As President Joe Biden led the mourning with stops at Ground Zero in New York City, a field in Pennsylvania, and at the Pentagon, sites where four hijacked airplanes weaponized by terrorists killed 3000 people, a sense of regret, recrimination, and futility about a war gone wrong was palpable, particularly in the light of Taliban returning to power in Afghanistan.
The US President did not make any remarks at Ground Zero, but in a six-minute videotaped message released before by the White House, he reflected on how the terror attacks shaped America, saying that it brought about a “true sense of national unity” while also exposing the “darker forces of human nature” in the form of fear and discrimination towards Muslims.
In numbers: America’s 20 year war on terror since 9/11- See pictures
“To me, that’s the central message of September11. It’s that at our most vulnerable, in the push and pull of all that makes us human and the battle for the soul of America, unity is our greatest strength. Unity doesn’t mean that we have to believe the same thing but we must have a fundamental respect and faith in each other and in this nation,” Biden said.
Biden was accompanied by First Lady Jill Biden, former President’s Barack Obama and Bill Clinton, and former first ladies Michelle Obama and Hillary Clinton. President Bush joined him in Pennsylvania.
As is the usual practice, the names of the nearly 3000 people — including at least 50 Indians or people of Indian-origin — who perished in the attack was read out.
Ironically, it was the man who was at the helm in the White House on 9/11 who questioned whether the unity had lasted. “In the weeks and months following the 9/11 attacks, I was proud to lead an amazing, resilient, united people. When it comes to the unity of America, those days seem distant from our own,” Bush said in his speech on the occasion.
The former President also led the acknowledgement in liberal and moderate circles that the threat of terrorism is not confined to any one religion or race or ethnicity or country. He condemned “violent extremists abroad and violent extremists at home,” saying they are “children of the same foul spirit.”
“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,” he said in what appeared to be an oblique reference to Donald Trump and the politics he engendered.
The 20th anniversary commemoration came against the backdrop of an unending pandemic, domestic political turmoil, and momentous events in Afghanistan with the return to power of an unrepentant Taliban, which had provided safe haven to the terrorist masterminds who planned and executed the 9/11 attack.
While all former Presidents appeared to be on the same page and appeared with the incumbent at the commemorations, Trump cut this own path to the memorials, criticising Biden for the Afghanistan fiasco (which he initiated).
“We will live on, but sadly, our country will be wounded for a long period of time, we will struggle to recover from the embarrassment this incompetence has caused,” he said.