WASHINGTON, Sept. 11, 2011 — President Barack Obama today remembered those who were lost to terrorist attacks a decade ago and said the American commitment to freedom, justice, courage and liberty has not dimmed in the face of many trials.
Obama capped a busy day that took him to ground zero in New York, to Shanksville, Pa., where United Airlines Flight 93 crashed, and to the Pentagon.
Tonight, the president spoke at the Concert for Hope at the Kennedy Center here, where began his remarks with a quote from the Bible: “Weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning,” from Psalm 30.
Americans endured such a night on Sept. 11, 2001, Obama said.
“Mighty towers crumbled. Black smoke billowed up from the Pentagon. Airplane wreckage smoldered on a Pennsylvania field,” he said. “Friends and neighbors, sisters and brothers, mothers and fathers, sons and daughters — they were taken from us with heartbreaking swiftness and cruelty. On Sept. 12, 2001, we awoke to a world in which evil was closer at hand, and uncertainty clouded our future.”
In the past 10 years, much has changed, and America is at war, the president noted.
“We can never get back the lives we lost on that day, or the Americans who made the ultimate sacrifice in the wars that followed,” he said, but he added that after a decade it is worth remembering what hasn’t changed.
“Our character as a nation has not changed,” Obama said. “Our faith ï¿½ in God and each other ï¿½ that has not changed. Our belief in America, born of a timeless ideal that men and women should govern themselves, that all people are created equal, and deserve the same freedom to determine their own destiny — that belief, through test and trials, has only been strengthened.”
The past decade has shown America does not give in to fear, Obama said. He spoke of first responders running into doomed buildings and airline passengers taking on terrorists as just two examples, and he said Americans have worked together to defend the nation and its values.
“Two million Americans have gone to war since 9/11,” Obama said. “They have demonstrated that those who do us harm cannot hide from the reach of justice, anywhere in the world.”
The men and women who fight America’s wars are not conscripts, but volunteers, the president noted. “They are men and women who left behind lives of comfort for two, three, four, or five tours of duty. Too many will never come home. Those that do carry dark memories from distant places and the legacy of fallen friends.”
U.S. service members and their families have sacrificed in Afghanistan and Iraq, Obama said, but they do not sacrifice for conquest or to demonstrate America can occupy another country.
“Our strength is not measured in our ability to stay in these places; it comes from our commitment to leave those lands to free people and sovereign states, and our desire to move from a decade of war to a future of peace,” the president said.
And America holds on to its freedoms, Obama said, acknowledging that fierce debates have taken place about the balance between security and civil liberties.
“But it is precisely the rigor of these debates, and our ability to resolve them in a way that honors our values, that is a measure of our strength,” he said. “Meanwhile, our open markets still provide innovators with the chance to create, our citizens are still free to speak their minds, and our souls are still enriched in our churches and temples, our synagogues and mosques.”
And America has also not succumbed to suspicion and mistrust, the president said, evoking the words of his predecessor. “After 9/11, President Bush made clear what we reaffirm today: the United States will never wage war against Islam or any religion,” Obama said.
In the wake of 9/11, America has arisen from the canvas and demonstrated once again its resilience, the president told the Kennedy Center audience. “The Pentagon is repaired, and filled with patriots working in common purpose,” he said. “Shanksville is the scene of friendships forged between residents of that town and families who lost loved ones there. New York remains a vibrant capital of the arts and industry, fashion and commerce.
“Where the World Trade Center once stood, “the sun glistens off a new tower that reaches toward the sky,” he continued. “Our people still work in skyscrapers. Our stadiums are filled with fans, and our parks full of children playing ball. Our airports hum with travel, and our buses and subways take millions where they need to go. Families sit down to Sunday dinner, and students prepare for school. This land pulses with the optimism of those who set out for distant shores, and the courage of those who died for human freedom.”
America has met the test, and those who follow will appreciate the courage, commitment and resilience of Americans of this era, the president said. He stressed the word “united” when he said, “Nothing can break the will of a truly United States of America.”
Those of the future will remember and understand that the people of the United States “have overcome slavery and Civil War, bread lines and fascism, recession and riots, communism and, yes, terrorism,” he said. “They will be reminded that we are not perfect, but our democracy is durable, and that democracy ï¿½ reflecting, as it does, the imperfections of man ï¿½ also gives us the opportunity to perfect our union.
“That is what we honor on days of national commemoration ï¿½ those aspects of the American experience that are enduring, and the determination to move forward as one people,” he said.
That determination to move forward is the real legacy of 9/11, the president told the audience. “It will be said of us that we kept that faith — that we took a painful blow, and emerged stronger,” he said.
The president closed with a call that echoed President Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address: “With a just God as our guide, let us honor those who have been lost. Let us rededicate ourselves to the ideals that define our nation, and let us look to the future with hearts full of hope. May God bless the memory of those we lost, and may God bless the United States of America.”
U.S. Department of Defense
Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs)