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CNN Live Event/Special
The Terrorist Attacks on September 11th, 2001, at World Trade Center Towers in New York Remembered on 20th Anniversary; President Biden's Military Withdrawal from Afghanistan Leaves Taliban in Charge of Trying to Create New Government in Afghanistan; Former President George W. Bush Gives Speech at Memorial for Terrorist Attacks on September 11th, 2001. Aired 10-11a ET
Aired September 11, 2021 - 10:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: A moment of silence for when Flight 93 crashed in Shanksville. You've been listening to the 9/11 ceremony in New York. Before that, the Pentagon, where the leaders of the military spoke, including the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Mark Milley, and the Secretary of Defense, Lloyd Austin. Secretary Austin will join us live in a moment. But first, let's bring back Garrett Graff and Juliette Kayyem. And one thing I want to talk about for one second is the heroism of the passengers on Flight 93.
GARRET GRAFF, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: The passengers and crew.
TAPPER: And crew, thank you.
GRAFF: That is an important distinction for the families, yes.
TAPPER: And one of the things, I feel like it's almost such an amazing story that people almost express disbelief, that it's become apocryphal, that's it's a myth. But no, it's real. It really did happen. And there were all these heroes, including the crew, as you note, that saved how many thousands of lives, we don't know, by forcing that plane down. Tell us more.
GRAFF: Yes. And this is one of the things that you sort of see throughout that day, these little moments that end up making a big difference. What makes a difference there is Flight 93 took off 42 minutes late. All the other planes that morning took off on time. Flight 93 took off at 8:42, late from Newark, just like any other airplane trying to take off from a New York area airport.
GRAFF: And what the difference is, is that means that when the passengers and crew began to place those telephone calls, they talked to the ground 37 times in that morning, they heard what was happening in New York. They heard what was happening in Washington. And so unlike all of the other passengers and crew that day, they understood what their fate was going to be, and that they had the knowledge and the time to react that the other three hijacked flights did not.
TAPPER: And of course, we remember Todd Beamer, his fateful words, "Let's roll." It's the last thing that his widow heard. And there were many moments of courage and heroism like that that are also part of the story of the day, and not just aggression but also kindness.
JULIETTE KAYYEM, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Yes.
TAPPER: We really did see the best of this country, the best of humanity in many ways.
KAYYEM: Remember how many people were adrift because we didn't have real time information. You didn't know if there was going to be another series of attacks by that afternoon or the next day. And so people were literally not able -- they're across the island in New Jersey, and they're not able to get home for a couple days. So people are taken in. People are comforted. That sense of unity, that we're going to help each other, and 93 remembers, I think, that.
It's hard for us to imagine now that there were no protocols about what to do in a sequential terrorist attack because we never envisioned it. There were two reasons why. One was we always thought of counterterrorism, up until bin Laden, essentially that the taking of an airplane would be a hijacking situation.
TAPPER: A hostage situation.
KAYYEM: Right, that the terrorists wanted to be seen.
TAPPER: Free these prisoners or give us $5 million, yes.
KAYYEM: So that what happened at one stage in one of the planes was Mohamed Atta gets on, and he thinks he is talking to the passengers, and he's telling them it's just a hijacking situation. Everyone remain calm, because he doesn't want the passengers coming into the cockpit.
TAPPER: People need to also remember that the cockpit doors were not fortified at that point.
KAYYEM: He pressed the wrong button and he ends up disclosing to control towers what is happening. That was when they realized, we don't just have one plane up in the air, we have two, three, possibly more. Then they're grounded. And Flight 93 had, because of the delay, the benefit of time for the passengers to make that decision and say, there's no good option here. What is the less bad option? In many ways, that describes the last 20 years. What is the less bad option? And they chose for us, not for them.
