In my column for CNN, I discuss how 9/11 resulted in a feeling of national dedication and unity — a stark contrast to the pessimism reflected in today’s polls.
About 8 o’clock on the night of September 11, 2001, President Bush’s staff received word. The president had returned to Washington. The White House had reopened.
The walk back to the White House from temporary staff quarters in a borrowed office building remains one of my most vivid recollections of that terrible day.
The streets of Washington were ghostly empty. Armed troops and military vehicles stood sentry at intersections leading to the White House. Yet the night was still and lovely. The buildings were brightly illuminated. The flags still flew at full height: only the next day would they be lowered to half-staff.
To look back on that day is to see a country in shock, a country in fear, a country in grief.
Yet there was something else too, something else that President Bush was able to reach and channel, if only for a time: a tremendous feeling of national dedication.
That first night, the strength seemed to surge around us. These buildings, now empty, would next day be filled with purpose: mobilizing the vast resources of the nation for the struggle ahead.
In September 2001, the United States could look back on almost 20 years of national success. It had triumphed in the Cold War and launched an Internet revolution. From 1983 through 2001, the United States had enjoyed a surge of prosperity punctuated only by the two briefest and shallowest recessions in modern history.