In Remembrance of the 10th Anniversary of the September 11
Terror Attacks against the United States
My mentor, Vice President Joe Biden, likes to quote Irish poets in his speeches. He is the first to admit that’s in part because he is an Irish-American. One of his favorites is the poem “Easter 1916” by William Butler Yeats that includes the line “All changed, changed utterly: A terrible beauty is born.” The poem is about the violent “rising” in Ireland in 1916, the loss of many friends and acquaintances of the Nobel Laureate Yates and, especially, his ambivalence about what happened when Irish revolutionaries revolted against British rule.
But the poem also captures my feelings about what happened in New York, Pennsylvania and Washington on September 11, 2001. I can remember as if it were yesterday the sense of shock and, yes, fear, as I watched the events on that sunny morning on TV in an office in Washington. Fear because I could not reach my son who was working in New York City and was on a subway headed for his office not far from that area of the city. When I finally reached him on the Internet he asked me, “Is this war?” I reluctantly said “Yes, I’m afraid so.”
But the terror attacks were also, in a sense, a “terrible beauty.” Everything changed that day in America but some changes were for the good. The attacks created a new sens of unity in America, of commitment to our nation and its welfare, of solidarity with America all over the world and a reminder of our common humanity with all the citizens of the world.
I was not the least bit surprised that in the hours, days and weeks following the terrible events of that fall morning that Americans would not simply rally around their flag and country but around each other. Indeed, my real fear tinged with pride was that my son, like every American I knew, would instinctively want to help. For him, that meant immediately heading towards the World Trade Center to volunteer to help. Thousands of New Yorkers donated blood. That night, my son described to me on the phone how fellow citizens handed out bottled water and tennis shoes to the women who were walking barefoot across the Brooklyn Bridge after the entire public transportation system collapsed. He told me with admiration, “These were New Yorkers, Dad. You know, the kind of folks who before today wouldn’t even give you the time of day.”
Military recruiters couldn’t keep pace with the young men and women who crowded their offices to enlist in the days and weeks that followed. As President Obama pointed out in his recent national address, more than 5 million have worn the uniform in the last 10 years and more than 6,200 of them have given their lives in service to their country.
Not only Americans expressed their solidarity with the victims in New York, Pennsylvania, and Washington. In the words of Jean-Marie Colombani, the editor of Le Monde, on September 12, “We are all Americans … how can we not feel profound solidarity with those people, that country, the United States, to whom we are so close and to whom we owe our freedom, and therefore our solidarity?”
Even Colombani could not know how true that statement was. Ten years ago Romania was not yet a member of NATO but our strategic partnership was already strong. Since 2001 Romania has stood side by side with the United States. We have fought and bled together in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the Romanian military, law enforcement, and diplomatic corps have all proven to be extremely effective allies in our common struggle against violent extremism and terrorism.
Our NATO allies demonstrated the continuing vitality of the alliance. For the first time in history, article five of the NATO charter was invoked committing our allies to the defense of a fellow member. Since September 11th many of our allies have faced their own attacks, including Madrid on March 11, 2004 and London on July 7, 2005. We will not forget the losses and sacrifices our allies have made, and we have recommitted ourselves to the defense of our friends from the new common threats we all face. We will support our allies in NATO operations around the world and will stand with Europe against the growing threat of short- and medium-range missiles. That is why America and Romania will deploy missile defense elements at Deveselu here in Romania.
Over the last ten years we have hunted down those who were behind the 9/11 attacks and have captured or killed many of the top leaders of al Qaeda. More importantly, the world has rejected Al Qaeda’s message of hate, violence, and death. Terrorists attempt to justify their attacks based on the false conviction that violent extremism is the only means of achieving political and social change. As Colombani put it so eloquently in Le Monde, “Madness, even under the pretext of despair, is never a force that can regenerate the world...”
While the long-term implications of the Arab Spring remain unclear, the revolutions in Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya prove that political protest is a far more powerful tool than terrorism. Indeed, al Qaeda’s ideology has lost resonance in the Middle East and North Africa, where political change has been inspired by the language and reference points of non-violence, universal rights and unity, not violence and terrorism. The people of the Middle East and North Africa deserve full credit for the ongoing changes in the region, which are a repudiation of violent extremism and a victory for civil society.
As we mark ten years since the attacks on September 11, 2001, we remember those who have been lost to us by these despicable acts. We thank our friends and allies who stand beside us in our common struggle. We honor the heroes of the Arab Spring who have rejected the tactics of hate and extremism and have made positive changes in their countries, their region, and the world in ways that al Qaeda and other terrorists never could.
In the end, the most powerful weapon we have as allies are not our military weapons and our technological prowess, which are formidable, nor the bravery of our soldiers, which is indeed inspiring. Our most powerful weapon is our shared values, in particular our commitment and devotion to our common humanity.
Just as Vice President Biden quotes Irish poets because of his ancestry, I have a partiality to Romanian poets and playwrights because of my Romanian grandparents. Eugene Ionesco was a world renowned dramatist whose most famous play, “Rhinoceros,” is a powerful critique of mindless ideology, be it fascism or communism, a subject you know all too well here in Romania.
So I close with Ionesco’s words which apply as well to radical Islam:
“No society has been able to abolish human sadness; no political system can deliver us from the pain of living, from our fear of death, our thirst for the absolute. It is the human condition that directs the social condition, not vice versa… Ideologies separate us. Dreams and anguish bring us together.”
God bless America and God bless Romania.