Americans marked a milestone yesterday by observing the first anniversary of the terrorist attacks on New York, Washington, and Pennsylvania. U.S. President George W. Bush told the country in a speech last night that he knows it has been a hard year, but he said it also was a year that showed the country's true character.
New York, 12 September 2002 (RFE/RL) -- U.S. President George W. Bush consoled the American people on the first anniversary of the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001, but told them that in their pain and sorrow, they have found strength.
In a televised address to the country last night from New York at the end of a solemn and sometimes tearful day of remembrance, Bush said he knows Americans feel vulnerable because of the attacks in New York, Washington, and Pennsylvania that killed more than 3,000 people in a matter of hours.
But the president promised to bring the perpetrators to justice, namely, the Al-Qaeda terrorist network under the leadership of Osama bin Laden, whom Bush blames for the attacks.
Bush assured the American people that despite their current emotional fragility, they possess a character that will make it possible for them to prevail in the war against international terrorism. "More than anything else, this separates us from the enemy we fight. We value every life, our enemies value none, not even the innocent, not even their own," Bush said.
Bush has recently been speaking out against Iraq, saying he is determined to drive its president, Saddam Hussein, from power, accusing him of developing weapons of mass destruction during the nearly four years he has refused to readmit United Nations weapons inspectors under the terms of the cease-fire that ended the 1991 Gulf War.
In last night's address, he made only an oblique reference to Saddam. "We will not allow any terrorist or tyrant to threaten civilization with weapons of mass murder," Bush said.
Today, Bush addressed Iraq more thoroughly in a speech to the UN General Assembly in New York. But last night's speech was devoted to his country's sorrow, and the president said he believes Americans are determined to move beyond the pain of the terrorist attacks. "Tomorrow is September 12. A milestone has passed, and a mission goes on. Be confident. Our country is strong and our cause is even larger than our country. Ours is the cause of human dignity, freedom guided by conscience and guarded by peace," Bush said.
Bush spoke from Ellis Island in New York harbor, where at the turn of the 20th century, many European immigrants first set foot on American soil. He spoke in the open air, with an illuminated Statue of Liberty as a backdrop.
The president's address last night concluded a nationwide day of remembrance in which Americans mourned the dead and missing and honored the police, firefighters, and others who struggled to limit the nearly unthinkable loss of life.
The observances began before dawn in New York, when police and firefighters marched in five parades from disparate corners of the city, eventually converging at what Americans refer to as "Ground Zero," the site where the two towers of the World Trade Center once stood.
At 8:46 a.m., one year to the minute after the first of two hijacked jetliners struck the World Trade Center, the hundreds of people gathered at the site of the New York attacks observed a minute of silence.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg said the day was a poignant reminder of the most painful day in the city's history. "Again today, we are a nation that mourns. Again today, we take into our hearts and minds those who perished on this site one year ago and also those who came to toil in the rubble to bring order out of chaos," Bloomberg said.
Then relatives of the victims joined dignitaries, including U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, to read out the names of all the 2,801 people who died or are missing because of the attacks on the trade center by two hijacked jets. The recitation was accompanied by somber music. One of the dignitaries who took part in the recitation of names was Rudolph Giuliani, who was the city's mayor at the time of the attacks.
In Washington, meanwhile, Bush presided over a commemoration ceremony at the Pentagon. That building -- the headquarters of the U.S. Defense Department -- was struck by a hijacked jet. That attack killed 189 people.
Bush noted with pride that the extensive damage to the building had been completely repaired, and said this hard work has a greater meaning than merely efficient construction. "Today, we remember each life. We rededicate this proud symbol [the Pentagon] and renew our commitment to win the war that began here," Bush said.
From the Pentagon, Bush flew to a commemorative ceremony in a rural area of Pennsylvania, where yet another hijacked plane crashed because, officials say, the passengers sought to foil the terrorists' plans. Presiding at that event was Tom Ridge, Bush's director of homeland security. At the time of the attacks, Ridge was the governor of Pennsylvania.
Ridge reminded the relatives of the 40 people killed in that attack that their loved ones did not get on the plane entertaining thoughts of imminent heroism. But he said that when they realized that the aircraft was to be used as a weapon, probably against Washington, they summoned up their best instincts, and they acted on them. "Your loved ones did not expect to serve the cause of freedom on that Tuesday morning, but serve it they did. Faced with the most frightening circumstances one could possibly imagine, they met the challenge like citizen soldiers, like Americans," Ridge said.
Bush did not address the gathering in Pennsylvania, nor did he speak publicly at a similar gathering later at Ground Zero in New York. But at both places, he spoke individually with the families of the 11 September victims, and appeared deeply moved by the meetings. The president shook hands with many, and even embraced a few.