The Corner

9/11 Makes an American

My dominant memory of that morning is the courage of ordinary Americans.

We were due to have a major conference on Sudan, held on Capitol Hill. In the cab on the way over I heard about the two plane strikes in New York, and then, while crossing the mall, of the one on the Pentagon — we could see the smoke. Inside the Senate Hart office building we watched the TV until a guard came in and announced that a fourth plane might be heading for the White House or the Capitol and that we should evacuate immediately.

We left quickly, as did everybody else in the crowded building. What struck me was that, while everybody was urgent, not a soul ran, and most people held the doors open so others could pass through first. People then gathered outside until moved on by security.

My colleague Nina Shea and I then sought to drive out of the city center and immediately hit virtual gridlock. But, again, despite the jams, and the failure of cell phones, drivers were patient, much more so than on an ordinary day, and let others go first.

This was not the valor shown by the first responders in New York or the Pentagon, or the passengers on Flight 93. But if Hemingway was right that courage is grace under pressure, then I had just watched thousands of ordinary American respond to an unexpected attack with courage. It was the day I knew we would win, and the day I decided to become an American.

— Paul Marshall is senior fellow at the Hudson Institute’s Center for Religious Freedom.

For more 9/11 memories, see our symposium, which includes Mary Matalin, Victor Davis Hanson, Dana Perino, John Hillen, Daniel Pipes, and others.


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