Americans have marked the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks with sombre scenes – and a plea from George Bush.
Americans have marked the 20th anniversary of the September 11 terror attacks with an appeal for national unity in the shadow of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic and the country’s chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan.
This morning, President Joe Biden was joined by his predecessors Bill Clinton and Barack Obama for a ceremony at Ground Zero in New York, where planes hijacked by terrorists flew into each of the World Trade Centre’s twin towers on September 11, 2001.
George W. Bush, who was president at the time of the attacks, spoke at a separate ceremony in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, where Flight 93 crashed after its passengers fought back against the hijackers. Vice President Kamala Harris was also in attendance.
Former president Jimmy Carter, who is 96 years old, observed the anniversary privately. And Mr Biden’s immediate predecessor, Donald Trump, released a video statement marking the occasion. Mr Trump, a resident of New York City for most of his life, was expected to visit Ground Zero on his own at some point during the day, and will spend the evening providing colour commentary at a boxing event in Florida.
At 8:46am in New York, two decades to the minute since Flight 11 hit the North Tower, the nation held a moment of silence.
A total of 2977 people were killed in the 9/11 attacks: 2606 in New York, 125 at the Pentagon in Washington D.C. and 265 on the four hijacked planes, including 19 terrorists who committed murder-suicide.
It remains the deadliest terror attack in history.
In line with tradition, none of the presidents in New York delivered remarks. However Mr Bush did speak in Pennsylvania, directly addressing the loved ones of those who lost their lives on 9/11.
“Twenty years ago we all found, in different ways, in different places, but all at the same moment, that our lives would be changed forever,” Mr Bush said.
“The world was loud with carnage and sirens, then quiet with missing voices that would never be heard again. These lives remain precious to our country and infinitely precious to many of you.
“Today, we remember your loss. We share your sorrow. And we honour the men and women you have loved so long and so well.”
He said there was “horror at the scale of the destruction” and “awe at the bravery and kindness that rose to meet it”.
“There was shock at the audacity of evil and gratitude for the heroism and decency that opposed it. In the sacrifice of the first responders and the mutual aid of strangers, in the solidarity of grief and grace, the actions of an enemy revealed the spirit of a people. We were proud of our wounded nation.”
Addressing the current state of the country, Mr Bush appealed to Americans to rediscover the same unity they displayed 20 years ago. He said there was growing evidence that the US faced dangers not only from outside its borders, but from “violence that gathers within”.
“In the weeks and months following the attacks, I was proud to lead an amazing, resilient, united people. When it comes to the unity of America, those days seem distant from our own,” said the former president.
“Malign force seems at work in our common life that turns every disagreement into an argument, and every argument into a clash of cultures. So much of our politics has become a naked appeal to anger, fear and resentment. That leaves us worried about our nation and our future together.
“I come without explanations or solutions. I can only tell you what I’ve seen. On America’s day of trial and grief, I saw millions of people instinctively grab for a neighbour’s hand and rally to the cause of one another. That is the America I know.”
He hailed the bravery of the passengers on Flight 93.
“This is not mere nostalgia. It is the truest version of ourselves. It is what we have been and what we can be again,” he said.
“Twenty years ago, terrorists chose a random group of Americans on a routine flight to be collateral damage in a spectacular act of terror. The 33 passengers and seven crew of Flight 93 could have been any group of citizens selected by fate. In a sense, they stood for all of us.
“The terrorists soon discovered that a random group of Americans is an exceptional group of people. Whenever we need hope and inspiration, we can look to the skies and remember.”
Ms Harris struck the same note in her own speech.
“In a time of outright terror, we turned towards each other. In the face of a stranger, we saw a neighbour and a friend. That time reminded us of the signifance and the strength of our unity as Americans,” the Vice President said.
Mr Trump distributed his 9/11 address via an email to his supporters, which contained a link to his video message.
“For the great people of country, this is a very sad day. September 11 represents great sorrow for country,” the former president said.
“Many things were displayed that day, including most importantly the bravery of our police, fire and first responders of every kind. The job they did was truly unbelievable. We love them and we thank them.”
He then pivoted to criticism of the withdrawal from Afghanistan, which left Americans and thousands of Afghans who helped western forces stranded under Taliban rule.
“The leader of our country was made to look like a fool, and that can never be allowed to happen. It was caused by bad planning, incredible weakness and leaders who truly didn’t understand what was happening,” said Mr Trump.
“This is the 20th year of this war and should have been a year of victory, honour and strength. Instead, Joe Biden and his inept administration surrendered in defeat.
“We will live on, but sadly our country will be wounded for a long period of time. We will struggle to recover from the embarrassment this incompetence has caused. Do not fear, however. America will be made great again.”
In a separate, written statement, Mr Trump lauded his former personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani, who was mayor of New York City on 9/11.
“Congratulations to Rudy Giuliani (for the 20th time!), the greatest mayor in the history of New York City, for having shown such leadership and doing such an incredible job during and after the attack on our nation!” he said.
Mr Obama also released a written statement. He said the anniversary was about honouring the Americans who lost their lives, but also “reflecting on what we’ve learned” since the attacks.
“That list of lessons is long and growing. But one thing that became clear on 9/11 – and has been clear ever since – is that America has always been home to heroes who run towards danger in order to do what is right,” said Mr Obama.
“For Michelle and me, the enduring image of that day is not simply the falling towers or the smouldering wreckage. It’s the firefighters running up the stairs as others were running down. The passengers deciding to storm a cockpit, knowing it could be their final act. The volunteers showing up at recruiters’ offices across the country in the days that followed, willing to put their lives on the line.
“Over the last 20 years, we have seen the same courage and selflessness on display again and again. We say it a decade ago when, after years of persistence, our military brought justice to Osama bin Laden. And we’re seeing it today, in the doctors and nurses, bone tired, doing what they can to save lives; the servicemembers, some of whom weren’t even born 20 years ago, putting themselves at risk to save Americans and help refugees find a better life; the first responders battling roaring fires and rising waters to bring families to safety.
“They represent what is best in America, and what can and should bring us together. 9/11 reminded us how so many Americans give of themselves in extraordinary ways, not just in moments of great crisis, but every single day. Let’s never forget that, and let’s never take them for granted.”
George Bush’s plea on 9/11 anniversary