TAPPER: One other thing about Flight 93 in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, that is interesting is we have heard from the secretary of defense. We heard from the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. We have not heard today from President Biden, although he put out a video. Obviously, he's the president. He could have chosen to speak if he wanted to. He opted not to. President Clinton opted not to. President Obama opted not to. President George W. Bush is going to speak in Shanksville, Pennsylvania. He, of course, was the president on that day. In a way, and I have no idea what kind of conversations went on behind closed doors, but just based on the end result, President Biden, I think graciously, is ceding the day in terms of public speaking to the president 20 years ago.
GRAFF: Yes. And I think we're seeing that this is a day for history. There are days before and after this to debate everything that's gone right and wrong over the last 20 years, but today is a day to remember the attacks, remember the sacrifices, and remember the heroes. One of the things I'm thinking about, here we are in lower Manhattan, sort of between what would have been the World Trade Center and the seawall here at the battery in lower Manhattan. One of the great untold stories of 9/11 that day, the civilian armada that comes together to evacuate the people trapped by the collapse of the two towers, the largest maritime evacuation in world history. Larger than the British evacuation of Dunkirk happened just right where we're standing, 500,000 people brought out from lower Manhattan to New Jersey, to Brooklyn, to Staten Island, by this armada of fishing vessels, pleasure yachts, tugboats, and passenger ferries, 130 boats hauled in by the Coast Guard, mariners all across New York.
KAYYEM: I think on this point about sort of this is the moment we're pivoting the history. I think what's really important for people who are in government now and protecting America, all the amazing first responders and others, is what did we miss that led to this 20 years ago? And I think in some ways, our history can't begin on September 11th. And when you look at the steady drumbeat of what bin Laden was sort of warning us, the breadcrumbs, right, they don't begin 2001. In 93, the first World Trade Center bombing, the transcontinental attacks, the Africa embassy bombings, USS Cole, the Millennial attempt, all of them somehow affiliated with bin Laden.
KAYYEM: And so part of that history is to also learn what did we miss in preparation for future threats?
TAPPER: George W. Bush, the former president, and Vice President Kamala Harris will speak just a short time from now. They'll be in Shanksville, in the great commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Stay here. This is CNN's special live coverage. We'll be right back.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR, THE SITUATION ROOM: This is CNN's special coverage, 20 years since the September 11th terror attacks. The ceremony at the Pentagon wrapping up, just a little while ago. The Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, by the way, will be joining me live in just a few minutes. We have lots to discuss on this important day. Also, George W. Bush and Vice President Kamala Harris, they will speak live in Shanksville, Pennsylvania. All that coming up. [10:15:07]
But right now, I want to bring in our Pentagon correspondent, Oren Liebermann. Oren, set the scene for us. I know you're at the Pentagon. I know this is such a powerful, emotional day for all the men and women -- the military men and women, and the civilians who work here, as well.
OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, there were two incredibly difficult periods over the last few weeks leading up to this moment and this ceremony. Those two periods were, first, on that day of the horrible terrorist attack at Kabul International Airport where 13 service members were killed, 11 marines, a sailor, and a soldier. That truly weighed on the building, the very real possibility, as it turned out, that those would be the last U.S. service members killed in Afghanistan. And you could feel it inside here. That over the course of just a few days led up to Thursday and Friday as the building and all of the generals here, all of the officers here, everybody else, prepared for this moment.
Anda again, you could feel the weight of the moment in the building and how painful it was to think about 20 years over the course of all that has happened. And you heard some of that in the words of those who spoke here. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark Milley spoke about the solemn duty to remember and the conflict that many feel here, looking back at the last 20 years, feelings that include anger. But he also gave words of encouragement. He said, and I'll quote here, "You did your duty. Your service mattered. Your sacrifice was not in vain." That was then echoed a short time later by Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, who spoke about what the compass is, what guides the Pentagon in its thinking, in its beliefs, in its core values that guide not only the Pentagon but the country. He said the only compass that can guide us through the storm ahead is our core values.
