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September 11: Bearing Witness to History Exhibit

Dedication of "September 11: Bearing Witness to History" Exhibit

Secretary Colin L. Powell National Museum of American History of the Smithsonian Institution Washington, DC September 10, 2002

(9:00 a.m. EDT)

SECRETARY POWELL: Good morning, ladies and gentlemen, and thank you very much, Mrs. Bush, for that kind introduction. It's a great pleasure for me to be here this morning. And let me begin by saying that I am confident I speak for all Americans when I say to Mrs. Bush how deeply grateful we are to her for her calming, compassionate presence during our time of national tragedy.

Mrs. Bush, you said and did just the right things when we needed them the most, when we most needed to be strong and wise for our children. So on behalf of all Americans, thank you for what you have done for the past year. (Applause.)

If American foreign policy is to be successful, we need to show the world the best we have within us as a people and other nations need to know and understand us better. That is why the Smithsonian Institution, with this American History Museum, is more than a national treasure; it is an invaluable diplomatic asset. The tens of thousands of foreign visitors that tour the Smithsonian collections every year return to their home countries with a better sense of who we are as Americans and what we cherish as a nation. They return with insights into the precepts that unite us in our splendid diversity. They not only become better acquainted with our history, they learn about our dreams for the future.

It is important to the American people that this moving exhibit of objects, sights, sounds and stories from September 11th should be displayed here among the collections that constitute our national memory. It is also important that people all over the world understand how deeply September 11th is seared into the fabric of our national life, a fact symbolized by the flag which so gallantly draped the Pentagon's shattered wall and which will have a place of honor in our ceremony today.

As the Director noted a moment ago, this exhibit is unique because it reflects history in the making. It is far too soon for the wounds of September 11th to heal, not least for those who lost loved ones. The image of that day of terror still plays through our minds with the clarity of a waking nightmare and it is far too early to put the events of September 11th into full perspective, yet already we sense that they have tested and changed us and the world in profound ways.

Only 12 months may have passed, but I believe that history will have much of lasting significance to record about them. History will record that when the terrorists struck our homeland, citizens from 90 countries were murdered along with our fellow Americans -- men and women of every continent, culture and creed, of every region, race and religion. History will record the stories of ordinary men and women performing extraordinary acts of heroism in the face of horror, kindness in the face of cruelty, how they rushed into flaming buildings or straight at armed hijackers to save the lives of others, even at the cost of their own. History will record accounts of people all over the world reaching out to us in sympathy and in solidarity.

History also will show that to their everlasting credit, President Bush and other leaders throughout our nation resisted the impulse to lash out in blind rage, choosing instead to guide us onto the path of principled action. History will show that the American public overwhelmingly refused to scapegoat people of any particular faith or ethnicity. We recognize the terrorists and their abettors for what they are: international criminals inimical to all civilized societies.

History will describe how the civilized nations of the world came together as one to declare terrorism a threat to international peace and security, a menace which all countries have the obligation to fight. And history will describe how President Bush marshaled a great global coalition that liberated the men and women of Afghanistan from terrorism's grip and began the long, hard task of eradicating terrorism worldwide.

The time of trial ushered in by September 11th will not soon be over, but when its last chapter is written, I believe that it will be counted among those magnificent moments in history when the nations of the world rose up to triumph over great evil, and in the process, brought new freedom and fresh hope to mankind. I am sure that will be the case.

And now it is my honor and pleasure to yield the lectern to our newest senator from the heroic State of New York. From the very first hour of the attacks, former First Lady and now Senator Clinton has done an exceptional job leading the indomitable people of New York through this crisis and she has been their champion in obtaining the resources they need to rebuild. New Yorkers and all Americans also can be very proud of her tireless work to ensure that our homeland is protected and that our worldwide efforts against terrorism have the bipartisan support they need to succeed.

Ladies and gentlemen, it is my honor now to present Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton. (Applause.)

[End]

Released on September 10, 2002


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