"Not the glittering weapon fights the fight, but rather the hero's heart."
General Tommy Franks may have captured it best when he was questioned about whether we are in danger of forgetting about United Airlines Flight 93 which crashed in Pennsylvania at the hands of true American heroes. General Franks suggested that the retaking of Flight 93 by patriotic passengers was America's first organized counter-attack in response to the Muslim terrorist attacks on New York City's Twin Towers.
Flight 93 heroes were different in one way from those first-responders who rushed into the inferno of the Twin Towers or the Pentagon. On the ground, the firefighters and police and some even without official uniforms committed themselves to the fight with at least a hope of survival. No one can deny that they were willing to die rescuing others, but they were not determined to die.
No one knows for sure, but I believe the heroes of Flight 93 had already accepted death as a part of their rescue - they were committed to die. It may have been a calculated choice as they began to realize that their fate was to be the same as the passengers of the other three doomed flights, but it was no less a reflection of the hero's heart. Weaponless, they committed themselves to each other, to their country, and to their countrymen. They did not know the names of the flight's intended victims, only that they were fellow Americans - that was enough.
Consider the stark contrast between the American mind and the Muslim suicide bomber or pilot. One is willing to sacrifice his life to kill innocent victims; the other is willing to sacrifice his life to save the lives of unknown victims - people they don't even know. That is the exceptionalism of America.
From Concord to Afghanistan, we have traditionally remembered and honored our heroes living and dead and the victories they helped win. What distinguishes September 11th memorials from the past is that we have made the victim the focal point. Maybe it is just me, but that seems a profound and prophetic transformation. We are not completely ignoring the heroes: they are still held up with some honor and in gratitude. But victims have become the anchor of the American emotion. Honoring the victims has largely replaced honoring the hero. Have we become a nation of victims rather than heroes? If we have, then American exceptionalism will become a peculiarity of the history books and soon after will be forgotten.
Most frightening about this transformation is that it may reflect a "new culture" in America. Have we been brain washed to believe that "it is always someone else's fault other than mine?" Have we begun to embrace being victimized because it is accompanied by special government benefits not available to others? The character of America is born of our experiences and our responses to them, especially responses to adversity (such as being victimized). I fear society is no longer helping raise our children and grand children to be heroes, but victims.
This week, don't forget to thank God for the heroes of United Flight 93 and don't let them be forgotten. Their memorial must be protected in the hearts of future generations of Americans. May theirs be the example we memorialize as reflecting the truth about America, and may we reject victimization as a standard of success. Each of us must determine to be part of the solution or we are by default a part of the problem.