Former President George W. Bush attended the Shanksville, Pennsylvania, 20th Anniversary memorial to the passengers on Flight 93, which crashed in a field after brave passengers fought terrorist hijackers and kept them from reaching their intended target.
Flight 93 was the fourth plane to crash on September 11, 2001, following two that were flown into the World Trade Center buildings and one that hit the Pentagon. On Saturday, Bush spoke about his experience as president during 9/11 and American bravery.
“Here, the intended targets became the instruments of rescue, and many who are now alive owe a vast, [subconscious] debt to the defiance displayed in the skies above this field. It would be a mistake to idealize the experience of those terrible events,” Bush said. “All that many people could initially see was the brute randomness of death. All that many could feel was unearned suffering. All that many could hear was God’s terrible silence.”
“There are many who still struggle with a lonely pain that cuts deep within. And those fateful hours, we learned other lessons as well,” the former president continued. “We saw that Americans were vulnerable, but not fragile. That they possess a core of strength that survives the worst that life can bring. We learned that bravery is more common than we imagined, emerging with sudden splendor in the face of death. We vividly felt how every hour with our loved ones was a temporary and holy gift. And we found that even the longest days end.”
Later in this speech, Bush compared violent extremists abroad and at home.
“There is little cultural overlap between violent extremists abroad and violent extremists at home. Within there’s disdain for pluralism and 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,” Bush said.
Some have insisted that Bush was talking about the January 6 Capitol rioters — and Bush has spoken about that event before — he could just as easily have been talking about domestic terrorists like the Fort Hood shooter or the Boston Bombers.
Bush then switched gears to talk about our military servicemembers.
“One thing is certain. We owe an assurance to all who have fought our nation’s most recent battles. Let me speak directly to veterans and people in uniform. The cause you pursued at the call of duty is the noblest America has to offer. You have shielded your fellow citizens from danger. You have defended the beliefs of your country and advanced the rights of the downtrodden. You have been the face of hope and mercy in dark places. You have been a force for good in the world,” Bush said. “Nothing that has followed – nothing – can tarnish your honor or diminish your accomplishments. To you and to the honored dead, our country is forever grateful.”
Finally, Bush spoke about unity in America.
“When it comes to the unity of America, those days seem distant from our own. 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,” Bush said.
“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 neighbor’s hand and rally to the cause of one another. That is the America I know. At a time when religious bigotry might have flowed freely, I saw Americans reject prejudice and embrace people of Muslim faith. That is the nation I know. At a time when nativism could have stirred hatred and violence against people perceived as outsiders, I saw Americans reaffirm their welcome to immigrants and refugees. That is the nation I know. At a time when some viewed the rising generation as individualistic and decadent, I saw young people embrace an ethic of service and rise to selfless action. That is the nation I know,” he continued. “This is not mere nostalgia. It is the truest version of ourselves. It is what we have been and what we can be again.”
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