Shortly after the ceremony wrapped us, there was a moment of silence, right around 9:37, so almost exactly 20 years later to the minute where the American Flight 77 hit the side of the Pentagon on the first floor, penetrating three of the outer rings into the building. Twenty years to the minute later after that was a moment of silence with the ceremony here wrapped up. Many made their way over my right shoulder behind us, that is survivors, first responders, and loved ones of the fallen, to the Memorial Garden, where there are 184 memorial benches, each with an engraved name. All of those innocent victims who were killed on that horrible day here, 125 in the building itself and 59 more on the flight.
And that's where many still are pausing, reflecting on what, of course, is a difficult day that brings back even more difficult memories, one that has defined this building. And, Wolf, if I may to get to that point, how much 9/11 defined what would happen here, the missions, the values, the ideas, the resources even of what would happen over the course of the last two decades, the acting chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff that day had run over to the Hill, General Richard Myers. He took with him a young intern, a captain, just for a quick visit to the hill. They then rushed back after they realized what was unfolding. Twenty years later, that captain would become Major General Chris Donahue, the commander of the 82nd airborne, the last U.S. service member to leave Afghanistan days ago, Wolf.
BLITZER: What an amazing, amazing story indeed. Oren Liebermann, thank you very much. And once again, I'll be speaking with the Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin. He is coming here. We'll discuss this historic day, that's coming up very soon.
Twenty years after 9/11 and the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan, sadly, the Taliban is back in control of Afghanistan right now. President Biden withdrawing all U.S. troops at the end of August, marking a chaotic and deadly conclusion to America's longest war, 20 years.
CNN's Nic Robertson is joining from Kabul right now. He's live on the scene for us. Nic, you spent a lot of time in Afghanistan over the years, including 20 years ago on this day. Tell us what's going on now.
NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: Kabul is really experiencing, I think, a different day to the rest of the world over this. The Taliban are turning their back on the anniversary. They don't want to be a part of it. This is not, they've always said, not part of them, not part of their ethos. This, of course, is very much focused on them and about them and about their control of the country.
But for people in the city today, they're not really thinking also about September the 11th and the tragedy and the hurt and the harm that it brought. For them really, the issue at the moment is the economy. They're more worried about how they're going to be able to feed their families in the coming weeks. They're more worried about what are the Taliban going to turn into here? When do they start really cracking down on people?
So there's a lot of fear and concern in the background. The Taliban, I think, at the moment are trying to sort of stop the division that exists within their ranks getting out of control. That's in the background here, as well, as well as dealing with the international community.
But I think when you think back to those 20 years ago today, the experience for this city was going through, at that moment when it became clear that Al Qaeda was behind the attack, that Al Qaeda and Usama bin Laden were based here in Afghanistan, that U.S. forces would be coming here to oust Al Qaeda and the Taliban. I think when you go back in time to that moment, people here were hoping that it could bring something better to Afghanistan.
The place we're at today is the 20 year long war for the United States here is one that many Afghans feel that they've suffered from. They're very afraid of what the Taliban brings now. But they feel they're in a new phase. The reality of that new phase is it's very likely going to be a new phase of the civil war that they experienced before, the lack of full control over the country that they had before. And that means that there are groups like Al-Qaeda and ISIS-K and other terror groups in this country that are likely going to be able to use the terrain of Afghanistan to train their own fighters. And if they have an agenda to attack the United States or Europe, then they will be able to do that in the spaces available here, because the war, internal war in this country, is far from over, and the Taliban do not have the strength at the moment to control the whole country, Wolf.
BLITZER: Nic, I want you to be careful over there. We'll stay in very close touch with you. Nic Robertson in Kabul, Afghanistan.
Kaitlan, the Biden administration gets a lot of credit for getting about 125,000 people, American citizens, American residents, friends of the United States, Afghans who were very loyal and helpful to the U.S., out, but so many others have been left behind. And there's a lot of criticism of the chaotic way the war ended.
KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: And the way that the White House has really responded to that is talking about why the president pulled troops out of Afghanistan, and how important it was in April when he initially announced this, the deadline was today, 9/11, the 20th anniversary. He did not want troops still in Afghanistan.
