On the night of September 11, 2001, President George W. Bush addressed the United States and the world from the Oval Office. In this brief, now-famous speech, Bush reviewed what officials knew at that point about the devastating 9/11 terrorist attacks.
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President Bush’s address began by describing how thousands of victims, everyday people, lost their lives that morning, and at the same time how the terrorists failed to accomplish their true mission: to bring about chaos and to weaken the nation’s resolve. Bush went on to describe America’s initial response to the attacks, including the heroism of the rescue workers and the many people who donated blood across the country. And he made clear that government agencies and private businesses would be open the following day.
The next part of the speech concerned the nation’s future response to the attacks. Bush explained that American intelligence and law enforcement would find and punish those behind the plot, and that the international community supported the United States in the fight against terrorism.
Bush concluded by asking for prayers, quoting Scripture and assuring viewers that America would continue to “defend freedom.” The final three words were “God bless America.”
A couple elements particularly stand out. One is that the term “al-Qaeda” did not appear in the text of this address. That is because government officials had not yet conclusively linked that terrorist group to the attacks. Second, one line of the speech proved especially important, the most consequential line of the speech. It offered a rationale for American military action for years to come, including the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and the overall War on Terror. In this sentence, Bush said America would not distinguish between terrorists and those who “harbor” terrorists. Some people would even label that concept as the Bush Doctrine.