What I Remember
That unforgettable morning.


The most gripping, clarifying, and enduring of all my recollections of 9/1l is the televised image of the second commandeered airliner barreling low out of the incongruously untroubled cerulean blue and then piercing, like a giant, white, shark-like arrow, the second World Trade Center tower.

Initially, watching the first tower implode floor by floor — implacably and as if in slow motion — I had felt locked in a state of disbelief, mesmerized and confused. It was as though this plunging inferno, and the certain immolation of the multitude trapped inside, could not possibly be real — simply could not happen in our America.

But, at the moment the second airliner sliced into its target, the veil was lifted. Bewilderment gave way to the realization that terrorists, shaped and perverted by malice, had violated our homeland and were incinerating our innocent countrymen. Fury and resolve swiftly followed — a rock-hard, clearheaded, to-the-end-of-days fury; the resolve to join with those who proclaim the true character and motives of these murderous fanatics, to support at whatever cost the fight against them, and to bring to power courageous warrior-leaders capable of waging this war unto total victory.

This window into my state of mind on 9/11 is hardly original. No doubt it mirrors the instantaneous psychic processing that millions of Americans experienced on that fateful day. The image of the hellish penetration of that proud tower remains forever indelible in my mind, and, like that of so many of my fellow citizens, my resolve to defeat this enemy remains unbreakable.

— Candace de Russy is a nationally recognized expert on education and cultural issues and contributor to NRO’s Phi Beta Cons blog.

On 9/11, after watching the horrendous story unfold all morning, I went out to keep a short appointment. I had a feeling that when I returned I would learn that a friend had been killed, and the premonition proved true. Attorney Barbara Olson had been on the plane that terrorist hijackers smashed into the Pentagon. Her husband, Ted, then the U.S. solicitor general, said that she called him from the doomed plane on her cell phone, and he told her what had happened in New York. When I reached for my phone directory to call Kate O’Beirne, a close friend of Barbara’s, I noticed that right below her number was the cell phone number of Barbara Olson, who would never answer again.

I remember seeing another friend, Tony Snow, reporting the story for Fox News with a backdrop that he calmly reported might be the next target: the U.S. Capitol dome. I think it was the first time Snow signed off with a phrase that stuck: “fair, balanced . . . and unafraid.” That weekend, walking around the neighborhood, I counted over 100 American flags displayed on porches. We listened to a favorite bluegrass CD we had purchased at a Michigan country store, and the homespun songs were as sweet as ever. But in the face of sudden national tragedy we knew that the innocence and simplicity of that era in history would never return again.

— Elaine Donnelly is president of the Center for Military Readiness.

I was at my desk in the State Department’s office of international religious freedom when the alarm bells sounded. My colleagues and I walked calmly out of the building — we had seen tapes of the first airliner hitting the Twin Towers but did not know the severity of the crisis. Even when we saw smoke rising from the Pentagon across the Potomac River, it was difficult to fathom what was happening or why. Only when we reached our homes did most of us even begin to ponder the fullness of the catastrophe that had struck our nation.

In the months that followed, the Bush administration implemented a “forward strategy of freedom” designed to counter Islamist terrorism with ordered liberty. But ordering freedom proved exceedingly difficult, in part because stable self-governance — especially in highly religious societies — requires religious freedom. The Bush administration was not prepared to engage that toxic subject in the lands of Islam. President Obama mentioned religious freedom in his Cairo speech, but his administration has done little about it since.

Why should it? Why engage a problem that most Muslim governments find so troublesome? One plausible answer is that if Osama bin Laden had been raised in a Saudi Arabia with religious freedom, 9/11 might never have happened. Instead of being steeped exclusively in the vile teachings of Wahhabism and Sayyid Qutb, he and his generation would have been exposed to multiple interpretations of Islam and other public religious arguments.

This answer has its detractors: “realists” who resist any analysis of religion in foreign affairs; conservatives who insist Islam, not radical Islam, is the problem; liberals who seek the privatization of all religion. But the strategy of advancing religious freedom deserves a try. The potential benefits are enormous.

— Thomas F. Farr is a visiting associate professor at Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service and director of the Religious Freedom Project at Georgetown’s Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs.