Americans Focus on Unity after WTC Attack

Published December 1, 2001

While Americans struggled to comprehend the enormity of an enemy whose perverted value system could compel not one but 19 terrorists and their supporters to calmly plan and execute the murder of thousands of innocent people on September 11, several observers noted the horrific attack on the Word Trade Center Towers and the Pentagon had rekindled among Americans the traditional vision of their nation as E. Pluribus Unum: many races, many ethnic groups, many religious faiths, but one nation unified by a commitment to freedom.

“The terrorists didn’t see different ethnic groups, they just saw one enemy: America,” said Linda Chavez, president of the Center for Equal Opportunity, speaking at The Heartland Institute’s 17th anniversary benefit dinner in Chicago on October 26. Katherine Kersten, a senior fellow with the Center for the American Experiment in Minneapolis, quoted a young New Yorker who said that in the past, “I just thought of myself as black. But now I feel like I’m an American, more than ever.”

At the urging of U.S. Education Secretary Rod Paige, millions of schoolchildren across the nation joined in a simultaneous voluntary recital of the Pledge of Allegiance at 2:00 p.m. EST on October 12. The event was initiated by Paula Burton, a retired California teacher, who said her previous efforts for an annual “Pledge Across America” had met with only limited success during the previous decade (see “Celebration U.S.A.” at

What is remarkable about the terrorists’ view of Americans as a people united by a single ideal–individual liberty–is that it is so alien to what has been taught to so many American children in the name of multiculturalism.

New York Times book critic Richard Bernstein, author of Dictatorship of Virtue: Multiculturalism and the Battle for America’s Future (1994) described this teaching in action at a school in Minneapolis, where American students were taught to identify themselves in terms of their hyphenated ethnic cultures of African-American, European-American, Asian-American, and so on.

“There was, in other words, no American culture, no common culture at the school,” explained Bernstein. “There were just separate cultures, which, upon further scrutiny, were actually divided into two cultures: the hegemonic white male culture and all the oppressed cultures.” While other cultures were treated with respect, Western culture was denigrated.

“I, for one, prefer to be a member of the culture that we share as Americans,” argued Bernstein. Noting he was a Jew and an American, he continued: “It is for the public schools to inculcate the knowledge and the awareness that I need in the American part of my identity; the other part of it is my business.”

Instead, in recent years, the U.S. had been in danger of becoming “a hyphenated nation” where the primary obligation of citizenship is to celebrate–and tolerate–racial, ethnic, and other differences, according to Kersten in a recent Minneapolis Star-Tribune article. But the terrorist attack on September 11 “thoroughly discredited” that notion, she said, because Osama bin Laden did not distinguish between Americans who were black, white, yellow, brown, Christian, Jewish, or even Moslem. In his eyes, all are indistinguishable because they all are Americans.

“For while many of us did not grasp that all Americans are alike, Osama bin Laden did,” noted Kersten. The terrorist leader did not distinguish among us, she continued. “All of the differences of skin color and ethnic background that loomed so large to us were nothing to him. He understood that our way of life, with freedom of conscience at its core, is a powerful threat to the absolutism he champions.”

Americans now are fighting to protect that freedom, said Chavez at the Heartland dinner, and that should involve teaching students about American history in depth so they understand the foundations of our democracy.

Lynne Cheney, wife of the Vice President, made a similar point in an October 6 speech in Dallas. “Our children need to know what an achievement it was to enact laws declaring that individuals could be trusted to form their own opinions.”

“What unites us as Americans is more important than any of the petty divisions of race or ethnic group, of class or profession, of religious or political affiliation,” said Chavez. “We are not black or white, Asian or Latino, Christian or Jew. We are Americans. Our enemies understand this. Unfortunately, it has taken their savage attack to remind us of what some have forgotten.”

For more information . . .

Pledge across America,

Richard Bernstien, “Dictatorship of Virtue: Multiculturalism in Elementary and Secondary Schools,” American Experiment Quarterly, Summer 1998,

Linda Chavez, “It Took a Tragedy,”, September 26, 2001,

Lynne Cheney, “Teaching Our Children About America,” October 5, 2001,

Chester E. Finn, Jr., “The Absence of Atonement: Professor William Ayers,” The Gadfly, September 19, 2001,

Katherine Kersten, “Rediscovering Value of the Melting Pot,” Minneapolis Star Tribune, October 17, 2001,