Tomorrow marks twenty years since the 9/11 attacks, and in some ways, it feels like only yesterday that I turned on my television from my GW dorm room to see the news. Moments later, I heard the plane hit the Pentagon and spent the rest of the day in stunned confusion as I wandered DC amidst an impossibly blue sky to find a place to donate blood. And when that clear sky turned dark, it was illuminated by an enormous candlelight vigil on campus. When I returned to work at the State Department later that week, it was obvious that everything had changed. I’ll never forget the weather that day. Like many Washingtonians, my husband and I have come to call it September 11 weather. Perhaps fittingly, the beautiful weather today in DC is almost exactly the same as it was 20 years ago.
What we know now as we look back is that those attacks ushered in two decades of war and cost the US trillions of dollars and thousands of lives. The legacy of trauma to bodies and minds persists. Veteran suicides exceed the number of casualties on the battlefield. Our hyperfocus on all things counterterrorism and then counterinsurgency blinded us to other challenges.
Countless Truman members felt called to service in the aftermath of those attacks. Today that service means different things to different people. For many, it’s complicated. For me personally, I feel a palpable sense of loss and frankly shame. There’s so much good that was done by so many, but also unspeakable tragedy and a betrayal of what I had believed should be core American values. Like many of you, I’ve spent the last few weeks reading some of the many essays that mark this sober anniversary. The one that I keep coming back to is this one from The Atlantic, which traces the story of one family’s grief for their son who was killed in New York. For me, it captures how that personal pain came to shape our national narrative and our search for answers. It explains some of the origins of the anger and fear that have fueled the extremist ideologies we contend with today.
Many members of the Truman community have come forward to offer their own reflections on this moment. Special thanks to Stephen Ryan, Leslie Weinstein, Alex Cornell du Houx, Clay M. West, Shenée Simon and Matt Zeller for your contributions to “The Truman Diaries - Afghanistan” project, which debuted this week on our website and will be published by the Diplomatic Courier. These are powerful and reflective stories that highlight the great bonds between so many Afghans and Americans over the course of this war.
Our programs team also partnered with the Chicago Council earlier this week to produce an excellent all-star panel; “The Legacy of America's Longest War” examined the global war on terror’s impact on US foreign and defense policy 20 years after 9/11. It was deftly moderated by our own Lizzy Shackleford and is well worth your time.
We’ll continue our exploration of what this moment means for the future of American power during TruCon on October 15. We’ll be joined by Ben Rhodes, former Deputy National Security Advisor to President Obama and George Packer, staff writer at The Atlantic, among others.
What remains true is that in times of difficulty, Truman members come together to support each other and find solutions to some of the greatest challenges that even governments can’t solve. I am so proud of all we’ve achieved as a community even as our work remains unfinished.
Wishing you a day of meaningful contemplation and remembrance as we continue to build a better future for us all.
Yours in Service,