19 Years After 9/11

September 11, 2020

19 Years Later, We Still Remember

Brad Birzer

Today, we celebrate—and remember, as we promised we would never forget—the 19th anniversary of the tragic events; that is, the brutal attack on American lives, on American rights, and on American soil led by a fundamentalist terrorist.

19 is an odd number, and yet an important number.  As I give this talk, I’ve been at this college 21 years.  My oldest son, Nathaniel, is a senior and 21 years old.  My oldest daughter, Gretchen, is 19 years old and a sophomore.  

19 years, indeed, has been a lifetime for many of you standing here.

Not atypically, I was teaching back-to-back Western Heritage courses the morning of the attacks.  One 8:00 section, one 9:30 section.  We were most likely on Pericles or Socrates. In between the two, a flustered student told me about the events in New York, but, of course, everything was confused.  Later that morning, my wife, Dedra, and I ran into President Arnn in the old Ethen Allen Room—who informed us quite rightly that Hillsdale would continue the day in class, as it’s exactly what the terrorists would NOT want.  

I’m sure no one in this crowd is shocked by Dr. Arnn’s strength of character.

2,977 Americans died on 9/11.  Lives were silenced, then; and, by executive order, the skies were silenced.  On that day, there were victims, there were first responders, there were heroes; all were American.

My favorite story—one that never ceases to get to me—is about one of the passengers on Flight 93: Tom Burnett—a 38-year old Wall Street Banker, father of three girls, husband to a beautiful wife, and a devout Christian.  This man, a former college football player for St. John’s College in Minnesota, a lover of business as well as of ancient Greek philosophy, helped two other courageous American men drive a jet airliner into rural Pennsylvania soil on a clear September morning, 2001.  “We’re all going to die, but three of us are going to do something about it.  I love you honey.”  These were his last words to his wife on his cell phone.

Liberty and sacrifice.  I was teaching that in Western Heritage that morning, and I was witnessing it all around us.

And, here we stand at Central Hall, September 11, 2020.  Right there, is our moment to men who died on Pennsylvania soil.  

Indeed, numerous Hillsdale men sacrificed their lives at the Battle of Gettysburg (in and around a little Lutheran town).  The 24th Michigan on July 1; the 4th Michigan on July 2.  Each day, Hillsdale College men sacrificed themselves for something greater than each of them.  They sacrificed for each other, for the college, for the republic.  They sacrificed for us.

Liberty and sacrifice—these words, these themes, keep coming back to me and, I hope, to all of us.

And, I am reminded of one of the greatest of republican martyrs, Marcus Tullius Cicero, murdered by his executive in 43BC.  He wrote, profoundly,

“Before our own time, the customs of our ancestors produced excellent men, and eminent men preserved our ancient customs and the institutions of their forefathers.  But the republic, when it came to us, was like a beautiful painting, whose colours, however, were already fading with age, our own time not only has neglected to freshen it by renewing the original colours, but has not even taken the trouble to preserve its configuration and, so to speak, its general outlines.  For what is now left of the ‘ancient customs’ one which he said ‘the republic of Rome’ was ‘founded firm’?  They have been, as we see, so completely buried in oblivion that they are not only no longer practiced, but are already unknown.  

And what shall I say of the men?  For the loss of our customs is due to our lack of men, and for this great evil we must not only give an account, but must even defend ourselves in every way possible, as if we were accused of capital crime.  For it is through our own faults, not by any accident, that we retain only the name of republic, but have long since lost its essence” [Cicero, The Republic, Book 5, Section 1]

As we live in a season of confusion, I wonder if we could write this not just of 43BC but of 2020AD.

And, yet, no matter what, the sacrifices remain. . . the voices are not silent. . . the sky is not silent.

Let us remember—those voices silenced on 9/11.  Let us remember the victims.  Let us remember the first responders.  Let us remember the heroes.  Americans all.  And, let us be like Cicero.  Let us be like the 4th and the 24th Michigan regiments.  Let us be like Tom Burnett.

May our colors never fade, may our voices never cease, may our skies rage: liberty and sacrifice.

God bless, America.

[I had the grand privilege of giving this talk to the Hillsdale College community at noon on September 11, 2020.]

5 thoughts on “19 Years After 9/11”

  1. Wonderful, Brad. Thanks for sharing your talk with us. Of course, I knew of 9/11 and flight 93 -93 is a mystical number symbolizing courage as it was the Regimental number of the Thin Red Line of Heroes at Balaklava the 93rd Highlanders. Let’s Roll indeed. I like to think in the deep heartland of America there are still brave souls who will say Let’s Roll when big things are at stake. And of course, I know of Gettysburg (I have visited three times in my life the first time in 1961) but never thought or even knew about the connection of Hillsdale to Gettysburg -that is a great particular fact to know and one that shines credit on the heritage of Hillsdale. 9/11 remains strongly in my memory. I used to live in New York City (when I was at NYU) and I had been to the WTC numerous times. In 1993 I bought a Library of America book on the Debates on the Constitution there. It is strange and frightening that all those strong, powerful places were obliterated. Our bodies are fragile vessels but we forget civilization itself is also vulnerable and fragile. Nothing is permanent. Except perhaps the fame of our forefathers so I say NE OBLIVISCARIS….DO NOT FORGET the men who were SAN PEUR (without fear) who fought not for conquest or domination but for liberty.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Some years ago Andrew Roberts was going on a series of talks to promote his book WALKING WITH DESTINY. I asked him how many in total and he said 93. I told him that was a lucky number. He asked why then is said ask Kipling the 93rd were the Thin Red Line of Heroes. He laughed. He understood immediately (he knew my grandfather won the Military Medal at 2nd Ypres while serving with the Argylls and that my grandfather knew Willie Gallacher -the Scottish Communist and Major Ricketts (the man who composed the River Kwai March- Col.Bogey). So old Highlanders have old memories. 42nd Highlanders (Black Watch) 91st Highlanders (Spain) 93rd Highlanders (India/Russia/South Africa). By the way, Scottish veterans of Balaklava fought at Bull Run, Antietam and Gettysburg also The 79th Highlanders was a Union Regiment. Of course, the Auld Regiments are part of family and clan history. To some historians, a regimental number is just a number on a map. To those of us who remember it is a story of the Teuchters (the Tough Ones) fighting it out with mire cath (the ancient battle frenzy). When Wallace and Bruce fought we were there. We were there at Guadalcanal, El Alamein, Dunkirk, D-Day, Korea.

        “Heroes’ blood and tears bid us hold our ancient glory of free lands and of bold lands HIGHLANDS and LOWLAND ye ancient and ye free lands. Faith that dare not lie but would die for home and kithland….”.. Our splendid ancient heritage is something we shall never forget. We are not ashamed to have pride of name and descent. We face firmly towards the future and never forget the past. We contribute our measure of courage and character to the American melting pot.

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