In a rare and impressive show of public unity, thousands of people lined Highway 70 Wednesday to pay their respects to a young Marine killed in service to our country.
Lance Cpl. Jared Schmitz, 20, of Wentzville, was one of 13 service members killed last month in a suicide bombing at the airport in Kabul, Afghanistan.
Schmitz died while evacuating U.S. citizens and Afghan refugees as part of the military withdrawal by the U.S. from that country. He died doing his duty, knowing full well he would be targeted by ISIS-K bombers.
The show of support for Schmitz is a powerful reminder that patriotism still exists in our deeply divided country. Although heart-wrenching, it was encouraging to see all those people honor this young patriot with their presence — an affirmation that we are still capable of coming together as one when the situation calls for it.
That same patriotic spirit was evident 20 years ago in the aftermath of 9/11.
The months that followed the terrorist attacks that left nearly 3,000 people dead in New York City; Washington, D.C.; and Shanksville, Pennsylvania, ushered in a rare wave of national unity.
For a moment in time, we set aside out political differences and rallied in support of those who perished, first responders and our major institutions, as well as our political leadership.
A badly shaken nation came together as one, in the spirit of sadness and patriotism, everywhere across this country. The photos that accompany these editorial pages are examples of that spirit locally.
In October 2001, 60 percent of adults expressed trust in the federal government — a level not reached in the previous three decades nor approached in the two decades since then, according to the Pew Research Center.
Sept. 11, 2001, and the days after were a transformational moment in our country’s history. We shouldn’t let this anniversary pass without reflecting on it and taking our bearings. A lot has changed since that fateful day.
Twenty years later, we are, by any objective measure, a dumber, meaner, more divided, more dysfunctional country, as many political pundits have sadly noted recently.
We definitely are a more angry nation. Katherine Miller, an editor for BuzzFeed, put it this way in a recent commentary:
“ ‘It feels like shouting is all people do these days,’ a Wall Street Journal push alert began recently. Everything else can fall away, but anger and violence remain — even if it’s not your anger, it’s the kind you have to duck and escape. There’s the kind of sudden, violent anger that ranges from embarrassing to disturbed to unruly to racist: Everybody’s seen the videos of people screaming on flights or in stores; fighting in airports, parking lots, and at baseball games; and punching older Asian American people.”
Today, people yell at doctors and nurses for wearing masks while treating patients during a pandemic. They berate teachers and public officials for abiding by health directives that are designed to keep people safe. We have let the politics of the pandemic overtake common sense and good judgment.
No doubt trust in government has severely eroded over the past 20 years. Our democracy is not as stable as it once was. There is no more glaring example of that than the violence that occurred at our nation’s Capitol in January when a mob tried to overturn a valid election.
The images of that day, like the images from 9/11, are searing. More recently, our country watched in sorrow as the nation’s military mission in Afghanistan, which began less than a month after 9/11, came to a bloody and chaotic conclusion, further eroding our collective trust in government.
Schmitz’s death was another painful and tragic reminder of the continuing cost of 9/11.
Still, the patriotic display of support for his journey home gives us hope that the soul of our nation is still intact. Despite our differences, despite the rampant sociopolitical dysfunction that exits all around us, we can still get some important things right, just as we did in those defining days after 9/11.
We can still come together. We need to remember that. We need to work harder on it.