REVIEW: Article

Remarks at the September 11 Symposium

On behalf of the Secretary-General of the United Nations Kofi A. Annan,  I bring greetings and good wishes on this solemn anniversary commemorating September 11, 2001—The Day of Terror.

The Secretary-General regrets that he could not be with us today. He is very much involved, as you know, with the preparations of the 57th General Assembly as well as the ongoing task of pursuing the course of peace in the 17 peacekeeping missions around our troubled globe.

The Secretary-General is presiding at a commemoration of September 11 on the Great Lawn at the United Nations with 191 member states participating. 

First, allow me to salute the organizers of this International Symposium. The mission of the Virtue Foundation is as laudable as it is imperative. 

“From Tragedy to Unity: A Celebration of the Human Spirit.” That is the theme of this Symposium. 

None of us can ever forget the tragedy and terror and sadness that September 11 brought upon our nation, our society and the world. But, the prominent panelists in today’s discussions in this hallowed Museum will not dwell on the past horror. Rather, their focus will be on healing and renewal and rekindling strength in our citizenry.

With this lofty, indeed noble—yet irrefutably appropriate—purpose in mind, today’s Symposium will inspire all of us to rebuild and create a more cohesive and caring community.

Amid sorrow we will create anew.  That is what our world needs now.  Whether a life or a building or a spirit—there is a call now to rebuild…a need for a new beginning.

This anniversary day is also very much a Time of Remembrance.

None of us here in the Rainey Auditorium and across the length and breadth of our beautiful nation will ever forget that horrible moment a year ago today when we heard the unspeakable news. We will never forget where we were, whom we were with or what we were doing. September 11 was the Opening Day of the 56th General Assembly of the United Nations. It was the day the United Nations celebrates the International Day of Peace. I was on my way to Headquarters. On hearing the news of the first crash I returned to our house joining my stunned wife in staring at the television.  We shared the national experience of a quantum leap into a new, frightening and uncertain world. We immediately sensed this was the world we would now live in for the rest of our lives.

This past year has been a period of national mourning. 

I hesitate to say but reality makes me do so—a sense of dread and sadness has gripped our nation in the searing emotional aftermath of the Day of Terror.

The world must never forget that September 11, 2001, was the bloodiest day on American soil since our Civil War. Our flags are half-staff. The Congress has designated today Patriot Day to honor the sacrifice made by 3,000 innocent citizens on that tragic day. National character does not change in a day. September 11 did not alter the American character, it merely revealed it—it forced the emergence of a bedrock America of courage, resolve, resourcefulness and, above all, resilience. What the enemy did not know or anticipate was that beneath the outward normality of America in post-Cold War repose lay a sleeping giant that Admiral Yamamoto knew he had awakened on December 7, 1941, and that Osama bin Laden had no inkling he had awakened on September 11, 2001. 

The world then witnessed an astonishing demonstration of resilience, the kind only a nation of continental size and prodigious productivity, of successful self-government and self-conscious spirituality could summon. 

The anniversary of this stunning national “state change” will be respectfully celebrated in tears, sorrow and reflection. The death toll of the September 11 attacks did not just affect New York and the United States. Though the overwhelming number of those who died was American citizens there were victims from 36 countries around the world. Our neighbor to the south, Mexico, with 27 who died, was the hardest hit of the foreign lands. 

The old diplomatic refrain that “one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter” can no longer be argued.  Ladies and Gentleman—let me be perfectly clear: September 11 proved once and for all that “Terror is terror.”  Terror is inexcusable, it is indefensible, it is wrong.

That Day of Terror transformed “terrorism.” In the past, in their madness, terrorists yearned for a lot of people watching, not a lot of people dead.  Last year, the rules changed. Those terrorists—those assassins—sought to kill thousands as hundreds of millions watched in horror. 

The murderers got what they wanted. 

But, they and the rest of Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaeda network miscalculated America’s might and resolve. 

This September 11 marks not just a day of infamy, but also the close of Year One of the War on Terrorism. And to win the war we need to demonstrate—as America has done in other great wars of necessity—patience, endurance, determination, and a willingness to bear any burden. 

Their attack on the symbols of United States economic and military power stirred the world’s only superpower to place terrorism at the heart of its—and the world’s— foreign and domestic policy. 

The message today is clear. The United States will not negotiate terrorism. Nor will it compromise with terrorists. Rather she will destroy them and all the evil for which they stand. Of that, I have no doubt. 

We will never forget September 11.

Today’s Symposium, then, is an important one. Today is the day to begin to move from this tragedy to “unity and a celebration of the human spirit.”

Thank you Director de Montebello for making this great Museum the home of this gathering. Thank you Dr. Salim and Dr. LaRovere for your initiative. To all the organizers, musicians, members of the staff of the Met and the distinguished participants who will be with us today I salute each of you.

Let us find healing and strength in remembrance. I pray that the coming year will bring us closer together—within our families and our communities—and ever more committed to caring for one another.

May we enjoy years of peace for our children, for the future, for all mankind. Peace!*

* Editor’s Note: This text is based on remarks presented by Ambassador Reed to the September 11 Symposium at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Grace Rainey Rogers Auditorium, on September 11, 2002.

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