Our View: A national day of service on 9/11 would galvanize U.S. citizens into taking responsibility for their country.
The University had no problem executing a planned moment of silence for Sept. 11 at 8:46 a.m., since this past Sunday – like all others – most students were still sleeping off the debauchery of the previous night. That morning, for the first time, a student body that had not collectively experienced the attacks of Sept. 11 while at GW awoke to little fanfare or talk of the event. While the sights and sounds of Sept. 11 are forever ingrained in most Americans’ minds, the memory of unity and collective responsibility for one another felt in the immediate aftermath of that terrible day has faded from the forefront of our national consciousness.
For many, the question of how to properly memorialize Sept. 11 is a difficult one to answer. If we continue on with our lives with only a moment of silence each year, the impact of the event could lose importance. If a national holiday is created, it may devolve into nothing more than a day off in the same way that Labor Day and Memorial Day have become more synonymous with barbecues than with their respective meanings.
The best way to memorialize Sept. 11 would involve a day that encompasses remembrance ceremonies in addition to a national day of service. Except in times of great turmoil or national tragedy, Americans show little concern for their fellow citizens and only a passing interest in the politics of their country. Instituting a holiday where the private sector and local, state and federal governments provide service opportunities around the country would foster a collective responsibility for the present and future of our nation.
Not only would such a day promote national unity, but it would also do so in a positive way. Rather than the reactionary unity that inevitably arises following tragic events, a day of service would proactively promote collective responsibility of America’s citizens.
In the Sept. 11 aftermath, everyone spoke about the greatness of America. We have the chance to show that greatness by working diligently on a day of service to improve our communities. As the United States delves into deeper and deeper commitments overseas, it is easy to forget that there are serious issues – ranging from education, poverty, healthcare and homelessness – affecting the country here at home. If U.S. policymakers paid half the attention to their local communities that is paid to the war on terror, many domestic issues could be resolved. A national day of service would highlight these domestic issues and generate interest in continued involvement throughout the year.
The unprecedented bipartisanship following Sept. 11 has devolved into some of the worst partisan bickering that this country has ever seen. The universal feeling of unity has degenerated into questioning the patriotism of those who oppose aspects of the war on terror. The Bush administration squandered the chance it had after Sept. 11 to galvanize the country into a unified force. Through community service, Americans can take the responsibility for their country back into their own hands instead of relying on one failed policy after another from the federal government.
No matter what shape the future of Sept. 11 remembrance takes, this is a free country where people are free to forget. A day of service would not only pay proper tribute to those who lost their lives on Sept. 11, but would also promote a sense of collective responsibility for our communities and our country.