On September 12, 2001, hundreds of newspapers, many carrying haunting images of smoking towers, delivered devastating news to readers around the world.
“U.S. ATTACKED” and “War on America” screamed the front pages of The New York Times and Britain’s The Daily Telegraph. The cover of The Washington Times read simply, “Infamy.”
And they were right. Nearly a decade ago, our nation entered into a new war. The initial toll was terrible: almost 3,000 killed and thousands more injured. In an instant, the easy-going nineties ended and, in their place, Americans from coast-to-coast came to understand the horror of terrorism spawned by radical political Islamists. It became our new reality.
September 11 was, and remains, one of the most transformational events in modern American history. Yet, for all the pain and tragedy, its effect on our country was more than simply catastrophic; it also brought out remarkable compassion, resolve, and strength in each of us.
Countless Americans contributed their time and money to the relief effort. Schoolchildren organized collections for the victims and their families. The rescue workers at Ground Zero worked tirelessly to save those trapped in the rubble. For a moment, Americans of all political, religious, and cultural backgrounds put their differences aside to come together and help out.
And we did more than simply care for each other; we rose to the challenge laid out before us. We did not cower in fear or seek to appease those whose ultimate goal was our destruction. We sought them out in the hills of Afghanistan and wherever else they hid to plot more attacks. And we helped others defend against this radical political Islam that seeks to impose its medieval theocratic rule on all the rest of the world.
The night of the attacks, President Bush addressed the nation.
“These acts of mass murder were intended to frighten our nation into chaos and retreat,” he said. “Terrorist attacks can shake the foundations of our biggest buildings, but they cannot touch the foundation of America. These acts shatter steel, but they cannot dent the steel of American resolve. America was targeted for attack because we are the brightest beacon for freedom and opportunity in the world. And no one will keep that light from shining.”
And today, that light continues to shine. But the challenge remains.
As we reflect on those who perished in the attack and in the service of our country, let’s not forget that moment when we rose up together and let our beacon shine brightest. In the words of Rudy Giuliani: “The attacks of September 11 were intended to break our spirit. Instead we have emerged stronger and more unified…We are more determined than ever to live our lives in freedom.”