Since 9/11, We Have Won the Battle for Freedom

A man pauses outside the World Trade Center site on the 11th anniversary of the terrorist attacks.

Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images

As we mark the 11th anniversary of 9/11, I’ve experienced a vast array of emotions—from anger and fury, to quiet remembrance, and finally, to optimism. Let me explain the last one.

From my office a block or so away, I saw the second plane hit the South Tower. I was, like so many other New Yorkers, on the street when the second tower went down. We all felt the numbing realization of a world changed.

But 11 years later, I feel that we have won the larger battle. We have essentially dismantled al-Qaida, but it is broader than that.

When the United States was founded, the very idea of a nation premised on democratic principles of freedom and tolerance was viewed by the vast majority of the world as an experiment doomed to fail. Dictatorships, monarchies, and theocracies had for many centuries ruled the world. The notion of a democratic governing structure was viewed as simpleminded and impermanent.  Yet over the succeeding 200-plus years, the ideologies that preceded ours have faded and withered, and the ideologies that arose after our founding, notably communism, socialism, and fascism—have been discredited.

The most important battle has been won. People around the world now yearn for the freedom and democratic rights that we first established. Yes, there are continuing assaults and challenges—primarily from the fundamentalism that continues to fuel fanaticism and terrorism—but it is impossible to look at a map of the world and not believe that the arc of history does in fact tilt in the direction of progress and freedom. So as we mark a day of mourning and somber reflection, let us also to recognize that despite the cowardly assault on our ideals that the terrorists launched 11 years ago, and the continuing battles around the globe that are needed to push back against those efforts, the cause of freedom and unabridged rights is winning, and will continue to do so.