And earlier, when you all were sharing where you were on 9/11, I kind of hesitated to share mine, because I was in the fourth grade, and I remember the day incredibly clearly. But now that I think about it, this is something that shaped an entire generation. And my generation, we grew up, this is the only thing that we've known for most of our lives, a big backdrop of it. When the defense secretary was speaking there, talking about some of those who were killed in the suicide blast during that withdrawal, they were babies when 9/11 happened, and they ended up giving their lives in Afghanistan, serving the country.
And when you go to Section 60 in Arlington National Cemetery, and you look at some of those headstones and they say, 1989, 1990, 1991, when these people were born, and killed in Afghanistan in serving, it really makes you think back to so much of the president's emphasis for why he wanted to do that and why he felt it was important to withdraw those troops. And I think that has been a major factor of this, to see it come full circle now 20 years later, this is still something that is very much at the forefront of our conversation about U.S. foreign policy.
BLITZER: And John, it is going to continue to be at the forefront in the coming weeks and months, and maybe years.
JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Years. And it's interesting just seeing Nic Robertson overseas in Kabul and remembering in our early days of covering the White House, Nic Robertson first on the technical side, then he became a fantastic correspondent. In those days when you traveled with the president, we were still dealing with the post Cold War world, after George H.W. Bush, into the Bill Clinton presidency, and even into the George W. Bush presidency, how would the world because of the fall of the Berlin Wall, the post Cold War era, where are the Russian nukes. Can you encourage democracy in the Latvias, Lithuanias, Estonias. And then 9/11 like that flipped the whole world's attention, the whole world's attention to terrorism, to Al Qaeda, then to the broader question. Now, what is the next chapter of that, the next generation of that? Yes, America's longest war is over. Yes, there's going to be a political debate about that for some time. But what is the next chapter? Part of that the cyber. Part of that is one of the lessons of 9/11, using technology. One of the, some would say, painful lessons after using drones instead of troops.
But we're in a whole new chapter and a whole new debate now. There is no Al-Qaeda on the scale of capability that it had on 9/11. There is terrorism all over the world, as we have seen, sadly. And so what is the next chapter? How does the government adapt to the chapter? Will the government make the same mistakes? Will the government learn the lessons?
And to Kaitlan's point about younger people, will younger generations study and embrace the history? One of the positive legacies, if you will, of 9/11, Oren was just talking about it, the benches on the other side of this, I used to live in an apartment across the street here right when this building was blown up. To come and sit on those benches, have a cup of coffee some day. I urge any American who comes through this area, just sit there.
Yes, this changed our government. Yes, this changed the world. There were heroes who lost their lives that day, and they are memorialized there. Shanksville is one of the most touching, moving places you can remember. I was there in the days after when the makeshift chain link fence went up. Now, it's a more formal memorial. The memorial and museum in New York are just spectacular tributes to the heroes, the first responders, then men and women who gave their lives that day. It is inevitably part of our history and will be for generations. How we deal with it, but just remembering the everyday Americans who were part of the day, those who lost their lives, those who tried to help, these memorials and museums are fantastic.
DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: And I'm so glad you said that, Kaitlan, because that's why we are doing what we're doing today. That's why the country and the world stops on days that changed history, to remember that history, because if we, as a society, don't remember history, then we're bound to repeat it. We've seen that time and time again throughout humanity. And the fact that we are doing this, it is for those of us who lived through it, those who paid the ultimate sacrifice, those who were family members and friends of those who were, but also for the people who aren't old enough to remember, to understand how impactful it was, the horrors and the heroism.
BLITZER: And that day, politics disappeared in Washington. Democrats and Republicans, liberals and conservatives got together. You were on Capitol Hill. I was reporting what was going on. And I remember this moment. Watch this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CROWD: -- with the light from above, from the mountains to the prairies to the oceans white with foam, God bless America, my home sweet home. God bless America, my home sweet home.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: You remember that moment. It brought tears to a lot of eyes around the country and, indeed, around the world.
