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Americans Focus on National Unity on September 11 Anniversary

As Americans prepare to mark the 10th anniversary of the 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States, public opinion polls suggest the country is in a pessimistic mood, largely because of the domestic economy. A recent Time Magazine poll found 71 percent of Americans see the U.S. as worse off than it was a decade ago, and a recent Gallup poll found that 88 percent of those asked are dissatisfied with the direction of the country. But there are Americans hoping to rally national unity as the country prepares to mark the anniversary of that terrible day in September.

Arlington, Virginia, firefighter Derek Spector has no trouble recalling where he was on September 11, 2001.

“We were actually dispatched for a fire in Rosslyn [Virginia] and as we were getting ready to leave on that call, we heard the plane just prior to it hitting the Pentagon," Spector said. "And when we were getting on the rig we actually felt the concussion wave roll through the fire station after it had struck the Pentagon.”

Spector was among the first firefighters to respond to the attack on the Pentagon. He recently took part in a 9/11 memorial motorcycle ride honoring those who perished in the attacks and the police and firefighters who responded that day.

Spector helped to raise what is known as the Patriot Flag, a huge American flag that has been flown in all 50 states to honor those who lost their lives on 9/11 and the soldiers who fought in Afghanistan and Iraq.

“I think it symbolizes everything that is good about this country," he said. "Take away politics, take away parties, we are still Americans, we still hold this country at value, no matter what we say or no matter what we do. Deep down we still believe in this country and we hold this country at value.”

National unity

These small efforts at national unity come at an opportune time, says pollster and political strategist Mark Penn.

“It has really been seven years now that people think that things in the country are off on the wrong track and most people think that this has been a decade of decline for America since 9/11,” Penn said.

The hoped-for national unity in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks never really came, says Quinnipiac University pollster Peter Brown.

“There was a little window right after the attacks when this country was as unified as it has been probably since Pearl Harbor. But that quickly went away and we have had a very, very split country,” Brown said.

Divisions over wars abroad and security measures at home have taken a toll, says Clifford May of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.

“Well, we are very divided and unfortunately I would say on issues of national security, an area where I would like to see the two parties come together, we are and have been divided for a very long time,” May said.

Pollster Mark Penn says Americans are more united than they often appear.

“Underneath there is also a lot of common belief that this is a great country and though it may be going through some rough times, there is also a great sense of underlying common values than we have almost never seen before,” Penn said.


Among those promoting the theme of unity is retired New York City firefighter Joe Torillo. He rushed to the World Trade Center on September 11 and managed to survive the collapse of both towers.

“I became the spokesman for that Patriot Flag and my desire or my quest after being dug out from under the south tower is that I live the rest of my life making this country the ‘Reunited States of America’ because of the day of September 11th that challenged our fortitude, you know, and our strength,” Torillo said.

Torrillo has spoken about his 9/11 experience all across the country, and the Patriot Flag has now flown in all 50 states. On the 10th anniversary of the attacks, the flag will be flown at the three sites of the attacks in 2001 - the World Trade Center site, known as Ground Zero, in New York, the Pentagon in Virginia and in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, where one of the hijacked airliners crashed.

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    Jim Malone

    Jim Malone has served as VOA’s National correspondent covering U.S. elections and politics since 1995. Prior to that he was a VOA congressional correspondent and served as VOA’s East Africa Correspondent from 1986 to 1990. Jim began his VOA career with the English to Africa Service in 1983.