The Spirit of America
September 11, 2011. Cal Expo, Sacramento, California.
The attack against our nation ten years ago today was our generation’s Pearl Harbor. Indeed, in many ways it was far more infamous. More Americans died on September 11th than in the attack on Pearl Harbor. It was an attack not upon some distant outpost but upon our nation’s greatest city and our nation’s capital city. It was an attack not upon heavily armed warships, but upon defenseless Americans peacefully going about their business.
There were differences, of course.
But there is one constant we can observe today that has always defined us as a people and that guarantees that ultimately things will be set right. I speak of something that can only be described as the Spirit of America. Anyone who lived through that day knows exactly what I mean: during those days that spirit was real – even palpable.
That spirit produced a pantheon of heroes that day – Americans who had gone about their business one peaceful morning, and in a few brief moments found themselves facing well prepared, intractable and barbaric adversaries.
At that fateful moment, they rose to the occasion. They resisted with everything they had. On December 7th, cooks became gunners and nurses passed the ammunition. On September 11th, office workers became rescue workers and businessmen laid down their cell phones and took up hand-to-hand combat in the skies over Pennsylvania.
Centuries from now, Americans will proudly remember the story of the men and women aboard Flight 93 as it headed for our nation’s Capitol: how they responded instantly to their country’s peril -- and armed only with their bare hands stopped cold those who would destroy our nation.
The memory of firefighters and police officers rushing into the burning buildings as everyone else rushed out personified duty and honor for an entire generation.
That day, these heroic deeds testified that the American spirit is still very much alive and that Americans still stand ready at a moment’s notice to step forward when our nation is attacked and to marshal every resource and make every sacrifice necessary to defend our country, and all that our country stands for.
When I think back to the spirit of our nation in the weeks following that fateful day, I remember a nation that was outraged, united, defiant, awakened and determined to respond to that attack just as their grandparents had responded.
And let us never forget that for the last ten years, the most selfless generation in our history – the young men and women in uniform today -- has stepped into the breach. For a decade, these young Americans have volunteered to take and keep the battle away from our shores. They have not had the full resources or resolve of our country behind them. They have often lacked the equipment and armor they desperately need. They have operated under politically correct constraints that add greatly to their difficulty and danger.
Yet they volunteer to go back again and again – knowing the danger – knowing the difficulties -- and yet resolved to stand in the breach even at the cost of their own lives. We have lost 4,000 of these remarkable young Americans and seen 35,000 of them maimed or crippled.
These are the unsung heroes whose sacrifices continue to this very hour. Let us never forget what we owe them. There have been fewer terrorist attacks against Americans in the ten years following 9/11 than in the ten years that preceded it. That is solely because of the heroism of our men and women in uniform.
James Michener’s haunting question thunders at us, “Where do we get such men and women?”
It is not for us to see the future, but occasionally the past casts a flicker of light forward. And if the past tells us anything, it is that the American Spirit, which animated past generations to heroic deeds in defense of liberty and honor and justice still burns brightly in the hearts of this generation of Americans.
We saw that spirit ignite on Flight 93. We saw it in the grim faces of the rescue workers as they rushed into the inferno. We saw it in the sense of purpose and patriotism that united every American in the days after September 11th. We still see it in the faithful and heroic deeds of tens of thousands of American servicemen and servicewomen who alone have borne the burdens of our defense.
And we see it at gatherings like this across America ten years later. It is here where the world can see the true fiber of the American character. It is not in our leaders – it is in our people.
A generation ago, monstrous tyrannies misjudged the resolve and determination of free men and women to defend their families and their liberties and their way of life. For many years, one provocation after another was met with only half-measures, political correctness, irresolution and ineptitude from the leaders of the great democracies.
Those tyrants forgot that the American spirit beats in the heart of every citizen and can be summoned instantly when America is endangered.
Let the word go out today – not from our leaders, but from our people – from every gathering of American citizens across this continent and from every candle lit tonight in memory of these honored dead – that we have not forgotten – and that the indescribable outrage and indestructible resolve -- that each of us felt ten years ago – still simmers just below the surface of daily life.
From this gathering and others like it today we can take with us this certainty: There will come an anniversary of September 11th when there are no armed guards at airports; no Homeland Security scares; no fears over ports or planes or bombs in crowded places. That day will come to pass because President Kennedy was right: Americans “we will pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and success of liberty.”
Remarks by Congressman Tom McClintock delivered at the "Remembering 9/11 Heroes" event, September 11, 2011. Cal Expo, Sacramento, California.