BASH: It still gives me goosebumps. I was standing right there along with so many other reporters who covered Capitol Hill after an entire day where we had been scattered, had been kept away from the capitol, trying to figure out, just like so many of us, what is going on, where the people who we were supposed to keep tabs on were. They, just like you said, then Senator Biden wanted to come back, just like of course the then president wanted to come back to Washington. They wanted to come back as a symbolic gesture to stand on the steps of the capitol in a bipartisan way to say, we will not be deterred.
There were leaders in both parties who spoke. That was impromptu. They walked away, and then rank and file members just started singing in an impromptu way. And I just thought that that was, looking back, one of the most indelible moments for a lot of reasons, not the least of which is that when there was within actual attack, very different attack on the capitol recently, we had a very different reaction.
BLITZER: Brought tears to my eyes. Let's go back to New York.
CHRIS JACKSON, ACCOMPANIED BY FRED ZLOTKIN AND JOHN PUTNAM: I never saw myself before you looked at me, before you kissed my lips, before you smiled at me. And I knew that day I would never be alone. And it's the only way life never got me low, tears never broke me down, inside I always know I'd be by your side, so I'd never be alone.
But all that is to friend right now when everything is solid but the ground beneath, you'll never be alone. You'll never be alone. If you fall, I'll catch you. I won't ever let you be alone.
I never want you to, to feel uncertainty. I'll listen to every word, believe every single dream. The world has a funny way of making you feel like you're alone. And when trials and troubles come, one you know that you're my welfare is my concern. If I'm far, far away, you know that I'll find my way back to your side. When the time starts to roll and wind starts to blow, when the thing you're afraid of is invisible, you'll never be alone. You'll never be alone. If you fall, I'll catch you. I won't ever let you be alone. If you fall, I'll catch you. I won't ever let you be alone. No, you'll never be alone.
(APPLAUSE) GORDON FELT, BROTHER OF EDWARD FELT AND PRESIDENT OF FAMILIES OF
FLIGHT 93: Madame Vice President, second gentleman, President and Mrs. Bush. Secretary Haaland, Governor Wolf, Captain Kurtz (ph), Ambassador Kiben (ph) (Ph), Steve, Superintendent Clark, distinguished guests, families, friends, ambassadors, and all that join us today, near or far, I welcome you to the 20th remembrance ceremony of September 11th, 2001 here at the Flight 93 National Memorial.
To the men and women that serve aboard the USS Somerset here today, and all of those active duty members and veterans in attendance near and far, you honor us with your presence. And we must never forget that there are thousands of your brethren gravely injured or that have lost their lives while serving or as a result of their service during these past 20 years. Their loss reminds us that September 11th was not a singular event, but a date that marked a cultural paradigm shift in our country and for freedom-loving people across the globe.
To the families of Flight 93 here and at home, honoring a loved one, my heart goes out to you. Having lost a brother on September 11th, I, too, live with the grief that is deep, consuming, and always present. For those that lost loved ones in the terrorist attacks on our country 20 years ago today, you know that we can never move on, but that we must continue to move forward.
On September 11th, 2001, we lost a total of 2,977 innocent souls. And that morning, more than 6,000 people were injured in the attack on our country, 2,606 died in the World Trade Center, 125 at the Pentagon, and 246 innocent people were murdered on the four hijacked planes, 40 of which were on Flight 93, brought down here in a field just outside of Shanksville, Pennsylvania as our heroes fought to overcome the evil brought to our shores that morning.
To date, an additional 2,000 first responders that took part in the immediate rescue and continued recovery efforts have died from related illnesses, and with every month, we continue to lose more. The ripple effect of September 11th is unfathomable. There are still many questions to be answered about the day, facts to be declassified and released, and justice to be served. So much of September 11th involved pain, loss, and terror. Our lives were never to be the same.
