It may be nearly two decades past now, but there is still no escaping the memory of September 11, 2001. The emotions we felt that day and in its immediate aftermath left marks on our minds and on our souls that we will feel until the day we die.
Therefore, when I am asked to reflect, my mind runs through a gamut of reactions. One can never forget the tragedy or the horror. To forget the revulsion we felt at the sheer barbarism and cruelty, or our shock and sorrow at the deaths of so many of our fellow New Yorkers and fellow Americans, would be a disservice to their memory.
But neither can we allow ourselves to dwell incessantly on that long-ago terror — that’s what the people who perpetrated these attacks would want. We must turn our thoughts eventually to the hope, the resolve, and the heroism we all witnessed, not only on that day, but in the days, weeks, months, and years that followed. We have a duty to never forget the unbreakable spirit, always within us, that emerged into the open in our darkest of hours — a duty every bit as solemn as our duty to remember the fallen.
It is the great honor of my life that I was able to give voice and direction to the outpouring of patriotism unleashed by those attacks, a patriotism determined to rebuild our city, fortify our country, and visit justice on those responsible.
As I look out on the world forged by those efforts and those sacrifices, I am reminded that the events of today have been shaped to a significant degree by the events of 9/11.
Take, for example, the war in Afghanistan, begun shortly after the Twin Towers fell, and now fought by soldiers who in some cases were not yet born when they did. I look on with trepidation for their safety and reverence for their sacrifice, even as I reflect proudly on the justice they and their predecessors meted out on the battlefields of that war. As I do, I am hopeful that we will be able to bring them all home and get them out of harm’s way with all possible speed.
President Trump broke with precedent and ran on that very platform in 2016, promising to finally end the “endless wars” that were started in the years following 9/11. My hope that this worthy goal will finally be accomplished was boosted by reports that he will appoint Will Ruger, a man committed to ending the war, to the post of U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan.
Closer to the site of Ground Zero itself, unfortunately, I see less cause for optimism. When I see the civil disorder and the violence that have been allowed to go unchecked by the city’s leaders, I am reminded of the bad old days of New York City in the 1970s and ‘80s, not just in the resurgence of violence, but in the naive attitudes that enable it. It is disheartening. I see this heaped upon a city already asked to endure incredible restrictions and disruptions of normal life in response to the corona virus pandemic, and I’m forced to think that while recent events are perhaps not as much of a threat to our personally safety as 9/11, they may yet turn out to be more harmful to our spirit.
Therefore, as we look back on the multitude of memories of that day 19 years ago, I hope we can all remember that this city and this country have endured the unimaginable and emerged unbroken — and that we can do it again.