9/11 Carson City 2011 Commemoration – America’s Strength

By Mark D. Harris

America’s Strength


On a day none of us shall ever forget, September 11, 2001, terrorists hijacked four commercial airliners, flew them into the two World Trade Center buildings in New York City, the Pentagon outside Washington DC, and tried to fly the last plane into the US Capitol. Over 3,000 people died. One witness who was descending from the North Tower of the World Trade Center wrote:

“Regular people, like me, and people from the upper floors who were badly burned – no skin, no hair, just burned – they were coming down, walking or carried down helped by people.”

He saw security and firefighters and continued “and while there was no panic whatsoever in the stairwell, those people were concentrated, focused on doing their job…and while I was walking down they were going up to their death.”

On that day 17 Islamic terrorists tried to destroy the United States of America. They failed because America is strong.

Sixty years earlier the Japanese Empire also tried to destroy America, killing over 2,400 in the process. They also failed because America is strong.

For two centuries enemies have tried to eliminate this great nation and in every circumstance they have failed because America is strong.

Shortly after the attacks I saw an article claiming that America’s weaponry is her strength. Later I heard an interview stating that America’s economic might is her strength. Still later another source opined that America’s culture is her strength. None of these tell the whole story.

What then, is the real source of America’s strength?

America is strong because her government is of the people, by the people and for the people.

America is strong because soldiers, marines, sailors and airmen do not rule over us but live among us, and they fight for freedom, not personal gain.

America is strong because of her people.


America is strong because her government is of the people, by the people and for the people.

James Madison told us that “if men were angels, no government would be necessary.” It should be clear to everyone that people are not angels, and so the system of government they choose reflects how strong the people perceive themselves to be. Ultimately, it influences how strong they are.

People who see themselves as foolish and weak need a king to take care of them and tell them what to do. Those who are strong and wise govern themselves.

People who have a king take care of them end up more foolish and weaker. Those who govern themselves become stronger and wiser.

The first lines of the Declaration of Independence hold the power to stir any American heart:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

Let us consider what Americans mean when we say these words. Let us then consider what these words mean to those who, like the hijackers on that fateful day, wish to destroy us.

“We hold these truths to be self-evident”

The principles on which America is founded require no justification. We do not need someone else, at home or abroad, to tell us that only they are smart enough to lead our nation.

“that all men are created equal”

Americans are not so foolish as to believe that we are all equally strong, equally skilled or equally good looking. I don’t have the same strength or skill as the Olympic Gold Medalist swimmer Michael Phelps. And my mother tells me that I have exactly enough good looks to be a radio celebrity.

What, then, does “all men are created equal” mean?

1. That we are equal in having been created.

2. That we are equal in value before our Creator

3. That we have equal rights and equal responsibilities as rulers of our own land.

4. That we are equal in the strengths and weaknesses common to humanity.

People do not have to gain equality. They are equal by nature.

Osama Bin Laden and Mohamed Atta believed that people were not equal; some were lions born to rule and others were sheep born to be used…or slaughtered.

“that they are endowed by their Creator”

Our Founding Fathers knew that the Creator who made the world made the people in it, and He made them the final earthly authority in their land.

King George III believed that he ruled by Divine Right, and the nations of the Barbary pirates were ruled with raw power. Both believed that only the rich and powerful had the final authority.

“with certain unalienable rights”

We are the heirs of the Founders, and we understand that no one can take these rights from the people, because no man gave them in the first place. The same One who created us gave us these rights, and the responsibilities that go with them.

Leaders in Nazi Germany, Imperial Japan and Soviet Russia were the final authority. They believed that the ruling group gave rights to the common people at their whim, and the same group could take them away.

“that among these are life”

The right to existence is the fundamental right. All other rights are contingent on that one.

Tyrants like Mao Zedong believed that they alone had the right to decide who lives and who does not.


Liberty is the freedom to do what you want, but it is also the freedom NOT to do what you want. Liberty means that a man can decide the direction of his life, worship where he chooses, and live where he pleases.

Liberty also means that an alcoholic does not have to take another drink, a man does not have to strike back in anger at someone who wrongs him, and a woman can forgive the pain and hurt she has suffered in her past.

“and the pursuit of happiness”

Only people who know that they have been created equal and who understand their inherent rights and responsibilities of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness can have a government which is of the people, by the people, and for the people.

And such a government makes America strong.

America is strong because soldiers, marines, sailors and airmen do not rule over us but live among us, and they fight for freedom, not personal gain.

Our service members are not rulers over American citizens…they come from among us and live among us.

The government of the French republic in August of 1793 ordered “all Frenchmen are permanently requisitioned for service in the armies.” America has never done that, and never will.

In other nations, the military controls the government, or at least wields powerful influence over civilian life. America does not have a professional military elite threatening the rights of citizens; we have a military composed of citizens. America is the land of the citizen-soldier.

The citizen soldier is an ordinary American who, in times of national need, gives his or her time, and if need be life, to defend our nation. George Washington was a planter, Joshua Chamberlain was a college professor, Harry Truman was a haberdasher, and Medal of Honor recipient Salvatore Giunta worked at Subway before they took up arms. I count myself blessed to have been a part of this tradition for over 22 years.

