In the life of the United States, there are dates marking events that change the course and direction of our country.  One thinks of the adoption of the Declaration of Independence, the firing on Fort Sumter, the surrender at Appomattox, and the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor.  September 11, 2001 is one of those days.

We honor and remember those who died at the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and in the plane crash in Pennsylvania.

I personally remember Barbara Olson, a political supporter of mine who was on the plane that was flown into the Pentagon. I remember New York fire chief Ray Downey who was on the Congressional Panel on Terrorism — one that I chaired.

We worked together and with others to warn of the rising danger of terrorism, until Ray was killed at the World Trade Center doing his job to save others.  Just the day before, I was in New York on September 10, 2001 traveling on business throughout Manhattan and right next to the World Trade Center.

The following morning I was in the Governor’s Mansion in Richmond when I saw the planes smash into that same building.  It was on that day that as Governor, I became a first responder and directed the government of Virginia to protect the people of our commonwealth.

Since that day, America as always has changed and adapted to respond to the new international and domestic threat paradigm.

I remember a country before 9/11 where security in airports and in cities was light because we relied on common norms of decency and civilization for the safety of our country, norms that prevented mindless attacks on each other.

That time of innocence is sadly gone.

As always, America comes through in time of trouble.  Our challenge now is not to allow attacks from savages to change us from America’s noble calling in the world: to protect our citizens, to stand for honor and decency, to be a beacon as such for the world, to maintain our liberties in the face of those who would sacrifice them in the name of security, and remain steadfast and confident in the certain knowledge that those who would attack our country cannot and will not prevail.


Jim Gilmore serves as ambassador to the Organization for Cooperation and Security in Europe (OCSE) and is the former governor of Virginia from 1998 to 2002.