America was still in a state of shock when President George W. Bush addressed our nation before a joint session of Congress on the night of September 20, 2011. As the President spoke I felt a deep sense of pride in his leadership and for the first time since the terrorist attack nine days earlier my faith in America was restored. Looking back on that evening and our President's speech a number of powerful images stand out in my memory.
President Bush began by addressing the state of our union:
We have seen it in the courage of passengers, who rushed terrorists to save others on the ground--passengers like an exceptional man named Todd Beamer. And would you please help me to welcome his wife, Lisa Beamer, here tonight. We have seen the state of our Union in the endurance of rescuers, working past exhaustion. We've seen the unfurling of flags, the light of candles, the giving of blood, the saying of prayers--in English, Hebrew, and Arabic. We have seen the decency of a loving and giving people who have made the grief of strangers their own. My fellow citizens, for the last nine days, the entire world has seen for itself the state of our Union--and it is strong.
The President gave voice to our need to understand why the terrorists attacked us and in assessing the state of mind that drives our enemies he made statements which have turned out to be prophetic in the light of more recent developments:
Americans are asking, why do they hate us? They hate what they see right here in this chamber--a democratically elected government. Their leaders are self-appointed. They hate our freedoms--our freedom of religion, our freedom of speech, our freedom to vote and assemble and disagree with each other. They want to overthrow existing governments in many Muslim countries, such as Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Jordan. They want to drive Israel out of the Middle East. They want to drive Christians and Jews out of vast regions of Asia and Africa. These terrorists kill not merely to end lives, but to disrupt and end a way of life. With every atrocity, they hope that America grows fearful, retreating from the world and forsaking our friends. They stand against us, because we stand in their way.
As President Bush neared the end of his speech he held up a police badge:
And I will carry this: It is the police shield of a man named George Howard, who died at the World Trade Center trying to save others. It was given to me by his mom, Arlene, as a proud memorial to her son. This is my reminder of lives that ended, and a task that does not end. I will not forget this wound to our country or those who inflicted it. I will not yield; I will not rest; I will not relent in waging this struggle for freedom and security for the American people. The course of this conflict is not known, yet its outcome is certain. Freedom and fear, justice and cruelty, have always been at war, and we know that God is not neutral between them.
That September evening ten years ago our nation witnessed poised and considerate leadership from our President in the face of incalculable tragedy. Most of us who watched President Bush's thoughtful and moving speech will never forget the strength of character and steady resolve which he gave to our beleaguered nation.
September 20, 2011