Speech by Prime Minister Mark Rutte at the commemoration of 9/11
Speech by Prime Minister Mark Rutte at the 20th anniversary commemoration of 9/11 in the Grote Kerk, The Hague, 10 September 2021
Ladies and gentlemen,
Since the 11th of September 2001, a new generation has been born, grown up, and reached adulthood.
Two decades have passed, in which a great deal has happened, both in our personal lives and in the world around us.
And yet, at the same time, 9/11 still feels like yesterday.
You only have to mention the date and people instantly flash back to that day in 2001, 20 years ago.
We see those first apocalyptic images before our eyes.
We feel that sickening, surreal feeling, that disbelief.
The sense of witnessing a watershed moment.
The knowledge that there will always be a world before 9/11 and a world after it.
Today, we pause to reflect on the barbaric attacks that took place that day.
Today we remember the victims – almost 3,000 people from more than 90 countries – who lost their lives at the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and in rural Pennsylvania.
And today our thoughts are with the loved ones left behind.
We also remember the emergency workers who still bear the physical and mental scars of that day.
New York firefighter Robert Reeg, for example, who was badly injured when the South Tower collapsed, and all these years later cannot forget the images of people jumping from the building in desperation.
In an interview he said,
‘It’s the nature of the world that most people have moved on, but the people directly involved with 9/11, for them, twice a day it’s 9/11.’
For Robert Reeg and many others, 9/11 will never be over.
I myself was in New York on business in the autumn of 2001, a few weeks after the attacks.
It was both surreal and awful to see the devastation and rubble where the Twin Towers had stood.
But I was also impressed by the sense of unity that had taken hold in the city.
New Yorkers had already found the courage to look forward, despite the nightmare they were enduring and the sorrow they were feeling.
That is resilience.
Or as Sandy Dahl, the widow of United 93 pilot Jason Dahl, said,
‘If we learn nothing else from this tragedy, we learn that life is short and there is no time for hate.’
The 9/11 attacks changed many individual lives forever.
And they changed the world as a whole.
Things are fundamentally different now.
On that day, 20 years ago, we were confronted with a hard truth: blind hate and extremism pose a threat to our way of life.
To the freedom and tolerance that we value so much.
We need to protect our democratic values, peace and security.
Even if that means taking up arms.
After 9/11, article 5 of the NATO Treaty was invoked for the first time: an attack against one of the Allies shall be considered an attack against them all.
And in the past 20 years we have fought a battle against terrorism in various places around the world, in a range of coalitions and often in close cooperation with the US.
This shows how strong the transatlantic bond is.
Now, more than ever, we need to realise the importance of preserving it.
Because the reality is that, in the fight against terrorism, instant success is rare.
It’s a fight in which we’ve made small steps forward, thanks to our men and women on the ground.
We will always remember their immense efforts, and honour their enormous sacrifices.
Whether they came home again or paid the ultimate price.
Unfortunately, sometimes we are forced to take a step back.
Of course we’ve all seen the terrible images from Afghanistan.
We achieved a great deal there as part of our fight against terrorism.
But many of our other ambitions proved impossible.
And it forces us to pause and reflect, and draw lessons for the future.
But giving in to cynicism and fatalism is the last thing we should do.
We owe it to the victims of 9/11, to our veterans and to our future generations to continue protecting our way of life.
So that evil will never triumph.