And, yet, from the ashes of the day, stories of heroism and extraordinary courage emerged, providing hope to a world adrift in fear and confusion. First responders running into burning buildings with little regard for their own safety, while citizens inside those buildings refused to run from danger so that they could offer assistance and comfort to those less able, surely knowing that their decision would cost them all but their honor.
And here in the skies over southwestern Pennsylvania, a group of 40 individuals, mostly strangers, when becoming aware of what was taking place on the ground that morning, found the courage to band together at a moment's notice, without regard for political, religious, professional, or cultural differences. Our 40, under extreme conditions, were able to change the course of history, averting the potential of our final image that fateful day being the Capitol Dome collapsed and on fire, the greatest symbol of our democracy in ruins.
As the personification of that symbol, our heroes embraced the tenants of democracy that no expression of terrorism will ever extinguish, e pluribus unum, out of many, one. Our heroes united. They formulated a plan when confronted by a great evil. They prayed. They voted on a course of action. And then they struck. Though in the process, they lost their lives, there is no question that they won the first battle in this current war on terrorism.
And 35 minutes, 9:28 to 10:03 a.m., from the initial terrorist attack on Flight 93 until the moment the plane came down in our sacred ground, a lifetime, a moment, forever, yesterday. Here on the ground, first responders aware of what was taking place in New York, at the Pentagon, and in the midst of fear and uncertainty, instinctively reacted to the horror that was brought to their rural community in a way that has forever altered their lives. These proud men and women of Somerset County and the surrounding region demonstrated everything that is awesome about the United States of America.
Terrorism met rural America -- proud, strong, determined. The relationship our families and our nation has forged with this local community is extraordinary. To our extended family here in the Somerset County region, you will forever have our complete gratitude. You have embraced us and the story of our loved ones in a selfless, fiercely protective fashion, even as you continue to move forward, carrying the pain and anguish thrust upon your community 20-year ago.
Recently, I was listening to former congressman Trey Gowdy discussing the ultimate sacrifices made by our men and women in uniform. During his remarks, I was struck by a common theme that I did not recall highlighted in prior years.
It was a theme that I felt strongly was consistent with the story of the heroes of Flight 93 and all those we lost on September 11th. I experienced a moment of clarity that brought my understanding of heroism and sacrifice to an uncomfortable reality, moving me to question who we are as a society. What struck such a nerve was not the annual reminder to honor and remember the thousands of lives ripped from the embrace of their families the morning of September 11th, 2001, including the 40 heroes of Flight 93, but, rather, the question to be considered is, are we worthy of their sacrifice? Are we worthy? Do we as individuals, communities, and as a country conduct ourselves in a manner that would make those that sacrificed so much and fought so hard on September 11th proud of who we have become? Do we share the same willingness to sacrifice for others in little ways as well as large, to act when necessary for no other reason than to accomplish a noble goal, egoless, and with no other motivation than to do what is right?
Do we cherish the hard-earned freedoms that we enjoy secured every generation by those willing to stand toe-to-toe with anyone or any country willing to steal them away? The real question that we must all ask ourselves is, have we as a society moved on and left the hard- earned lessons of September 11th behind? Have we become desensitized to what really happened that fateful morning? Have we diminished the courageous actions of these brave men and women, these heroes we honor today, at the Flight 93 National Memorial, as well as those in New York City and at the Pentagon, by relegating their stories to the history books?
As a country, we shouldn't seek to move on, but, rather, let us dedicate ourselves to moving forward, honoring and remembering the sacrifices made on September 11th, the lessons we learned, remembering the names, the individuals, and the collective actions of so many that day.
Let us be worthy of the selfless sacrifices that were made. Let us remember who we became on September 12th. In the aftermath of September 11th, we saw beyond our differences so that, in unity, we could s the devastation of the day. E pluribus unum -- out of many, we became one. That is the inspiration of September 11th. Whether it was in the air or on the ground that morning, heroism was revealed. History was made, and the course of our lives were changed forever.
