Sept. 11 this year marked the 20th anniversary of the terror attacks on America by al Qaeda. The attacks claimed 2,997 lives, 25,000 injuries, and at least $10 billion in infrastructure and property damage. More than 300 firefighters and 72 police officers were also killed as a result of 9/11. In a video published on Twitter, U.S. President Joe Biden called for national unity while honoring the memory of the victims.
Biden says that in the days following the Sept. 11 attacks, “we saw heroism everywhere” as well as something “all too rare” — a “true sense” of national unity. Americans showed the capacity to “recover and repair” in the face of trauma. He warned that everyone seeking to do harm to America will be hunted down.
“Unity is what makes us who we are. America at its best. To me, that’s the central lesson of September 11 … unity is our greatest strength… Unity doesn’t mean 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.
The president commemorated the day by visiting each of the three sites where the hijacked planes had crashed in 2001. His first tribute was in New York City where planes had toppled the World Trade Center twin towers. Biden was joined by former presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama at the event. Jill Biden, Hillary Clinton, and Michelle Obama were also present. Relatives of the dead victims read out their names.
The Bidens then went to Shanksville, Pennsylvania, where they participated in a wreath-laying ceremony at the Flight 93 National Memorial. Passengers aboard United Airline Flight 93 had overcome the hijackers of the plane on Sept. 11, 2001, crashing it into a field and preventing another target, most probably the White House, from getting hit. Biden called it an act of “genuine heroism.”
Finally, Biden and the first lady went to Washington to visit the Pentagon memorial. 184 people had died in the attack on the Pentagon that day. Biden did not deliver remarks at any of the sites. As such, his only video message to the public was the one uploaded to Twitter. U.S. presidents have often traveled to one of the three sites every year on 9/11. However, visiting three sites is something unusual.
“The president felt it was important to visit each of these three sites to commemorate the lives lost, the sacrifices made on a day that has impacted millions of people across the country but certainly many people in those communities,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki stated.
In August, many families of the victims of 9/11 had asked Biden to skip the memorial visits unless he declassified documents that purportedly reveal Saudi officials having a hand in the attacks. Last week, Biden asked the Justice Department to review relevant documents and declassify them for public access.
The 20th anniversary comes short on the heels of America’s exit from Afghanistan after a 20-year war against terror elements in the country. Biden has been severely criticized for the way America exited the country, leaving hundreds of U.S. citizens and Afghan allies at the mercy of the Taliban.
In an interview with Time, Dalia Fahmy, associate professor of political science at Long Island University, stated that America is actually in a worse position now in Afghanistan than it was 20 years ago. “Terrorist organizations, which we had promised would never have geographic space again, will very quickly have geographic space [to operate and plan attacks],” Fahmy said.