WASHINGTON (BP)–Five years ago, 19 men armed with box cutters and plane tickets declared war upon the entire free world and showed America the face of evil, President Bush said in a nationwide address from the Oval Office Sept. 11. Since then, the United States has been determined to fight evil with freedom and “lead the 21st century into a shining age of human liberty.”
“On this day, we remember the innocent who lost their lives, and we pay tribute to those who gave their lives so that others might live,” Bush said. “… Out of this suffering, we resolve to honor every man and woman lost.”
The president and his wife Laura began a two-day observance of the 9/11 anniversary on Sept. 10 by setting wreathes adrift in reflecting pools at the site where the twin towers of the World Trade Center once stood. Then they attended a prayer service at the 240-year-old St. Paul’s Chapel, met with firefighters at a firehouse near Ground Zero and toured a museum dedicated to the families of 9/11 victims.
“Laura and I approach tomorrow with a heavy heart. It’s hard not to think about the people who lost their lives on September the 11th, 2001. You know, you see the relatives of those who still grieve — I just wish there were some way we could make them whole.”
The president spent the night in New York and met again with firefighters and police officers in lower Manhattan on Monday morning to mark the moments when two hijacked planes slammed into the towers. As “Amazing Grace” and “God Bless America” were sung, the president and first lady “stood ramrod straight and wordless in the bright sunshine,” the Associated Press reported.
The Bushes then traveled to Shanksville, Pa., to pay tribute to the Americans who died on United Flight 93, which crashed into a field on 9/11. The president hugged family members who had gathered at the site and exchanged words of comfort after laying wreathes at the site, AP recounted.
Later in the day Sept. 11, the president and his wife visited the Pentagon, where 184 people died in the terrorist attacks. Bush again embraced victims’ family members and gave a silent tribute at the site where, hours earlier, Vice President Dick Cheney and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld had spoken during a ceremony.
In his prime-time address, the president said that since 9/11, U.S. authorities have learned a lot about the enemy, including the fact that they are “driven by a perverted vision of Islam” that means the war on terror is more than a military conflict.
“It is the decisive ideological struggle of the 21st century and the calling of our generation,” Bush said.
The attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon changed the way America looks at the world, he said, and taught the nation that it must confront threats “before they reach our shores.”
Much progress has been made, Bush said, as coalition forces have driven the Taliban from power in Afghanistan, put al Qaeda on the run and killed or captured most of those who planned the 9/11 attacks. Intelligence officials also have helped stop subsequent attacks on the United States, he said.
“The world is safer because Saddam Hussein is no longer in power,” Bush said, referring to the war in Iraq, which Bush described as a threat on par with al Qaeda.
“… The safety of America depends on the outcome of the battle in the streets of Baghdad. … If we yield Iraq to men like [Osama] bin Laden, our enemies will be emboldened; they will gain a new safe haven; they will use Iraq’s resources to fuel their extremist movement.”
In fighting the ideology behind both the 9/11 attacks and the current uprising in Iraq, Bush said something intangible is more powerful than any bomb.
“One of the strongest weapons in our arsenal is the power of freedom. The terrorists fear freedom as much as they do our firepower,” the president said. “They are thrown into panic at the sight of an old man pulling the election lever, girls enrolling in schools or families worshiping God in their own traditions. They know that given a choice, people will choose freedom over their extremist ideology.
“So their answer is to deny people this choice by raging against the forces of freedom and moderation. This struggle has been called a clash of civilizations,” he added. “In truth, it is a struggle for civilization. We are fighting to maintain the way of life enjoyed by free nations. And we’re fighting for the possibility that good and decent people across the Middle East can raise up societies based on freedom and tolerance and personal dignity.”
Bush reminded Americans that U.S. history is replete with challenges to liberty and instances when the nation faced the challenges with sacrifice and determination — particularly during World War II and the Cold War. Now liberty is again under fire, he said, in the Middle East.
“At the start of this young century, America looks to the day when the people of the Middle East leave the desert of despotism for the fertile gardens of liberty and resume their rightful place in a world of peace and prosperity,” Bush said. “We look to the day when the nations of that region recognize their greatest resource is not the oil in the ground but the talent and creativity of their people. We look to the day when moms and dads throughout the Middle East see a future of hope and opportunity for their children.
“And when that good day comes, the clouds of war will part, the appeal of radicalism will decline and we will leave our children with a better and safer world.”
The president called for the ceremonies commemorating the losses of 9/11 to remind Americans of the brutality possible when evil is allowed to run unrestrained.
“Dangerous enemies have declared their intention to destroy our way of life. They’re not the first to try, and their fate will be the same as those who tried before,” he said. “9/11 showed us why. The attacks were meant to bring us to our knees, and they did, but not in the way the terrorists intended. Americans united in prayer, came to the aid of neighbors in need and resolved that our enemies would not have the last word.
“The spirit of our people is the source of America’s strength,” Bush said. “And we go forward with trust in that spirit, confidence in our purpose and faith in a loving God who made us to be free.”