I mowed lawns, bussed tables, and worked as an Emergency Medical Technician before I joined the Army. Since joining I have worked with thousands of other fine American citizen soldiers:

When I was a major commanding the US Army clinic in Schweinfurt, Germany, an elderly gentleman came to see me for care. He had scaled the cliffs of Pointe Du Hoc on D-Day with the 2nd Ranger Battalion.

When I was a lieutenant colonel serving as deputy division surgeon for the Task Force 1st Armored Division in Baghdad in 2003, my team provided medical care and public health protection for over 37,000 soldiers, hundreds of friendly Iraqis and many enemy combatants.

What our soldiers fight for:

When King George III heard Washington would resign his commission to a powerless Congress, he told the painter Benjamin West: “If he does that, he will be the greatest man in the world.”

George Washington did exactly that, and so exemplified the spirit of the American people. Washington did not fight for personal power or glory, he fought so that his countrymen could be free; that they could govern themselves. He knew that for a government of the people, by the people and for the people to work, leaders, especially those in the military with the physical power to rule, needed to restrain their personal ambitions and do what is best for others.

Though our record is far from perfect, for the next two hundred years Americans fought for liberty, democracy, and rights of people around the world. While giving a speech on Valentine’s Day 2002 then-Secretary of State Colin Powell said:

Far from being the Great Satan, I would say that we are the Great Protector. We have sent men and women from the armed forces of the United States to other parts of the world throughout the past century to put down oppression. We defeated Fascism. We defeated Communism. We saved Europe in World War I and World War II. We were willing to do it, glad to do it. We went to Korea. We went to Vietnam; all in the interest of preserving the rights of people.

And when all those conflicts were over, what did we do? Did we stay and conquer? Did we say, “Okay, we defeated Germany. Now Germany belongs to us? We defeated Japan, so Japan belongs to us”? No. What did we do? We built them up. We gave them democratic systems which they have embraced totally to their soul. And did we ask for any land? No, the only land we ever asked for was enough land to bury our dead.

And that is the kind of nation we are.

Even those Americans who have not worn a uniform are a part of our defense. Whether by pen, by ballot or by sword all Americans stand for our nation against the forces of tyranny. Harriet Beecher Stowe defended America against the cancer of slavery. Every citizen defends America, a nation of the people, by the people and for the people, every time we vote.

Ultimately, America is strong because of her people.

America is a government of the people, by the people and for the people because Americans developed such a government. America rules her military and fights for principles that are greater than self because Americans made it that way.

In our battles against enemies, both internal and external, for over 200 years, we have always prevailed. As Lincoln said:

All the armies of Europe, Asia and Africa combined, with all the treasure of the earth (our own excepted) in their military chest; with a Bonaparte for a commander, could not by force, take a drink from the Ohio, or make a track on the Blue Ridge, in a trial of a thousand years.

At what point then is the approach of danger to be expected? I answer, if it ever reach us, it must spring up amongst us. It cannot come from abroad. If destruction be our lot, we must ourselves be its author and finisher. As a nation of freemen, we must live through all time, or die by suicide.

This is our choice, to remain strong and continue to be a beacon to the world, or to let ourselves be weak and divided, dying by suicide and putting out the last light of liberty.

Let us choose to be strong.

America is strong when men and women, armed with courage, intelligence and freedom, follow their own dreams in their own ways to make our country better for all.

America is strong when we look not only to our own prosperity and well being but that of our neighbors and our descendants.

America is strong when we live to produce, not to consume.

America is strong when we worship our Creator in our own way, all the while recognizing that implicit in such worship is the notion that someone or something is greater than ourselves.

America is strong when we live in freedom, not only from the tyranny of other men but also from the tyranny of our selfish wills.

America is strong when, after the tragic killing of National Guardsmen in this very city just a few days ago, we choose justice and healing rather than fear and bitterness.

America is strong when we live boldly in the light of day, fighting for the right in our chosen arena, rather than living in the gray twilight that knows neither victory nor defeat.


No enemy, not Bin Laden, not Hussein, not Ho Chi Minh, not Hitler, not Tojo, not Kim IL Sung, not the Kaiser, nor anyone before has been able to overcome the United States of America. They have not because America has been strong.

America is strong because her government is of the people, by the people and for the people.

America is strong because soldiers, marines, sailors and airmen do not rule over us but live among us, and they fight for freedom, not personal gain.

America is strong because of her people.

Each generation of Americans is responsible to keep America strong. Our forefathers have accomplished their mission, and now it is our turn.

It is for us to decide whether America will continue to be the beacon of light and liberty that it was designed to be, or to fall into oblivion, defeated and discouraged, in a threatening world. Lincoln was right – As free men and women, we must truly live forever or die by suicide.

We are at a confusing and discouraging time in our history. Enemies outside rattle sabers and enemies inside whisper lies. The fainthearted fear that our greatest days lie behind us, and the cynic questions the very heart of our beliefs and our history.

We will have none of that. My countrymen, let us join together in this mission. Let us always keep America strong.

Thank you

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