On the eve of the 20th anniversary of 9/11, ACU Chairman Matt Schlapp reflects on his experience that day, and shares the anger most Americans feel this year following the Biden administration’s chaotic, deadly withdrawal from Afghanistan.
The 9/11 tragedy and two decades of responses to it will never rest easy in the minds of those who lost loved ones, or still suffer scars from the trauma of the deadliest attack on our own soil. This year’s anniversary has most outraged about the reemergence of the Taliban, the irresponsible way this administration exited Afghanistan, but mostly the idea that some Americans and allies are expendable.
We broke our promise, we violated our honor, and we have invited harsher terrorist attacks in the future, with our own hardware. President Biden’s foolish decisions dishonor the memory and heroism of the thousands of people who died in the towers, in the Pentagon and in Pennsylvania, and the many more brave Americans in the military who died in the 20-year War on Terror.
To be fair, the Bush administration also made hasty mistakes amid a desire to spike the ball and declare “Mission Accomplished.” But lessons are supposed to be learned so mistakes are not repeated. For Team Biden, it should never have been about when we would leave Afghanistan, but how.
Unfortunately, Biden has allowed his administration to be overrun with overconfident, ideological warriors, who may read intelligence reports but do not believe or learn from them. Replete with the best degrees, and long pedigrees earned by slavish commitment to all the politically correct causes, there is a ruling class in this administration that always knows best, blames America, and cynically relies on national media to cover up for all the errors and omissions of socialism, globalism, and elitism.
It is all so depressing and alarming and predictable. Our president is barely able to read cue cards, and the vice president has no-clue cards.
This national shame and confusion run contrary to the way Americans responded to 9/11. We came together with a near-universal belief that those who attacked America needed to be brought to justice. We took pride in our country and honored those who protected us from terrorism.
The War on Terror would take many forms, but in the end, it re-polarized the country as a well-funded and fired-up American left attacked President Bush at each and every point. It was brutal.
The only way I can deal with the disgrace of the present is to reassemble the past. As a 30-something White House staffer I remember the day vividly. I remember going to work early like usual. I remember grabbing coffee and seeing the first tower hit on the way down, thinking it was probably pilot error, and then the second tower hit on the way back to my office in Political Affairs.
Turning on my boxy TV showed the Pentagon had also been hit. I was talking to a colleague on the phone about a mundane matter thinking, “I need to run. Now.”
After my boss Ken Mehlman and I evacuated the staff, I stood on 17th Street and saw the director of the White House complex, hands shaking, pointing to the sky, and telling us to run. We found safety at a secret alternative White House location and spent the day trying to make sense of it all.
As I waited for the payphone to call my mom, I consoled a man who said his brother was in one of the towers. As I comforted him that his brother may be in the tower that still stood, it also started to crumble. My mind raced and I prayed my family in the city was okay.
When my turn at the payphone came, I tried my mom but could only get ahold of my young sister. We cried. She was worried about me. But she also knew I had started dating a special young woman who was a colleague of mine in the White House. It takes a sister to say clearly: “You need to find Mercy, and you need to tell her you love her, and you need to marry her.”
I spent hours looking for Mercy, eventually finding her safe with two of our colleagues. It was a tragic day for millions, but it had a happy ending for Mercy and me and now our five children.
It is trite but true that tragedy can force survivors to change course and rededicate their lives. Americans found a way to come together after 9/11 in a way that has escaped us ever since.
So, after 20 years, I plan to rededicate myself to reminding others that, with all the problems in the world, America and her founding is not one of them. I will remind those coming up that there was a time not too long ago when Americans came together. If America is to survive, that must happen once again very soon.
About the Author
Matt Schlapp is the chairman of the American Conservative Union, the nation’s original grassroots conservative organization.