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Editorial: Remember 9/11 and the sense of unity it gave us

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September 11th Terrorist Attacks (copy)

People run from the collapse of World Trade Center Tower Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2001 in New York. File/AP Photo/Suzanne Plunkett

As daunting and difficult as 2020 has been for so many Americans, we have not experienced any single day that matches the shock, horror and heartache we as a nation felt 19 years ago today.

That’s when three airplanes hijacked by al-Qaida terrorists slammed into New York’s Twin Towers and the Pentagon in Washington. A fourth plowed into a Pennsylvania field after its passengers and crew bravely disrupted the terrorists’ plan to crash the plane into the U.S. Capitol.

So we should pause today to remember these attacks on American soil, and to remember the sense of unity we felt as a nation in the immediate aftermath of what has come to be known simply as 9/11.

Four in five Americans spontaneously displayed the U.S. flag in the following days, one poll found. Some 150 members of Congress from both parties gathered on the Capitol steps and sang “God Bless America.”

Recalling and recapturing that sense of unity is especially important these days as we struggle through an era marked by an ongoing pandemic, economic uncertainty, racial division, rising depression and divisive politics.

Locally, the COVID-19 pandemic and the need for social distancing have revised but not canceled plans for this year’s 9/11 remembrance. The 2,977 victims who lost their lives in the attacks will be observed with a morning memorial service at Patriots Point Naval & Maritime Museum that will be livestreamed on its Facebook and YouTube pages. At 8:46 a.m., the moment the first plane hit the North Tower, the North Charleston Fire Department Honor Guard will march along the pier and up to the flight deck of the aircraft carrier Yorktown, where members will pause at 9:03 a.m., the time the second plane struck the South Tower.

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The attacks launched our war against terror, which has claimed thousands of military personnel and hundreds of thousands of civilians and terrorists. While there has been progress, and no subsequent successful attacks on U.S. soil, the larger threat of terrorist groups regrettably remains with us.

But there is one piece of good news since the 18th anniversary of the attacks. The Global Fragility Act, cosponsored by U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., was passed and signed into law by President Donald Trump in December.

Its supporters hope the law will reset U.S. strategy to attack the ideological sources, such as social breakdowns, that help give rise to terrorism. It authorizes the State Department and U.S. Agency for International Development to pursue diplomatic and humanitarian efforts in at-risk countries, and it includes $1.15 billion in aid over the next five years toward that end. This approach will help provide more global security and prosperity than is possible through our military might alone.

The bipartisan support for that act, and the fruit we hope it will ultimately bear, are signs that, despite our divisions, we still can unite and move forward.

We need to remember that spirit amid the daunting challenges we face today. Americans showed great unity and perseverance in recovering from the dreadful attacks of 9/11, and while the healing is not finished, we can take heart in how far we’ve come. Much has changed since 2001, but America remains resilient.

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