of the documentaries, which included a few minutes on the passengers of United flight 93. Instead of becoming nameless statistics in another catastrophic crash site involving an iconic building, these people sacrificed their lives and refused to go down without a fight.
In thinking about the future of our country and its safety against future attacks by Muslim extremists (a term which was used liberally and accurately during the original broadcast, but has been effectively banned by today's political correctness in which we're not allowed to label our enemies), I realized that the men and women of United flight 93 are the real reason another attack on America has become less likely.
Certainly our government bureaucracies and intelligence agencies have improved their game, although our national leadership in Congress and the White House remains woefully inadequate. Also, our courageous men and women in uniform have taught the armed religious zealots that they will pay a price for their arrogance, even though our military leadership seems as inept as our political leadership.
However, individual Americans are now on notice, and remain vigilant. Sure, there have been false alarms like Sunday's panic attacks on two different airplanes over passengers spending too much time in the bathroom, worries which drew F-16 escorts for the airliners. But it was also the vigilance and action of passengers aboard American Airlines flight 63 in December of 2001 that stopped al Qaeda operative Richard Reid from blowing up the plane with explosives in his shoe. More civilian heroes similarly stopped a Muslim extremist from blowing up a car bomb in Times Square in May of 2010.
The truth is that American passengers on an airplane or in a train will no longer sit idly by like sheep led to the slaughter when terrorists try to exercise their evil muscle. The men and women of flight 93 taught us to fight back, a lesson America learned about three flights too late.
Sunday's documentaries reinforced the practical side of something we've known philosophically for years, which is the fact that while America is foundering under weak and impotent leadership at nearly every single level, average American civilians and soldiers continue to be this country's greatest strength. We can only hope that someday we will find the leadership and give rise to a government that is worthy of the brave people they are serving.