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Plain English Special - Remembering September 11

From the National Party Leader Bill English

Today in Parliament I delivered the following speech in recognition of September 11th, and the impact it has had around the world. It isn't a long speech - 600 words - but it sums up my feelings.

This day one year ago our time stood suspended.

Our morning of September 12 became the world over September 11, New York time.

We were witnesses to thousands of deaths from a thousand angles as the towers crashed again and again and again.

What we could clearly see we could not dare to believe. In the night-time of their fears, no one who lives as we do could have feared this.

Stories emerged then and still do now where fragments of strangers' lives are woven in with ours in a patchwork quilt of courage and catastrophe.

Firemen mourning missing comrades; Medics waiting for casualties who never came; Mothers whose babies will never know their fathers; And the cellphone calls of people who could see their coming death.

We were witnesses to all this and that is why today our hearts go out to the American people, and people all around the world as they remember the thousands who died and the millions who had their lives changed forever.

Our hearts go out to the families who lost loved ones - American families and families around the globe. Even New Zealand did not go untouched by this barbaric attack. Today we remember and honour Alan Beaven and John Lozowsy as the two New Zealanders who lost their lives in 9/11.

We recognise September 11 first out of basic human empathy for a disaster so shockingly unexpected. The people involved lived like us and so the grief and loss weighs more heavily.

And we recognise September 11 out of what is best in us. Our loyalty, our generosity, our resolve, compel us to stand with those who build on the same bedrock of civil life - the rule of law, respect for human rights, and freedom bounded by morality.

It is a constant temptation to stand apart from the arguments of history, but it is through these national virtues of ours that Sept 11 has drawn New Zealand in once again. As recently as one year and one day ago we thought it might be different.

In the Cold War, fear of communism was hard wired into the fabric of our nation and its relationships with the world. The struggle still defines our generations because it was played out on our streets.

As the memory of Vietnam faded and then the Berlin Wall came down, we had a decade where we might have been convinced that prosperity and liberal democracy were the inevitable results of progress - it was all good and it came easily.

September 11, 2001 changed that - we are back in history with its tragedies and failures, and dilemmas that test our judgment and our national character.

We now face the question of how best we can exercise our judgement and our good character in this changed world.

At best we may be heard through the multilateral process - our judgement formed and lost in a web of anonymous international diplomacy, which hides principle behind its process.

People don't live or die for such abstractions.

We can be heard much better by our friends and allies by standing with them in a harder clearer light that does more justice to our conscience.

What should we say to our friend the US as it remembers its grief tomorrow?

We acknowledge that September 11 was sufficiently terrible to change how they think about their country.

We remind our friends that they exercise what Fukuyama calls "an enormous margin of power".

We accept that against such irrational and arbitrary acts there is little defence and that pre-emption is legitimate. But we expect to know the threats, the methods and above all the limits of this doctrine.

Today we recognise the loss we share, the way of life we have protected and defended together and the determination to ensure such a tragedy does not occur again.

-Hon Bill English September 11th 2002


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