Obama: America Has Emerged Stronger From 9/11

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 � in God and each oth­er � 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 � reflect­ing, as it does, the imper­fec­tions of man � also gives us the oppor­tu­ni­ty to per­fect our union.

“That is what we hon­or on days of nation­al com­mem­o­ra­tion � 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)