Panetta: 9/11 response reflects American spirit
September 9, 2011
WASHINGTON, Sept. 9, 2011 -- America's immediate and determined response to the terrorist attacks of 9/11 reflects a spirit that no tragedy can defeat, Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta said last night.
The secretary spoke during the closing dinner of the day-long 9/11 Tenth Anniversary Summit: Remembrance, Renewal, Resilience.
The summit was co-hosted by the Center for National Policy and the nonprofit organization Voices of September 11th, with support from the Rockefeller Foundation.
It was held to pay tribute to those killed in the 9/11 attacks, honor the survivors and their families, and recognize the heroic work of those who responded then and now, demonstrating America's resilience.
"Today's summit focused on remembrance, renewal and resilience, and these are timeless themes in America and in history," Panetta told dignitaries, political leaders and 9/11 survivors.
"We have overcome wars, we've overcome disasters, we've overcome economic depressions," the secretary added, "We've overcome crises of every kind because of the fundamental American spirit that never, never gives up."
The event was developed by TakePart -- the social action network of the American film and production company Participant Media -- in association with the Bipartisan Policy Center, the Newseum, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, the Wounded Warrior Project, and the Canadian Embassy.
In attendance were Panetta's Canadian counterpart, Minister of National Defense Peter MacKay, and representatives from the community of Gander, Newfoundland.
In September 2001, the people of Gander "provided comfort and welcome to over 6,000 passengers and crew members from diverted transatlantic flights that were not allowed to enter U.S. airspace" following the attacks, the secretary said.
"Canada is a true neighbor in every sense of the word," Panetta said, "and particularly after that event."
As the nation comes together this weekend in commemorations large and small to mark the 10th anniversary of 9/11, Panetta said, "we will remember the victims and their families, but we will also celebrate the great American spirit that we have shown the world throughout history."
Panetta described his own experience of 9/11 -- learning about the New York attacks from a colleague during a congressional hearing, sharing the news with the legislators and then, driving away from the capitol, learning that a plane had hit the Pentagon.
A few days later, as he drove a rental car across country to his home in California, he saw displays of patriotism and courage in towns across America, he said.
"Communities throughout the heartland of America had come together, posting signs on storefronts, in front of motels [that read] 'God Bless America,'" the secretary recalled.
"They were raising flags, they were gathering in churches, they were holding hands. You could sense that great spirit of American reacting to the tragedy that had happened," Panetta said.
Out of the tragedy, Panetta said he suddenly remembered the words ascribed to Japanese Adm. Isoroku Yamamoto after the attack on Pearl Harbor: "I fear we have awakened a sleeping giant."
"September 11 awoke a sleeping giant and we will forever, forever remember that defining moment in American history," the secretary said.
"Al-Qaida killed nearly 3,000 … innocent men, women and children who were going about their daily lives," Panetta said. "They perished because of a hatred that was aimed squarely at the values this nation stands for --- liberty, tolerance, equality and fairness."
From the tragedy, the nation drew tremendous inspiration and a resolve and determination to "honor the victims, uphold our values and defend our country so that no such an attack would ever happen again," the secretary said.
"We showed the world what the American character is all about," he added. "We answered the enemy by acting justly and decisively in pursuing threats to our people, to our freedom to and our nation."
Sept. 11, Panetta added, "reminds all of us that this country is always at its best when it responds to crisis, because it is truly in the inherent spirit of the American people to pull together, to fight for our values, to protect what is dear to all of us."
In the immediate aftermath of 9/11, millions stepped forward to commit themselves to the hard, dangerous work of keeping America safe.
"Thanks to the extraordinary efforts of our first responders, law enforcement, the intelligence community, diplomats [and] men and women of our armed forces, our country has been kept free, safe and secure," the secretary said.
As CIA director, Panetta was in the White House operations room with other Cabinet members in May at the completion of the operation that killed 9/11 mastermind Osama bin Laden.
"In many ways, I felt I'd gone full circle, and so had the country," Panetta said of when the al-Qaida chieftain met his demise.
Ten years after 9/11 the nation is safer and stronger, the secretary said.
"We have shown the world our resilience [and] our nation's never-ending capacity to renew itself, to confront crises and to confront challenges head on," Panetta said.
Al-Qaida is facing unprecedented pressure, Panetta said, "but … please make no mistake, they remain a real threat and the hard work of protecting America must go on. We must keep the pressure on, we must be vigilant and we must keep up the fight."
As America honors the victims of 9/11, the secretary said, it must honor those who have taken on the burden of defending the nation --- our troops, our military families and our veterans.
"They fight for the American dream," Panetta said. "The dream that brought my immigrant parents to this country. The dream that … all of us have to make sure that our children have a safer and better life in the future."