I remember those dates clearly, and the sadness and anger they evoked. But, there’s another date that is engraved on my mind — September 11 2001 — when four airplanes were used as terrorist weapons, forever changed the way I and many fellow Americans view our security.
Having spent 20 years in the military, I knew all too well how dangerous a determined foe can be, and how much damage can be inflicted by zealots who are willing to die to achieve their goals — something that was, unfortunately, alien to many. Knowing what can happen, though, and doing something to forestall it, are two vastly different things. While there were many of us who knew that something like the 9/11 attack was a possibility — some even went so far as to say a probability — trying to convince the sceptics seemed just too difficult and hardly worth the effort.
So, we made our remarks about what might happen and when we were told that we were being alarmist, we stopped talking. Then, on that morning, in a hotel room in Seattle, Washington, I woke up to slightly overcast skies — early, as I often do when travelling — turned on the television, and watched my world change before my eyes.
In the days that followed, many of us in government who had thought about such things for a long time, wondered if perhaps there was something we could have done differently to prevent this tragedy.
This is a common reaction after battle — survivors second guess their actions and decisions, feeling a bit of guilt for having survived, and replay it in their minds. Veterans of conflict soon learn to minimise the second guessing and move on.
But, one thing that should always come out of such incidents is a resolve to correct mistakes as we move forward. I’ve often said that we can’t go back to the past; but, as 9/11 proved, as Pearl Harbor proved, if we fail to learn lessons from the mistakes of the past, we can relive it.
For this reason, we must work together, sharing information and building trust, to make our world safer and stronger. Around the globe, countries have responded collectively to reduce the threat of terrorism in the last 10 years.
We have sharply reduced the capabilities of terrorist groups through the collaborative efforts of the international community. For our part, the United States is fully committed to working with partners around the world to confront and counter violent extremists.
And it works. Worldwide, terrorists have failed to achieve their goals. Far from being paralysed by the violent actions of a few, the vast majority of people around the world have better ambitions for themselves and their children: achieving greater levels of education; creating new economic opportunities; and improving the systems that govern them.
The attacks on 9/11 failed to achieve their strategic goals. Our nation overcame the attacks and came away stronger, just as we have with other crises.
BY AMBASSADOR CHARLES RAY