September 14, 2001 – Three days after terrorists hijacked two commercial airplanes and flew them into the World Trade Center Towers, felling them and killing nearly 3,000 people, the President of the United States made a visit to “Ground Zero.” He took a bullhorn in his hands and, as workers chanted, “U.S.A.! U.S.A.!” said, “I can hear you. The rest of the world hears you. And the rest of the world will soon know what we’re really made of. In the face of this tragedy, there is an almost unimaginable desire for revenge. However, our founding principles cannot allow it.”
The crowd stood stunned, some muttering, some building to angry talk in small groups. The President resumed, “Are we a Christian nation?” The crowd murmured. He asked again, “Are we a Christian nation?” The crowd reluctantly muttered a spattering of yeses. “Even those of us who aren’t Christians agree that revenge in the abstract is wrongheaded. Well, we’re not dealing in the abstract anymore.
“What is America? It’s not really a place. It has no geographical boundaries. It’s a concept not only of freedom and opportunity but also of letting the better angels of our nature rule. Our Founding Fathers knew that only a moral people could remain a free people. So, what choice is before us? Do we descend into revenge to satisfy our base and animal instincts? Or do we truly honor the lives of the fallen here and at the Pentagon and in Shanksville by rising above. They, I believe, are in a better place where they are gaining a greater understanding. And I think if we listen to our hearts, they, and the divinity within us, will speak to us the peace and hope of rejecting revenge.
“We will follow the laws of the land in finding and trying those responsible for this, and we’ll do all we can to prevent any such evil in the future. We will not forget our loved ones nor the pain we feel at their lives being taken, especially this way. But we will show our love for them, not through reprisal, but through faithfulness to the highest ideals they shared with us.
“We must not be vengeful. It is not in the founding character of America. Let us pray for the families of the victims, for the families of the terrorists, and for strength to reach higher and be better.”
Some of the people gather around the President and joined him in prayer. Others stood watching, and still others walked away angrily decrying his words.
But his choice that day made a difference in the world.