Americans everywhere watched in horror Tuesday as broadcast outlets replayed the suicide missions carried out against the twin towers of the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

No one yet knows the scope of the loss of life caused when the hijacked jetliners crashed into each of the towers, the Pentagon and into a Pennsylvania field, but the final tally is sure to be staggering. The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor — a military attack on a military base — killed about 2,400 Americans. Tuesday’s death toll might surpass that many times over.

The as yet unnamed groups responsible for these acts of war assumed such horrific tactics would be enough to persuade American officials to change their policies. After all, they have seen a lack of real resolve in the past. They sensed a weakness in the world’s remaining super power that they thought they could exploit for their own egotistical gain. By killing thousands of Americans, they thought they could fragment popular opinion and possibly even change the course of America’s strategy.

Those who hoped that would be the result of Tuesday’s carnage are wrong.

Failing to learn from history can lead to repeating mistakes. Others in America’s past sought to take advantage of a society where diverse ideas are openly expressed. They hoped to drive a wedge between U.S. leaders and they people. They always failed.

Tuesday’s terrorist attacks on America united its people. There were spontaneous rallies on college campuses in support of the United States. When a call went out for blood donors, so many responded that shuttle buses had to be called in to take volunteers to other hospitals. Tens of thousands of dollars have been donated in the past 24 hours to the American Red Cross and The Salvation Army. Members of Congress, perhaps the most visible example of partisan elements in the nation, stood in unity on the steps of the Capitol to condemn Tuesday’s acts, pledge their support for retaliation and burst into a rendition of “God Bless America,”

The terrorists forgot one thing that they could have learned from history: Americans unite quickly when our way of life is threatened. We remember who we are, that we thrive in the most open and tolerant society this planet has ever known. We know that, despite our differences, we are Americans.

We remember who we are. We care for the injured. We mourn the dead. We rebuild what was lost, And we fight back.

Editor’s note: This editorial originally appeared Sept. 12, 2011, in the Commercial-News.

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