Other than the collapse of the towers, distant shots of the billowing smoke spreading over much of the city, and a sharp sense of the precariousness of life and civilization, I remember the flags that cropped up everywhere. They were saying, “We’re a proud and unified country, determined to stand strong against those who would harm us.” Those flags and all they stood for seemed to many like a cultural turning point — the passing of an era of postmodern relativism and political correctness.
That post-9/11 sense of national unity dissipated long ago. Our cultural-political divisions are sharper than ever now. Yet the memory of that time remains powerful. To some, it supplies a reason to put 9/11 behind us. For others, the truths revealed by 9/11 have never really disappeared and are sure to press themselves upon us again — whether we like it or not.
Life and civilization really are precarious. They are achievements and can easily be lost, as a glance at history reveals. Time will test us again and again — it will force us to win back the freedom and prosperity we thought we could take for granted, but never can. That is what we should remember most about 9/11.
— Stanley Kurtz is a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, and the author of Radical-in-Chief.
I remember going back to my office at Empower America from a regular Tuesday Bible study that had just concluded and turning on The Today Show. I saw what everyone else did, the first tower on fire. Matt Lauer was reporting that there had been “an accident” . . . and then he and Katie Couric went to some Today staff on the ground. One reporter was talking about what she saw, and there was speculation about air-traffic-control problems and a commuter plane. She interrupted her string of descriptions and speculations to shout: “Another plane just hit!”
Just about this time, our offices — located just diagonal from the White House, on 17th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue — were receiving calls from friends with all kinds of reports (at one point I remember someone saying there was a bomb in Lafayette Park). I called a friend of mine whose office was also downtown. He told me he was hearing the same kind of reports. “Something happened at the Pentagon; I heard it was a bomb,” he told me. He said he was evacuating his office, and we should do the same. The Secret Service came into our offices — it must have been about 10:30 a.m. — and told us we all needed to evacuate (our conference room overlooked the White House). Seventeenth Street and Connecticut Avenue were clogged with foot and car traffic. I walked with Bill and Noreen Burns to the Metro and waited with them for a train to pick them up. Then I walked home to Dupont Circle, trying to call friends in New York to see if they were okay — no calls would go through. The next day, six of us showed up at work: Bill Bennett, Jack Kemp, Jeff Kwitowski (the press secretary), Kevin Cherry (our associate), J. T. Taylor (the president of Empower America), and myself.
We talked about all the reports we had heard, watched, and read. The New York Times had printed as vivid a description as anyone (e.g., New York City was consumed in a “a hellish storm of ash, glass, smoke and leaping victims”). I thought the San Francisco Examiner headline got it the best: “BASTARDS!”
I recall that, after reading one description of the “hellish storm,” Bill said: “And they did this all with box cutters.” As we sat together summarizing what took place the day before, we all intuitively realized that the full truth was far worse than any of the rumors and hyperbole we’d been picking up the previous morning. We then called Jeane Kirkpatrick on the speaker phone to get her thoughts. She suggested we all urge the passage of a comprehensive declaration of war against Islamic terror organizations and their supporters.
We sat around the conference table and drafted a press release calling on Congress to declare war against “all fundamentalist Islamic entities waging war against the United States and our civilization, whether they assume the identities of Osama bin Ladin’s Al-Qaida, The Islamic Jihad, or any other amorphous grouping or ‘non governmental organization’ that is credibly known to be part of this abominable network of terror. The declaration of war should also apply to foreign nations that sponsor, harbor or support individuals and entities at war with the United States.”
The statement concluded, “We are at war, and Congress has the responsibility to declare war against those people and organizations waging war on us and against any nation known to be sponsoring, supporting or harboring those people waging war on us. Once having declared war, we must wage it, and remove this terrorism and these terrorists from the face of the earth.”
— Seth Leibsohn, former vice president of Empower America, is a fellow at the Claremont Institute and co-author of The Fight of Our Lives.