As I sit here and think about it, I am shocked that it has been ten years since that horrible day that changed everything. And as I reflect further, it feels just like yesterday.
Just like our recent earthquake, I know we all remember where we were on Sept. 11, 2001. That day started off quite normal. Up and out of the house early because I had a breakfast event to attend with my boss. It was a clear and beautiful fall morning in DC. As the morning went on, we all became aware of the new national security crisis our country was facing. A not very well known enemy, with what appeared to be minimal budget, was able to breach any security that existed at the time and transform commercial airliners into giant bombs. At the end of the day, thousands of innocent lives were gone, America’s false sense and expectation of security was shattered, and our economy was thrown into a free fall.
That night, when I finally got home, I attended a memorial service at church that was one of the most moving and emotional services that I have ever attended. I saw the same look of disorientation and disbelief on every face in that sanctuary.
On September 12, 2001, I drove into the Capitol through blocks of eerily deserted streets. I saw military airplanes, but no commercial flights in the normally busy 14th Street Bridge corridor since Reagan National was closed. There was a “new” security protocol in town and the open streets around the Capitol were being consumed for the new security perimeter that was being redefined as the day went on. I can’t help but think that the Capitol was one of the targets on the 11th, protected only by the brave men and women who stopped the fourth plane from reaching Washington. I went to work filled with a passion I have never felt before – a sense of patriotism and purpose. From that day on, I felt that my work took on a new importance and those who committed these horrific acts would never stop me or my colleagues from the public service we provided.
Over the last ten years later, I have questioned the road we have traveled as a nation. But some things are undeniable. I am grateful for those men and women who work so hard every day to keep us all safe and al-Qaeda, as it existed in 2001, is no longer.
I for one am glad that even in the face of some of the most difficult challenges our nation has addressed, the Congress, President Bush, and now President Obama, recognize the continued importance of funding these efforts. Immediately after 9-11, we hastily, and perhaps sloppily, launched a defensive anti-terror apparatus constructed from scratch.
However, in spite of some the setbacks and shortfalls associated with this strategy, it worked. These efforts kept us safe, even though they were some of the most controversial public policy decisions implemented in recent time.
I have always viewed 9-11 as our generation’s Pearl Harbor. However, our enemy is far more complicated and elusive. Our enemy has no home address. Our response required a different response and different resolve. As President Bush stated soon after the attacks,
Our response involves far more than instant retaliation and isolated strikes. Americans should not expect one battle, but a lengthy campaign unlike any other we have ever seen. It may include dramatic strikes visible on TV and covert operations secret even in success. We will starve terrorists of funding, turn them one against another, drive them from place to place until there is no refuge or no rest. And we will pursue nations that provide aid or safe haven to terrorism. Every nation in every region now has a decision to make: Either you are with us or you are with the terrorists.
Since 9-11, our collective resolve has paid off. After 10 years, no major attacks. We have largely disarmed and defeated what once was Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaeda. We have transformed the way we engage our enemy and we have developed the means to continue to pursue them at a decreasing cost.
Along the way, we have made many mistakes, particularly on the international front. Perhaps the next decade will refocus our energies on repairing these relationships as we move forward in peace, as a global community.
As I ponder and reflect upon 9-11, I will remember the events of that day, the accomplishments of the Bush and Obama administrations, the resolve of the American people, and the response from the rest of the world. As President Bush stated in September 2001,
America will never forget the sounds of our national anthem playing at Buckingham Palace, on the streets of Paris and at Berlin’s Brandenburg Gate. We will not forget South Korean children gathering to pray outside our embassy in Seoul, or the prayers of sympathy offered at a mosque in Cairo. We will not forget moments of silence and days of mourning in Australia and Africa and Latin America.
In light of the facts surrounding 9-11, the gravity of the destruction of life and property, the surprise attack, the nature of the enemy, and the relentless attempts to cause more harm to innocent people, I cannot help but conclude that we have been largely successful. But we have a great deal more to accomplish. We continue to rebuild, we show resolve, and we remain vigilant.
On this special anniversary, I reflect on the brave men and women who have fought on my behalf and paid the ultimate sacrifice to make this world a safer place for me and my children.
I hope we never forget these events, but move forward in a positive way. Most of all, I pray for all the lives that changed forever ten years ago and pray that we as a people – a collective global people – can one day live to the fullest potential that God intended for all of us, peacefully and with respect for one another.