The path we follow is up to us. Let us strive to be worthy of those we lost that morning, our 40 heroes, our loved ones, and the thousands of other innocent lives extinguished that day and in the aftermath of September 11th. E pluribus unum. Thank you.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you, Gordon. An enduring moment in the days after September 11th occurred when President George W. Bush used a bullhorn to speak to firefighters at ground zero in New York. His words provided sorely needed encouragement to a grieving country. A common thread of heroism running through each of the three attack sites on September 11th was the devotion to duty shown by our first responders. They made the nation proud then, and they continue to do that now.
Thank you to all of our first responders across these great United States, for we are truly grateful for your service.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I am greatly honored now to present our next speaker, the 43rd president of the United States of America, George W. Bush.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you, ladies and gentlemen. Accompanying him today is first lady Laura Bush who occupies a special place in the hearts and families of Flight 93, for on September 17th, Mrs. Bush traveled here to offer her condolences and to those of America, to the families and passengers of Flight 93. President Bush is fondly remembered by everyone involved in the effort to commemorate the heroes of Flight 93 for signing the act that created this national memorial on September 24th, 2002. Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome the 43rd president of the United States, George W. Bush.
GEORGE W. BUSH, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: Thank you. Thank you, all. Thank you very much. Laura and I are honored to be with you. Madame Vice President, Vice President Cheney, Governor Wolf, Secretary Haaland, and distinguished guests, 20 years ago we all found, in different ways, in different places, but all at the same moment, that our lives would be changed forever. The world was loud with carnage and sirens, and then quiet with missing voices that would never be heard again. These lives remain precious to our country and infinitely precious to many of you. Today, we remember your loss, we share your sorrow, and we honor the men and women you have loved so long and so well.
For those too young to recall that clear September day, it is hard to describe the mix of feelings we experienced. There was horror at the scale of destruction and awe at the bravery and kindness that rose to meet it. There was shock at the audacity of evil and gratitude for the heroism and decency that opposed it. In the sacrifice of the first responders, in the mutual aid of strangers, in the solidarity of grief and grace, the actions of an enemy revealed the spirit of the people. And we were proud of our wounded nation.
In these memories, the passengers and crew of Flight 93 must always have an honored place. Here, the intended targets became the instruments of rescue, and many who are now alive owe a vast, unconscious debt to the defiance displayed in the skies above this field. It would be a mistake to idolize the experience of those terrible events. All that many people could initially see was the brute randomness of death. All that many could feel was unearned suffering. All that many could hear was God's terrible silence. There are many who still struggle with the lonely pain that cuts deep within.
In those fateful hours, we learned other lessons, as well. We saw that Americans were vulnerable but not fragile, that they possess a core of strength that survives the worst that life can bring. We learned that bravery is more common than we imagined, emerging with sudden splendor in the face of death. We vividly felt how every hour with our loved ones was a temporary and holy gift. And we found that even the longest days end.
Many of us have tried to make spiritual sense of these events. There is no simple explanation for the mix of providence and human will that sets the direction of our lives. But comfort can come from a different sort of knowledge. After wandering long and lost in the dark, many have found they were actually walking step by step toward grace.
As a nation, our adjustments have been profound. Many Americans struggled to understand why an enemy would hate us with such zeal. The security measures incorporated into our lives are both sources of comfort and reminders of our vulnerability. And we have seen growing evidence that the dangers to our country can come not only across borders but from violence that gathers within.
There is little cultural overlap between violent extremists abroad and violent extremists at home. But then they're disdainful in their disregard for human life, in their determination to defile national symbols. They are children of the same foul spirit, and it is our continuing duty to confront them.
After 9/11, millions of brave Americans stepped forward and volunteered to serve in the armed forces. The military measures taken over the last 20 years to pursue dangers at their source have led to debate. But one thing is certain, we owe an assurance to all who have fought our nation's most recent battles. Let me speak directly to veterans and people in uniform. The cause you pursued at the call of duty is the noblest America has to offer. You have shielded your fellow citizens from danger. You have defended the beliefs of your country and advanced the rights of the downtrodden. You have been the face of hope and mercy in dark places. You have been a force for good in the world. Nothing that has followed, nothing, can tarnish your honor or diminish your accomplishments. To you and to the honored dead, our country is forever grateful.
