(Fred Weinberg) – Ten years ago next Sunday, I was awakened by a 5 a.m. phone call, just in time to see the video of an airliner crashing into one of the World Trade Center towers.
The day before, I had taken an earnest money check to begin the sale of our Las Vegas radio station, KRLV.
But we, obviously, were still running a live talk radio station with a live morning show and, as I watched in horrified fascination, it very quickly hit me that our responsibility was to tell the story.
My first challenge was dealing with what passed for intelligence at a certain radio network from which we got our national news.
As I tuned in my station at the top of the hour, I heard a young lady on a network whose name I will leave out, save to say it was one of the big three, begin her newscast, “America was brought to its knees this morning…”
I quickly dialed our studio line and told our host—who is still with us today—to cut off the newscast and bring it to us in the studio.
He did and I told our audience that America is far too big a nation to be “brought to its knees” by a few hijackers and that if you’ve never experienced the breadth and width of this nation, you really ought to drive it so you could see that for yourself.
I further pointed out that the only people who can bring America to its knees, is us.
Then, we got down to just reporting the news for awhile as the story developed.
The commentary came later, when we realized exactly what had happened.
Sometimes a decision you make on the spur of the moment turns out to be exactly the right decision.
This was one of those times.
History will show that, as a nation, we mostly did the right things.
An outstanding example was a guy named Todd Beamer and his fellow passengers on United 93, which was the fourth plane hijacked and would have headed to a target in Washington, D.C.
Back in those days, a cell phone still worked on an airplane (they, for the most part, no longer do), and the passengers on United 93 made a number of calls when they were hijacked. They found out what was going on and decided it wasn’t going to happen on their watch.
The last words anybody heard from that flight was Beamer saying to his fellow passengers, “Let’s roll!”
Whatever actually happened after that, we do know that they brought down the plane, ending their own lives, but undoubtedly saving thousands of others, in a field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania.
That’s what I mean about America and Americans.
Until that day, domestic hijackings usually ended up in Cuba, where at worst, you spent some time in a crappy Havana hotel and were flown back at an airline’s expense the next day.
So, the conventional wisdom was to let the hijackers do whatever they were going to do because nobody ever thought they’d fly a plane into a building and kill themselves.
It took precisely three planes where that procedure was followed until the people on the fourth plane got the message, and like Americans everywhere said to each other, “Not on my watch.”
That’s America. That sort of thinking is wired into our DNA.
Oh, we may have arguments about the proper role of government and land use in the West and proper spending levels, but when the chips are down, it is a very rare person born an American who would not be a part of what the passengers on United 93 did.
That’s what being a citizen of the United States of America means.
Given the opportunity, this is what just about every American would do, and that’s why we are who we are as a nation.
Sure there are and will always be exceptions.
They will have to live with themselves.
But, by and large, a hero is what happens when an American is presented with an opportunity to become one.
If we learned anything important from 9-11 it is this:
After a few weeks of solidarity, we got back to our lives. Our politicians started arguing again, calling each other names and that’s actually a good thing.
In many respects, our system works precisely because we don’t always agree with each other, and in our system, we don’t have to. You have the right to be wrong and the right to fail. And if you do fail, we encourage you to pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and step right back up to the plate.
For every George W. Bush, there has to be an Al Gore.
This would not be the country that it is, were that not true.
9-11-11 will come and go. We will probably argue about what it all means, because ten years have gone by and the memories have faded a bit.
But know this: there are very few other nations in the world where an act of war like that would actually make them stronger.
That’s what people mean when they talk about American Exceptionalism.