How does the last phrase of the Gettysburg Address compare to what happened on the September 11 speech by Governor Pataki?

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pohnpei397 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Since I am not completely sure what this question means, I will say a little about how I interpret it before answering.  First, we should note that Governor Pataki, instead of giving a speech of his own, read the Gettysburg Address on the first anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks.  I assume this is the speech of Pataki’s that you are referring to.  Second, I am not sure what constitutes the “last phrase” of the Gettysburg Address so I will discuss the last full sentence of that speech.  I will discuss why and to what extent that last sentence was and is an appropriate thing to recite when commemorating the victims of the 9/11 attacks.

On the one hand, we could say that the Gettysburg Address is not really appropriate to this occasion.  Lincoln’s speech was delivered to eulogize people who died fighting for the cause of the Union.  By contrast, the 9/11 victims were not fighting for anything.  They were victims of an attack, not soldiers who knowingly faced death for a cause.  In that sense, the words of the Gettysburg Address do not make sense as a commemoration of the 9/11 victims.

However, we can also say that the Gettysburg Address is appropriate as a 9/11 speech because of its message to those of us who are still living.  If we think of it not as a memorial to the dead but as an exhortation to the living, it makes sense.  In 1863, Lincoln said that his contemporaries needed to be “dedicated to the great task remaining before us,” which was to ensure

that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom -- and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

We could argue that we in America today are faced with this same duty.  We can say that the 9/11 attacks should have inspired us to try to rededicate ourselves to creating an America that is truly free and which protects everyone’s rights.  There are those who say that Al Qaeda hates us because of our dedication to freedom.  If that is the case, then the appropriate response to an Al Qaeda attack is to redouble our commitment to freedom.

We can also say that our goal after the 9/11 attacks is to spread democracy across the world.  Lincoln worried that democracy would disappear from the face of the Earth.  We are trying to prevent that from happening by spreading it to other countries, not just by maintaining it here in our own country.  Many Americans believe that spreading democracy will make the US and the world safer because democratic governments and peoples are less likely to attack one another than those who are not democratic.  If this is the case, spreading democracy would be a fitting way to react to 9/11.

We can argue, then, that Governor Pataki’s use of Lincoln’s words is appropriate.  We can say that we have a duty to the victims of 9/11 (and to all of America) to fight back against the terrorists by increasing our commitment to freedom and to the spread of democracy.