I appeared Saturday with former attorney general John Ashcroft at a ceremony in Joplin, Missouri to a crowd gathered in remembrance of the 9-11 attacks. My thanks to Allen Shirley of Joplin, for organizing the event and for his kindness in inviting me. In lieu of writing a column on the subject, I’m going to post the body of my remarks, which were quite brief, with a few edits, as my contribution to NR’s remembrance of that day.
It is hard to believe that 15 years have passed since the events we are gathered here to remember. September 11, 2001, is a day that will always seem like yesterday. It is frozen in the minds of every American old enough to remember it. We all recall what we were doing the moment we heard about the attacks; we all recall the shock and outrage and horror of seeing, in real time, devastation inflicted on two great American cities.
There were over 8,000 casualties that day, and 2,996 deaths. Those who died represented a cross section of America. They were men, women, and children, including 11 unborn children. They were of many different backgrounds, ethnicities, religions, ages and occupations. Yet they had things in common too. Each had a beating heart and a vital soul; each was precious to a network of friends and family. None deserved to die; all were innocent, and each began that fateful day entirely unaware that, by the time night had fallen, he would meet his Maker.
When I think about September 11th for very long, the human loss is more than I can bear. It reminds me of a line from Shakespeare: “I do not take this from report. It is, and my heart breaks at it.”
Yet it is necessary for us to think about it. It is right for us to remember. And it is important that we have gathered here to share our memories – and renew our resolve to complete the task remaining before us.
The enemy who attacked us on September 11 is still attacking us today. Hundreds of thousands of brave Americans have fought for us and are fighting for us still, in law enforcement, in the intelligence community, and in the armed forces. Some of them have joined us here this afternoon. Yet despite their efforts, it must be said that the influence of the enemy is spreading, his strength on balance is growing, his aspirations are as barbaric as ever and his methods are even more cruel.
I’ve spent my years since leaving the Senate working mostly in the world of national security. I must tell you this: the enemy is seeking to empower himself with terrible new weapons – nuclear weapons and bio-weapons and cyber weapons – he will use if he acquires them, and that have the potential to inflict injury which will make the events we remember today seem small by comparison.
It cannot and must not be allowed to happen. And the good news is this: it won’t happen, if we are determined enough to prevent it. The task is by no means too great: if we use only a small fraction of America’s enormous latent power, but use it with purpose and clarity and common sense, we will overwhelm the enemy, and we may be surprised at how quickly we can do it.
The events of September 11 opened a new chapter in our long history. The chapter began in tragedy; we must resolve now to close it in victory, to close it soon, and certainly to close it long before another 15 years have passed. That is the debt we owe not just to the dead, but to the living, not just to the past, but to the future, not just for the safety of our communities, but for our national honor, and our civilized way of life.