Biden, in Alaska speech commemorating Sept. 11 attacks, urges unity and defense of democracy
The Al-Qaeda attacks of 22 years ago, and more recent ideological violence, ‘is the opposite of all we stand for as a nation,’ president says in Anchorage
President Joe Biden speaks on Sept. 11, 2023, to service members and other Alaskans gathered at Anchorage's Joint Base Elemendorf-Richardson. In his speech commemorated the terror attack 22 years earlier, Biden called for a renewed sense of national unity and for defense of democracy. (Photo by Yereth Rosen/Alaska Beacon)
Twenty-two years after Al-Qaeda terrorists staged coordinated attacks that killed nearly 3,000 Americans, there is a threat to U.S. democracy coming from closer to home, President Joe Biden said in a memorial speech in Anchorage.
The best way to honor those who lost their lives on Sept. 11, 2001, Biden said, is to unify to defend democracy.
“Every generation has to fight to preserve it. That’s why the terrorists targeted us in the first place,” said Biden, who stopped in Anchorage after attending a G20 summit in India and traveling from there to Vietnam.
Democracy is now threatened from within by “anger and fear” and “a rising tide of hatred and extremism and political violence,” he said.
That includes being respectful to those with whom you disagree, Biden argued in his speech.
He talked about his visit in Hanoi just hours earlier, to the memorial site dedicated to “my friend” John McCain, the late Arizona senator who spent 5 ½ years in a Vietnamese prison camp. “Like two brothers, we’d argue like hell on the Senate floor. Then we’d go to lunch together,” Biden said. When he was near death, Biden said, McCain asked the then-former vice president to deliver the eulogy at his 2018 funeral.
Rep. Mary Peltola, D-Alaska, who spoke before Biden took the podium, delivered a similar call for unity and respect, which she said should be the lesson of the tragedy of 22 years ago.
Alaska’s lone U.S. House member spoke about her memories of Sept. 11, 2001, when all flights were temporarily banned, including in the rural Alaska skies usually filled with small airplanes ferrying hunters and village travelers.
“While only a tiny fraction of the horror unfolding across the country, the silence above was an eerie symbol of how the world had suddenly and completely changed,” Peltola said.
“And most importantly, I believe it should be a time of hope. Because alongside the darkest memories of today, I also remember what happened afterwards — how we all came together to rebuild and to heal. In the aftermath of devastation, we remembered what it means to believe in America,” she said.
Peltola repeated a line she has used in the past when asked about partisanship and division: “No fellow American is our enemy,” she said. “Our nation has real enemies in the world, and the events of 9/11 demonstrated that without a doubt. But they also demonstrated that when we come together, we can defeat any threat.”
And among the nation’s “greatest strategic assets” are Alaska’s location, its people – including the soldiers and airmen she was addressing in her speech – and its natural resources, she said.
Left unsaid were any comments about the Biden administration’s actions last week to cancel remaining leases in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, all held by the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority rather than any oil company, and to enhance environmental protections in the National Petroleum Reserve in Alaska, known as the Naval Petroleum Reserve No. 4 until 1976. The Biden administration months earlier approved an important oil development in the western North Slope petroleum reserve, ConocoPhillips’ huge Willow prospect.
Gov. Mike Dunleavy, who also spoke at the event, emphasized Alaska’s strategic importance as well.
JBER service members regularly intercept Russian fighter jets, Alaska is within reach of North Korean missiles and Chinese warships sail in waters off Alaska’s coast, he noted. And he reminded the audience that Alaska was invaded by Japan during World War II. Kiska and Attu in the Aleutians were occupied from 1942 to 1943.
It is a reminder to always be prepared, he said. “And I urge the president and Congress to continue to recognize the strategic significance that Alaska plays in our national security,” he said.
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