Two years later


Two years ago almost three thousand people died and the world changed. I remember leaving Contracts and noticing a rapidly growing crowd around the TVs in the Hark. I bought a bottle of water at the Coop and wandered over to see what was happening.

The first tower collapsed shortly thereafter. I don’t remember all the details. It took a few minutes to understand what had happened. Images of a plane cruising with hellish inevitability into the side of a building, destined to be repeated almost continuously for days, looped across the screen. Newsmen said a bomb had exploded outside the State Department.

Rescuers raced into the remaining tower. Images of a bizarre urban moonscape emerged from billows of dust and smoke. Professor Heymann held a brief impromptu classroom session to explain to students how America would respond to the disaster and then to those who caused it. Returning to the classroom, Pound 107, my section’s home, provided a small but welcome comfort. Reporters began to talk about a crashed plane in Pennsylvania.

Back in the Hark, people were milling around, speaking only occasionally and then in the hushed tones of a wake. Orrin Hatch summed up the feelings of a shocked nation when he said, “We’re going to find out who did this, and we’re going to kill the bastards.” An undergraduate delivered a special edition of The Crimson, a one-sheet summarizing information from two hours before. Students tried to contact friends and family in New York. Strangers hugged each other and cried. Rumors of more planes in the air kept nerves frayed.

Later that day Harvard held a prayer vigil. A lonely fighter jet patrolled the sky above the Yard. Coverage of the attacks monopolized all media for days. Students learned that some of their loved ones had not survived. The nation mourned and tried to understand. “Let’s roll” was enshrined as the nation’s motto. American flags blossomed across the country.

President Bush, viewed by many as an accidental president, spoke briefly amidst the chaos of the attacks, then somberly at the National Cathedral, before addressing a joint session of Congress. The president suddenly looked less like a deer in the headlights and more like the genius of an awakened giant. Prime Minister Blair epitomized the special relationship between the UnitedStates and Great Britain by attending the speech.

America’s initial fury was swift and focused. Nations around the world fell into line against al Qaeda. U.S. troops and Afghan freedom fighters swiftly deposed the Taliban, putting an end to the public execution of feminists and the wanton destruction of cultural relics. Mujahidin willing to die for their beliefs were accommodated. Many more were captured.

Cells of terrorists were rooted out around the world, from the United States to the Middle East. The financial support and freedom of movement that various governments had provided to terrorist groups suddenly dried up. The United States vigorously brought justice to those terrorist leaders it could not bring to justice, assassinating without warning a number of key leaders.

The war on terror continues. Skepticism from the Left, vocal from the get-go, has crested to a fevered hysteria. Saddam Hussein has been ousted from power, leaving terror groups bereft of another sanctuary. State-sponsored rape, castration and death by torture no longer threaten the Iraqi people. Buried chemical labs will never resurface to threaten the innocent of any nation. While the rebuilding effort is a daunting project, America will fulfill its obligation and prevail in peace as well as in war.

The shock of September 11 birthed a grim resolve. Two years after the attacks, America remains resolute despite the passage of time. A string of victories, both public and secret, mark the steady progress of our response. As we continue to mourn the dead of September 11, we see in the peoples freed from totalitarian oppression an incorruptible monument to their memories and the promise of a future free from terror.

Jonathan Skrmetti’s column appears biweekly. He posts regular commentary at

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