Former President George W. Bush gave a moving speech Saturday as the country solemnly remembered the 20th anniversary of 9/11, contrasting the unity he witnessed in the days after the attacks with the division that exists in the nation today.
"Twenty years ago, we all found — in different ways, in different places, but all at the same moment — that our lives would be changed forever. The world was loud with carnage and sirens, and then quiet with missing voices that would never be heard again," he said at the Flight 93 National Memorial near Shanksville, Pennsylvania.
"These lives remain precious to our country, and infinitely precious to many of you," he said. "Today we remember your loss, we share your sorrow and we honor the men and women you have loved so long and so well."
Bush said that on America's darkest day, the "actions of an enemy revealed the spirit of a people."
"We were proud of our wounded nation," he told the crowd. "In these memories, the passengers and crew of Flight 93 must always have an honored place. Here the intended targets became the instruments of rescue. And many who are now alive owe a vast, unconscious debt to the defiance displayed in the skies above this field."
The former president went on to talk about the struggles of trying to understand why America was targeted and said the "security measures incorporated into our lives are both sources of comfort and reminders of our vulnerability."
"And we have seen growing evidence that the dangers to our country can come not only across borders, but from violence that gathers within. There is little cultural overlap between violent extremists abroad and violent extremists at home," Bush said, seemingly referencing the Jan. 6 Capitol riot.
"But in their disdain for pluralism, in their disregard for human life, in their determination to defile national symbols, they are children of the same foul spirit. And it is our continuing duty to confront them," he said.
Bush, who was reading a book to Florida schoolchildren when the planes hit 20 years ago, reflected on how the country came together in the days following the terrorist attacks.
"On America’s day of trial and grief, I saw millions of people instinctively grab for a neighbor’s hand and rally to the cause of one another. That is the America I know. At a time when religious bigotry might have flowed freely, I saw Americans reject prejudice and embrace people of Muslim faith. That is the nation I know," he said.
"At a time when nativism could have stirred hatred and violence against people perceived as outsiders, I saw Americans reaffirm their welcome of immigrants and refugees. Thatis the nation I know," he said. "At a time when some viewed the rising generation as individualistic and decadent, I saw young people embrace an ethic of service and rise to selfless action. That is the nation I know."