Pedestrians gazed at the descending rubble in disbelief. Brick by brick, their naive notions of a safe and good world splintered as each stone hit the cement.
A torrent of cement, steel, and glass hit the pedestrians first.
“The building started coming down, and everybody ran. It was like being on the beach with this big wave coming at you,” Fire Chief Tom McCarthy told the New York Daily News.
But perhaps it was the tide that rose after this wave had receded that wreaked the most havoc. It was a wave of a different kind; one more crippling than the first. After the initial panic had faded, a new fear — a deep, disfiguring distress like none America had ever known — crept into the minds of the survivors, like dark water slowly edging its way higher and higher onto the sand.
Doubt in the security of their well-being and distrust in those who swore to maintain it suddenly flooded the minds of those struggling to cope with their losses. Their country — the greatest, safest nation in the world — had just been attacked in the most lethal strike ever carried out on American soil.
Like a knife to the heart, radical terrorists flew hijacked planes through the core of America’s economic presence. It was a symbolic attack, meant to strike fear in the hearts of free people across the world — people who had fallen into the habit of taking their liberty for granted.
But America does not cower. She does not surrender to acts of terrorism. As the buildings fell and the wave of fear rose up on its hind legs, threatening to paralyze them, hundreds of firefighters and emergency responders ran toward the shooting flames and falling bodies. Bravery led their charge as black smoke filled their lungs and horror overcame them.
Make no mistake: it was this courage that made America a target that day. Our bravery and resilience, the principles that Americans hold dear, have made her an object of hate since the founding. Our fundamental values — like consent of the governed, individual rights, equality, freedom of speech and religion — threaten the enemies of liberty.
As we watched the Twin Towers fall in silent horror, our enemies rejoiced. We saw buildings collapse; they saw the Western world begin to fall. But what they believed to be a fatal blow was only a glancing stun, like a boxer temporarily knocked to the ground. Into the chaos they ran, hundreds of brave men and women — children of the heritage they sought to defend — knowing full well they might lose their lives that day.
The great irony of that tragic day is that though our enemies sought to destroy the truths this nation rests on, they did the opposite, empowering them in a way only a great obstacle can. The Western tradition that America clings to allows truth to prevail and strength to rejoice in the face of adversity — no matter how great.
Thousands of Americans lost their lives on 9/11 preserving the timeless values that constitute the soul of this nation and form the basis of her government. These principles gave them strength, courage, and resilience.
Sixteen years ago, as the Twin Towers fell, the towers of American values rose high above the hatred, sorrow, and enormity of that day — and they stand taller still.
Kaylee McGhee is a junior studying politics.