PATRIOT DAY: FROM 2001 TO 2017
By Erik Truong
Today marks the sixteenth anniversary of the September 11, 2001 attacks. Since the attacks, the White House has held similar schedules for the 9/11 anniversary plans with very limited variations. It is a day used to remember the victims and what occurred sixteen years ago. President Donald J. Trump will be the third president to observe the anniversary.
According to New York Magazine’s “September 11 by Numbers” article, nearly 3,000 individuals were killed in the 9/11 attacks, in addition to 6,000 sustaining non-fatal injuries. The attacks perpetrated by terrorist organization al-Qaeda presented the United States with a common enemy and became a rallying cry for unity and patriotism within the nation.
After seizing four commercial airplanes, the terrorist hijackers flew two planes into the Twin Towers New York City’s World Trade Center. Another hijacked plane crashed into the U.S. Department of Defense’s headquarters, The Pentagon, in Arlington, Virginia.
Carrying forty-four people, United Airlines Flight 93 crashed in a Pennsylvania field, after the passengers attempted to wrestle control from the hijackers. Flight 93 is believed to have been en route to the United States Capitol, which had both chambers of Congress in session that morning.
As with natural disasters and other tragic events occurring during a presidential tenure, September 11 provides a unique opportunity for the President to take on the role of “consoler-in-chief,” comforting those affected by the events and bringing about unity. Presidential schedules on 9/11 have remained fairly similar since the first anniversary.
President George W. Bush was at Emma Booker Elementary School in Florida on September 11 when he received word that there had been an attack. President Bush gave a brief statement condemning the terrorist acts against the United States before addressing the nation later that evening. Near the end, Bush remarked, “This is a day when all Americans from every walk of life unite in our resolve to justice and peace.”
Bush toured the Pentagon the following day before heading to Ground Zero in New York on September 14. Standing on the rubble and glazed in smoke, Bush had a watershed moment in his presidency: exemplifying his voice as a leader during a crucial moment. Grabbing the bullhorn, he praised the firefighters and first responders for the dire but necessary work they had done, and offered the country’s prayers.
The following year brought a more somber tone of remembrance for President Bush, sharing the confidence and fervent support he had in the victims and first responders of the attacks.
“Be confident…our country is strong,” Bush remarked on Ellis Island in New York. “And our cause is even larger than our country…That hope still lights our way. And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness will not overcome it.”
Over the following years, the President and First Lady visited victims and families of the 9/11 attacks. The President issued speeches and observed moments of silence, frequently reassuring those who had suffered.
In 2004, President Bush proclaimed the third anniversary and the annual date as Patriot Day, after a Congressional joint resolution passed which designated September 11 of each year as a “National Day of Service and Remembrance.”
With the development of the War on Terror, the addresses became more forceful in condemning terrorists abroad, and making sure those who had been slain would be given justice. Politics and partisan confrontations have been generally avoided on the date; rather, the Bush administration made September 11 a memorial for those who had lost their lives. This tradition was passed onto the Obama administration.
President Barack Obama memorialized both the ten and fifteen-year anniversaries of the 9/11 attacks during his tenure. Ten years after the initial attacks, President Obama and President Bush—with their respective spouses—stood side-by-side, admiring the cascading water at the Ground Zero memorial fountains at the site of the attack in New York.
Months earlier, the Obama administration successfully raided and killed Osama bin Laden, the leader of Al-Qaeda during the 9/11 attacks, in his compound in Pakistan. While President Bush did not join President Obama at Ground Zero the day after the raid, the two men stood side-by-side for the day itself.
While some believe politics may have become more visceral and partisan in recent times, the attacks of September 11 have rarely been politicized for partisan gain. Rather, the day is meant to honor those who were killed during the attacks and unify the whole nation.
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