BUSH: In the weeks and months following the 9/11 attacks, I was proud to lead an amazing, resilient, united people. When it comes to the unity of America, those days seem distant from our own. Malign force seems at worse in our common life, that turns every disagreement into an argument, and every argument into a clash of cultures. So much of our politics has become a naked appeal to anger, fear, and resentment that leaves us worried about our nation and our future together.
I come without explanations or solutions. I can only tell you what I've seen. On America's day of trial and grief, I saw millions of people instinctively grab for a neighbor's hand and rally to the cause of one another. That is the America I know.
BUSH: At a time when religious bigotry might have flowed freely, I saw Americans reject prejudice and embrace people of Muslim faith. That is the nation I know.
BUSH: At a time when nativism could have stirred hatred and violence against people perceived as outsiders, I saw Americans reaffirmed their welcome to immigrants and refugees. That is the nation I know.
BUSH: At a time when some viewed the rising generation as individualistic and decadent, I saw young people embrace an ethic of service and rise to selfless action. That is the nation I know.
BUSH: This is not mere nostalgia. It is the truest version of ourselves. It is what we have been and what we can be again.
Twenty years ago, terrorists chose a random group of Americans on a routine flight to be collateral damage in a spectacular act of terror. The 33 passengers and seven crew of Flight 93 could have been any group of citizens selected by fate. In a sense, they stood in for us all. The terrorists soon discovered that a random group of Americans is an exceptional group of people. Facing an impossible circumstance, they comforted their loved ones by phone, braced each other for action, and defeated the designs of evil. These Americans were brave, strong, and united in ways that shocked the terrorists, but should not surprise any of us. This is the nation we know.
BUSH: And whenever we need hope and inspiration, we can look to the skies and remember. God bless.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you, Mr. President, for those beautiful and insightful words. President Bush and Mrs. Bush have visited here several times, and we are delighted, of course, to have them with us here today now that the memorial has been completed. The design for this memorial which so beautifully frames this site is the work of Paul Murdoch Architects. A deeply felt thank you to Paul and Melina Murdoch, who are with us today, and to their entire team for envisioning the memorial that has literally sculpted the landscape in an unforgettable manner, and which will be visited by millions of people for generations to come. Once again, thank you to Paul and Melina and their entire team.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you, sir. How could we not embrace, to my left, the incredible men and women of the president's own United States Marine Band?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Formed in 1798, it's America's oldest continuously active professional musical organization. Think about that. Its mission is to perform for the United States president and the commandant of the Marine Corps. We are truly privileged to enjoy this national treasure. Ladies and gentlemen, please once again join me in thanking and appreciating the incredible president's own.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you, Colonel.
At this time, I am proud to welcome the secretary of the United States Department of the Interior, Deb Haaland, the 54th person entrusted with that responsibility. BLITZER: We're going to continue to monitor this very, very moving
ceremony that's going on right now. Dana, let's talk a little bit, first of all, about the, I thought, extremely timely, critically important, very powerful words we heard from the former president of the United States. And it was really important that he said what he said. That is the nation we know, referring to the good days as opposed to what's going on right now.
BASH: It was vintage George W. Bush. Those of us who covered him were sitting here saying, I bet he is going to go there, kind of trying to teach a lesson to America about what it should be, what it could be and should be. Talking about the fact that, right now, every disagreement is a naked appeal to anger and resentment, and going on and on about what specifically he is standing in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, where Flight 93 went down, the fact this group of Americans could have been -- it was a random group, but it was an exceptional group of people, and it could have been any American.
Remember, I was just looking up the date, it was six days after 9/11, then President Bush went to a mosque, intentionally.