Last year on this day, students, faculty and others from the Harvard community gathered in the Yard to remember the victims of an unprecedented, unprovoked assault on civilians. One year later, we gather again as a community and pause to ponder how far we’ve come and how far we still must go.
We have come a long way in only a year. Just days ago, the final group of employees moved back into their offices at the Pentagon, back into the very site where a 757 hit just last fall. Likewise, Ground Zero in New York City has had nearly as miraculous a transformation. All 16 acres of twisted steel and charred wreckage have been entirely cleared. The ground is now ready for reconstruction; the plans are in the works.
Our nation can rebuild what was destroyed on Sept. 11, but these changes are only skin deep. Buildings can be replaced, but the thousands of innocent lives that were lost a year ago cannot. These scars, on our psyche rather than on the landscape, have not and will not go away. We are a changed nation; we are a changed people.
Today is, first and foremost, a day for remembering the victims.
No amount of commercialized, patriotic one-upmanship—from features sensationalizing the tragedy and profiting from ratings to an “American Idol” singing on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial—should distract us from taking the necessary time to pause, in silence, and remember. Today is for the janitors and investment bankers, the foreign nationals and American firefighters, for all those who lost their lives.
Today is also a day for looking ahead at the rebuilding still to come, both at home and abroad.
Beyond rebuilding the areas that were directly hit by the terrorists, America is in the process of restructuring its intelligence and security agencies to better prevent future tragedy. At the same time, it is crucial that we do not misdirect our anger at racial or ethnic groups. A year ago, President Bush and others rightly and immediately emphasized that Arab-Americans must not be targeted in the aftermath of the attacks. Yet there were still isolated incidents of violence—and more pervasive but less visible, a widespread sense of distrust of anyone who looked like the stereotypical “terrorist,” as meaningless as that concept is. America must rebuild, as a nation that holds pluralism to be one of its dearest values.
Overseas, the president who campaigned against “nation-building” cannot escape his obligation to build a nation out of the rubble in Afghanistan. Last week’s assassination attempt on President Hamid Karzai and the deadly bombing in Kabul demonstrate the extreme fragility of the country’s democratic foundations.
America’s full support for alleviating Afghanistan’s humanitarian crisis and revitalizing its infrastructure, as well as continued efforts to capture al Qaeda fighters, are vital to ensuring the health of Afghanistan and the security of America.
As we gather in Tercentenary Theater once again this year, as we listen to the bells of Memorial Church and remember what we have lost and what we have learned, we must also reaffirm what makes America strong—our commitment to civil liberties and to responsible actions abroad. Today we mourn, but we must not lose the values that we hold dear.