Lessons of tolerance

By Jarred Rose

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Courtesy of MCT

Sept. 11, 2001 is one of those days that no one who lived through it will ever forget.

Countless times over the past decade I have been in conversations that began with “Where were you when 9/11 happened?” or “I can remember exactly what I was doing.”

I can only imagine that similar questions must have been asked when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor or when any other major calamitous event happened, shaking the very foundations of the United States.

For me, 9/11 occurred when I was in my sixth grade math class. I have later found out that most schools told their students what occurred that day, but my school kept us in the dark. That day my neighbor’s parents were flying to Chicago from Logan Airport for a business trip. The first sign of anything amiss was when my middle school guidance counselor, Mrs. Hoover, ran into my math class, told Mr. Lucas something that turned him pale and then pulled my neighbor out of class.

All she told him, however, was that his parents were fine and he had nothing to worry about, so she never actually mentioned what happened. I’ll never forget walking down the halls and seeing every single teacher walking around, pale as a ghost and talking in hushed whispers to each other.

In retrospect, I think what my school did was a good thing. It kept us all calm and let us find out about the disaster from our parents. When I got off the bus that afternoon, my mother came running out of the house telling me that we were going to war and that the World Trade Center, that we had visited for the first time the year before, had been attacked. Walking into the house, I saw the images that we have all seen a thousand times since – the first tower on fire and the second plane flying in to hit the second tower.

I don’t think saying 9/11 changed our country forever is an overstatement. Immediately after it happened, the radio was packed with songs supporting how great it is to be American, the American flag was flying everywhere you looked and people wanted revenge in a way I had never seen before.

I think that such an attack on our nation makes us question what it means to be American and radically shakes our confidence in ourselves. You can see this in the general violence that took place immediately afterwards, such as when a truck drove into the window of a drug store belonging to an Indian family near my house two days later.

If there is a rating system for world-changing terrible events, 9/11 must surely be at one of the top positions. Yet since the attacks, I believe that we are beginning to understand the crucial lessons we learned as Americans.

A lesson I hope all people can agree with: whether a person is of Muslim faith or Middle Eastern origin or both, that does not make them our enemy. Our enemies in these wars are the terrorist organizations and the states who fund them.

A second lesson may be just as important. As one of my favorite authors Fareed Zakaria wrote, the United States is no longer the world’s only power and has to work in collaboration with other nations rather than bullying them. To paraphrase Dr. Zakaria, the United States is no longer a soloist on a stage performing by itself but must now take on the role of conductor to the many players stepping onto the stage again or for the first time.

Undoubtedly there are countless lessons all of us collectively and independently got out of 9/11. But at the end of the day, what is most important is that the deaths of the victims and the sacrifice of the first responders do not go in vain. We have come out of this a better and stronger nation than we were to begin with. I think there is an argument for both sides as to whether or not we have learned our lessons, but the important thing to remember about the 10th anniversary is that this should not be the end of the growing process but simply another chapter in learning for the United States.

Jarred Rose is a Collegian contributor. He can be reached at [email protected]