Put down your flag and pick up a history book

Six years ago, extremists hijacked four airplanes. Two attacked and destroyed the World Trade Center, one hit the Pentagon and one, steered off course by passengers who realized what was happening, crashed in a field in Pennsylvania, never reaching its target.

You all know this. You’re all old enough to remember precisely where you were when you heard what had happened. For the youngest of you, who were still in middle school, the events of Sept. 11, 2001 shaped the world you grew up in. By the time you entered high school, the U.S. military was already deployed in Afghanistan and Iraq, and your last few years of childhood were filled with Presidential addresses on the “war on terror.”

On Sept. 12, as we wiped the dust out of our eyes and the tears off our faces, our generation was filled, for the first time in our lives, with a profound sense of being American. In a matter of moments, we felt united with Californians, Texans and New Yorkers alike.

When the president stood on a pile of rubble and talked to the FDNY, he reassured the red states that they had elected the right man and made the blue states think for a moment that maybe, just maybe, they had underestimated this “compassionate conservative.”

But in all our flag waving and hand holding, we never stopped to consider what we had done to provoke such an attack.

Let’s set one thing straight before you toss your newspaper aside in disgust at the preceding statement: Using human lives to send a message is barbaric and cowardly. We do not, and will never, excuse the murder of innocent people to further a cause. Nor do we think that those who died deserved what happened to them. So before you start writing us letters asking when the Daily Kent Stater was taken over by terrorists, consider what we have to say.

That said: The United States has a tendency to inadvertently alienate cultures that differ from its own. For the better part of the past century, we have both militarily and socially clashed with the Muslim world.

Militarily, the conflict is between the U.S. government and small groups of radicals. Such radicals wouldn’t be so dangerous if we weren’t providing them with recruitment tools.

Images from American media are transmitted around the world. People from other cultures see 17-year-old Britney Spears gyrating on a table, Marilyn Manson pretending to worship Satan and athletes paid millions of dollars to run around with balls. We see entertainment, a harmless fraction of society that never affects our lives. They see American culture at its worst.

As the world becomes more global, we can no longer afford to spit in the faces of cultures we don’t understand. With around 3,000 civilians killed going about their daily lives six years ago today, you would think we have learned our lesson.

It would be easy to read this editorial and say, “But we’re the United States. Other cultures should change to be more like ours.” But such thoughts are foolish, and worse, dangerous. There is no shame in learning from what happened and walking away from the situation a better people.

Six years ago, we were confused, frightened and angry, and rightly so. We wanted someone to pay for what happened to us — some were even willing to allow the president and his administration to take away our rights in the name of public safety.

But where did that leave us? Are we really any safer? If anything, we’re more vulnerable, because we continue to laugh in the face of a world that grows increasingly more frustrated with our arrogance.

The best way to honor those who died on Sept. 11 isn’t to proclaim our love for America and bust out our red, white and blue socks and ties. It’s to admit when we were wrong and learn from our mistakes so that nothing like this ever happens again.

It’s time to put down the flags.

The above editorial is the consensus of the Daily Kent Stater editorial board.