Might Have Been
President George W. Bush addresses the American people on September 13, 2001
My fellow Americans,
As the whole world is now aware, we have suffered the most devastating attack on civilians to take place on our soil since General Sherman destroyed Atlanta and Columbia in the later stages of the War Between the States.
We will bind up the nation's wounds, and those who are responsible for this will be brought to justice, though both these things may take some time to accomplish. After every crisis in our past, America has always emerged stronger than before, and this time will be no different. In the wake of this tragedy, the American people have never been more unified. And never have we enjoyed such sympathy and good will from the rest of the world.
We must not let this opportunity pass without an appropriate response.
How did this tragedy happen? How did a handful of not-very-bright terrorists manage to strike the biggest city and the military headquarters of the mightiest nation on earth, a nation which spends three billion dollars per year on intelligence gathering? We must be honest and searching in understanding how we allowed such a catastrophe to occur, so that it can never be repeated.
The truth is that the federal government is top-heavy with too many agencies and too much personnel. We now know that information about these terrorists was available but was not noticed or responded to by the proper authorities. One alert person with the authority to act might well have intercepted them before they could carry out their atrocious deeds. I promise you that, with the best military and administrative advice available, I am going to cut and streamline our intelligence and defense bureaucracy till it is at the peak of responsibility and response. Americans have relied too much on technology and massive firepower. That is a part of our national character. But these efforts are not appropriate to the kind of warfare that we are now facing—the war of stateless, anonymous fanatics on peaceful civilians of the civilised world.
Wars are won by material resources. But victory also requires courage, incisive intelligence, and resourcefulness. These are the qualities of brave and patriotic individuals, not of collectivities, no matter how well-funded, well-organised, and well-trained. So far we have a very bad record on the kind of military action that is needed today. Our most elite forces failed to rescue the American hostages in Iran under President Carter. Our Marines were slaughtered in the Beirut barracks without even a chance to fight back, under President Reagan. Under President Clinton, in Somalia, American Rangers were killed and dragged through the streets by mobs. And now the events of September 11 during my watch. It is clear that we need a smaller, simpler, and more flexible defense.
Those who were directly responsible for these devastating attacks are dead. However, their associates, those who lead them and give them aid and comfort, the apparatus which instigated and sustained them, are yet to be dealt with. This will not call for a massive retaliation against any country, because the terrorists come from many countries. It will require, rather, elite, highly motivated units who can identify, penetrate, and understand the languages and psychology of the people they must destroy. As Commander-in-Chief, I guarantee to the American people that appropriate steps are being taken so that every criminal in any way associated with the events of September ll will be hunted down and killed. Even should it take years and a search to the ends of the earth.
There is something else we have learned from this catastrophe. We now know that most of the perpetrators of. September 11 were in our country illegally, in one way or another. There could not be any stronger proof that our are immigration laws are not being honoured. A great nation cannot, under today's conditions of terrorism, tolerate the pourous borders and lax attention to immigration lawbreakers that we have heretofore allowed, under my administration and that of my predecessors. We are proud that Americans are a nation of immigrants, but we must not be a people bent upon suicide through lacking the will to do what is necessary for our safety.
We are proud also of our religious tolerance. We seek nothing but friendship and peaceful commerce with the millions of the world's peoples who follow the faith of Islam. Perhaps we have failed to be as fair and even-handed as we might have been in our role as peacekeepers and mediators in the Middle East. I pledge to the Islamic world my renewed efforts to do better in this regard. Most of the followers of Islam are good and peaceful people. But there is no question that Islam contains a tradition and a substantial element that has always preached holy war against non-believers. We will be taking definite measures to prevent, for the time being, all Muslim immigration to the United States, and to identify and deport all those now present who have in any way infringed the law. Simple prudence calls for nothing less.
My fellow Americans, let us go forward with the determination to do what we must do so that the future will find our country and its citizens safer and the world a more peaceful place. God bless you all, and God bless America.