Current and former U.S. presidents marked the 20th anniversary of 9/11 with speeches as memorial events took place in New York City, Shanksville, Penn. where Flight 93 crashed, and the Pentagon.
Former president George W. Bush — who was president on the day of the attack and started two subsequent wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the latter under false pretenses — drew a connection between foreign and domestic extremism.
“There is little cultural overlap between violent extremists abroad and violent extremists at home,” Bush said at the Flight 93 Memorial in Shanksville. “But in their disdain for pluralism, in their disregard for human life, in their determination to defile national symbols, they are children of the same foul spirit. And it is our continuing duty to confront them.”
“So much of our politics have become a naked appeal to anger, fear and resentment,” Bush said. “On America’s day of trial and grief, I saw millions of people instinctively grab for a neighbor’s hand, and rally for the cause of one another. That is the America I know.”
Vice President Kamala Harris also spoke in Shanksville. In her address, Harris focused on a theme of unity.
“On the days that followed September 11th, 2001, we were all reminded that unity is possible in America. We were reminded, too, that unity is imperative in America. It is essential to our shared prosperity, our national security, and to our standing in the world,” the vice president said.
Former presidents Barack Obama and Bill Clinton commemorated the day by attending a New York City at the National September 11 Memorial, where the World Trade Center towers once stood. Both focused their statements on the heroes who emerged that day.
“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,” Obama said. “Let’s never forget that, and let’s never take them for granted.”
“America will never forget those who lost their lives, those who risked or gave their own lives to save others, and those whose lives were forever changed 20 years ago,” Clinton said. “We owe it to all of them to come together again with unity, hope, compassion, and resolve.”
Biden also evoked the theme of unity in a pre-recorded video released Friday. The president traveled Saturday to each of the three sites of the September 11th attacks, paying visits to New York City, the Pentagon outside D.C. and a field in Shanksville, Penn., where Flight 93 crashed. Obama made the same journey in 2011 on the 10th anniversary of the attack.
“In the days that followed September 11th, 2001, we saw heroism everywhere. In places expected and unexpected,” Biden said. “We also saw something all too rare, a true sense of national unity and repair in the face of trauma.”
Biden added, “To me, that’s the central lesson of September 11th. Unity is our greatest strength.”