Like many people I spent a part of my Sunday, September 11, 2011, watching the hours of media coverage, tributes and specials commemorating the tenth anniversary of the September 11 attacks. Unfortunately, as someone who communicates and “messages” for a living I can’t help but watch many interviews and see the strategic message. When any public figure communicates – whether they’re the President, a member of congress or a member of their local school board, they generally have some strategic message they’re looking to get across when speaking with the media (if they don’t they need to hire a public affairs officer or join the Toastmasters).
When it comes to my formal “military” public affairs training, there was one thing us Defense Information School students learned from the gate – if tragedy happens, it’s best not to equate a loss of life with anything else. You’re never better off for someone’s death, even if that death happened for a worthy cause. It’s insensitive to the families of the fallen and it will almost always come across worse than you intended it. There’s no “but” attached at the end of a tragedy. It’s a tragedy.
But just as you can never replace a lost life or fill the void that’s left, you also can’t forget what happened. Magnified on a national scale, it’s ridiculous to think that we could just forget the events of 9/11 (anyone who remembered what air travel, or Washington, D.C. itself, was like before September 11, 2001 can tell you that). Our nation was forever changed. An entire generation of Americans was called to service in a way we haven’t seen since America’s Greatest Generation. (And no, they’re not participating in mentorship programs or planting trees right now, they’re serving in the U.S. military).
So I’m going to go ahead and admit that much of the “messaging” I saw from folks across Washington, D.C. yesterday got to me. Talking about America’s “continuity” and the strength of its “diversity” is not what I wanted to hear. Diversity has always been a strength of our nation, but when it comes to times of national tragedy I’ll argue it isn’t our diversity that gets us through, it’s our unity. In times of crisis at home or in war it’s unity of effort, unity of purpose and the strength of our conviction that propels us forward. There is a time and a place to talk about the strength of America’s diversity. 9/11 isn’t that time. I also believe there is a time and a place to talk about America’s committment to service and community works. 9/11 isn’t that time. It’s a time to remember, a time to honor patriots and think of those who’s lives were lost.
There are daily threats to our country; there is an entire movement committed to seeing an end to our American way of life. I put my faith first and foremost in God, but I also believe in this country – in the strength of democracy and the importance of free people. I believe America can be great again. I think we owe it to those who lost their lives on 9/11 to make America great again, and I pray that in my lifetime I’ll see leadership in Washington, D.C. and a committment from the American people to make it happen.