Eleven years ago, on a beautiful Tuesday morning much like this one, our lives were forever changed. President Bush would later say, “Freedom itself was attacked this morning by a faceless coward, and freedom will be defended.” Our memories are filled with images from that day, and many among us simply couldn’t find the words to describe what we were feeling, what was happening and what we should do next. We prayed, we cried and we listened, as some among us were able to find some very powerful words that provide the perfect context for where we stand 11 years later.
President Bush is quoted as saying he believed in the “transformational power of liberty,” and that is a belief we all share. For centuries, our people have stood up for those values – in speeches, in writings, in voting, in the causes we support. Some have even died for the cause – in the civil rights and other movements and in wars fought around the globe. We do so because we believe in the self-evident truths that God Almighty created all men equal and endowed them with the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. The pursuit of happiness, protecting the safety of our people and defending the liberty we all hold dear require our constant vigilance. And as we remember the lives lost on that terrible day in 2011, let us also remember the renewed spirit that came out of the tragedy.
Just a few months after the attacks, in December of 2001, New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani said, “The attacks of Sept. 11 were intended to break our spirit. Instead we have emerged stronger and more unified. We feel renewed devotion to the principles of political, economic and religious freedom, the rule of law and respect for human life. We are more determined than ever to live our lives in freedom.” Mayor Giuliani, like many great Americans, understood what the terrorists never will: that our nation’s power lies not in buildings, government entities, economic wealth or even our military might. America’s true power is her people, it is our values and faith that have sustained us since we boldly declared our independence more than 200 years ago, it is our liberty.
This week, while watching an interview on 60 Minutes, I was struck by the account of what happened the night U.S. Navy Seals stormed the bin Laden compound in Pakistan and the haunting words that were spoken to relay the message to command that their mission was accomplished. Using the code name for bin Laden, Geronimo, the Seals team leader said, “For God and country, I pass: Geronimo. . . . Geronimo EKIA” [enemy killed in action]. As I pondered those words, I realized that while taking down the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks was indeed profound, the power of that transmission was actually in the first four words: for God and country.
You see, in that moment, those Seals joined hundreds, thousands, even millions of Americans throughout our history who stood for something greater than themselves. Some have worn the uniform of our nation’s military, some have not, but they all did it for God and country. Bringing Saddam Hussein to justice in Iraq, ousting the Taliban in Afghanistan or killing Osama bin Laden did not end the eternal fight any more than winning the Revolutionary War, drafting a Constitution or piecing our nation back together after a terrible Civil War. These are all historic steps that should be celebrated, no doubt, but the cause for which we fight requires that we keep going, undaunted, ever vigilant. We have won significant battles in our history, but the war for freedom is never over, and we have every reason to keep up the fight.
As President Obama put it on the night he announced to the world that Osama bin Laden had been killed, “The cause of securing our country is not complete. But tonight, we are once again reminded that America can do whatever we set our mind to. That is the story of our history, whether it's the pursuit of prosperity for our people or the struggle for equality for all our citizens: our commitment to stand up for our values abroad and our sacrifices to make the world a safer place. Let us remember that we can do these things not just because of wealth or power, but because of who we are: one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”
May we never forget, and may we ever keep striving – for God and country.
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