by Rudy Giuliani
My parents knew exactly where they were when they heard about Pearl Harbor. In the same way, all of my contemporaries and I can say where we were when President Kennedy was shot. Today, 10 years after the worst attack in our country's history, someone still comes up to me to say, "Do you know where I was on Sept. 11?"
Sept. 11, 2001, stands as the defining event of the 21st century. For me, 9/11 remains puzzling. It was the worst day of my life and the best day. It was the worst day because of the incomprehensible death, destruction and evil. Very soon after the attacks, we began to understand the threat posed by Islamic extremist terrorism.
Sept. 11 was also the best day because it put on display the very finest human instincts - compassion, courage, kindness, selflessness. First responders rushed into what they knew was a life-threatening emergency. Neighbors helped neighbors, and aid poured from good people all over the country and the world.
When people endure a traumatic event, they are either defeated or made stronger. On Sept. 11, I told New Yorkers, "I want you to emerge stronger from this." My words were partially a hope and partially an observation that people in New York City handle big things better than little things. I could not be more proud of the way my city responded.
Today, the city is stronger than 10 years ago. More people live here and its economy is stronger, even as we endure the problems plaguing the national economy. There's been no reduction in the desire of people to live and visit New York. We are a safer and better prepared city. I believe we are spiritually stronger, as well.
As for the country, when it comes to our national security and our awareness of the threat from Islamic extremists, we are better prepared than we were but not as prepared as we should be. Our intelligence base is better and our airport security is better, for all its frustrations. We still need work in many places - especially port security - but our general better preparedness has helped us handle unanticipated threats.
One of the lessons from Sept. 11 is that America requires a long-term presence in those parts of the world that endanger us. This notion has become controversial, but frankly the need could not be clearer. During World War II, our disengagement from Europe while Adolf Hitler terrorized the continent proved disastrous for tens of millions. After the end of World War II, we understood that we needed to remain in the places that threatened us. America maintained a military presence in Germany for generations, as we've done in Japan and South Korea.
Our safety requires a long-term military presence in the Middle East because that's where the plans to attack us are emanating. Our presence in Iraq and Afghanistan has helped us immensely in gathering intelligence, in keeping the terrorists engaged in activities there so that they couldn't plan activities here, and in deterring other enemies from acting irresponsibly. The timing of our troop withdrawal should be based solely on a sober assessment of when our mission is completed.
The lesson of 9/11 is that America is truly exceptional. We withstood the worst attack of our history, intended by our enemies to destroy us. Instead, it drew us closer and made us more united. Our love for freedom and one another has given us a strength that surprised even ourselves. At the same time, it's a strength that must be guarded and nurtured. We must rediscover our unity. We must never forget what we witnessed on that day, both the incomprehensible face of pure evil and the depth of love and compassion. Today, 10 years later, the fight continues, and the memories remain etched into our national character.