“It hardly seems possible that a year has passed,” University President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg said, echoing the thoughts of more than 1,000 students at a candlelight vigil on the Quad Wednesday night after a day of national and campus reflection.
Almost exactly one year after students filled the Quad last Sept. 12 for a vigil, Trachtenberg, Student Association President Phil Robinson and University religious leaders addressed students while the U.S. and University flags blew at half staff in the brisk wind.
Dressed in windbreakers on the crisp night, students attempted to keep their candles lit while they listened to prayers from Christian, Muslim and Jewish campus chaplains. The religious leaders explained that students needed to have faith in a God even after tragedies like the terrorist attacks.
The ceremony also included a candle lighting ceremony remembering the nine GW alumni lost in the attacks.
Trachtenberg addressed students half-way through the hour long ceremony, explaining that he feared for the survival of the campus, country and planet during the attacks.
“Our University spends a great deal of time boasting about our location,” he said. “Last September 11 our location.suddenly made us seem vulnerable, fragile and small.”
He also called on Jewish and Muslim students to come together for a Rammadan dinner this fall which he said the University would sponsor.
A Nation Remembers
President George W. Bush stood in front of the reconstructed Pentagon Wednesday morning calling on the nation to remember the sacrifices of the 184 people who died in the attacks leading off a day of ceremonies around the city.
“This place is a symbol to the world of our country’s might and resolve,” Bush said. “Today, we remember each life. We rededicate this proud symbol and we renew our commitment to win the war that began here.”
The president addressed a crowd of several thousand including; congressmen, foreign dignitaries, military personnel, workers from the Pentagon reconstruction effort and families of those lost in the terrorist attacks.
The president’s words came shortly after a flag was dropped from the roof of the building where near where the plane hit.
“The terrorists wanted September 11 to be the day when innocents died,” Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said in a speech just preceding the president’s. “Instead it was the day that heroes were born.”
“The terrorists chose this target hoping to demoralize our country,” Bush said. “They failed.”
Bush stressed though the ceremony at the nation’s military headquarters is a sacred place, it’s not a memorial.
“The Pentagon is a working building, not a memorial,” Bush said. “Yet, the memories of a great tragedy linger here. And for all who knew loss here, life is not the same.”
The ceremony included a moment of silence at 8:46 a.m. when the first plane hit the World Trade Center in New York City, and a moment of silence at 9:37 a.m. when American Airlines Flight 77 hit the Pentagon.
“What happened to our nation on a September day set in motion the first great struggle of a new century,” Bush said. “The enemies who struck us are determined and they are resourceful. They will not be stopped by a sense of decency or a hint of conscience — but they will be stopped.”
A Campus Remembers
While the vigil was the most well-attended campus event Wednesday, students attended academic lectures, heard a name-reading ceremony on Kogan Plaza and filled a special Kalb Report among other campus activities.
Political figures and national heroes challenged GW students to question their values in a society changed by terrorism at Wednesday’s Kalb Report.
The Report, Facing the Future: Press, Politics in an Age of Terrorism, at the National Press Club drew a crowd of more than 200 students and faculty members.
Political commentator Marvin Kalb led a panel discussion with former Secretary of State Madeline Albright, foreign policy expert Susan Eisenhower, Washington D.C. Archbishop Theodore McCarrick and Nobel prize-winning author Elie Wiesel.
The event was broadcast over CSPAN and GWTV, where students gathered in the School of Media and Public Affairs to watch.
Kalb started the evening calling Sept. 11 the “defining moment” in the current generation’s future, and then turned the dialogue to God and religion’s role in the conflict.
“Where was God on September 11?” Kalb asked panelists.
McCarrick answered immediately, urging the audience to keep faith.
“God was right there,” McCarrick said. “He cannot force us to be saintly.”
But Wiesel took a different spin on the question. A Holocaust survivor, he said terrorists were blasphemous to kill in the name of God.
“Don’t they realize when they do that, they turn God into a murderer?” he asked. “(The terrorists) simply chose death as their language. No words.”
He also noted that “hate has power.” and the terrorists who operated on September 11 weren’t martyrs.
“A martyr is not someone who kills, but someone who dies,” he said
Albright said Americans should take further terror threats seriously, and not be “paralyzed” by them.
Noting Iraq, she said a pre-emptive attack is a dangerous policy change that must be “defined” more closely.
“We have a new world, and we have to deal with it,” Albright said.
Former New York Times reporter and GW professor Steve Roberts asked his audience questions including “Are you an American or a Journalist? A patriot or a professional?” during a series of faculty lectures Wednesday.
Roberts said he is both an American and journalist, adding that asking questions and newswriting are the acts of patriotism.
“You don’t have to choose between the two roles,” Roberts said. “It means you have to balance two conflicting virtues.”
He added GW students live in a different era than their parents and grandparents.
During World War II, he said, reporters and military were on the same side fighting against Hitler while journalists had free reign to report on military moves and criticize the war in Vietnam.
However, he said reporters have lost ground during the war against terrorism, where journalists are kept in press pools for reasons of national security.
Since September 11 Roberts said the military has overstepped bounds when restricting reporters because journalists may report “detrimental” information that may tip off terrorists.
Reporters and editors are making tougher moral decisions about what to publish after September 11, he said.
Roberts then told his audience to imagine they were photographers at the Pentagon after the attack, but also saw a person in danger of losing his life. He asked whether they would take the picture or help the person
“I would save the person,” he said. “Others may not.”
– Adina Matusow and Matt Windman contributed to this report