George W. Bush Primary Source

Primary Source

U.S. President George W. Bush raises a U.S. flag while standing on a burnt fire engine during a tour of the World Trade Center ruins, September 14, 2001. Photograph reproduced by permission of AP/Wide World Photos. U.S. President George W. Bush raises a U.S. flag while standing on a burnt fire engine during a tour of the World Trade Center ruins, September 14, 2001. Published by Gale Cengage AP/Wide World Photos
Protesters in Peshawar, Pakistan, burn an effigy of U.S. President George W. Bush on September 20, 2001. Photograph reproduced by permission of AP/Wide World Photos. Protesters in Peshawar, Pakistan, burn an effigy of U.S. President George W. Bush on September 20, 2001. Published by Gale Cengage AP/Wide World Photos

Address to a Joint Session of Congress

Delivered on September 20, 2001

"Tonight, we are a country awakened to danger and called to defend freedom. Our grief has turned to anger and anger to resolution. Whether we bring our enemies to justice or bring justice to our enemies, justice will be done."

Nine days after terrorists attacked the World Trade Center in New York City and the Pentagon near Washington, D.C., on September 11, 2001, President George W. Bush (1946–) declared a war on terrorism. Appearing before a joint session of Congress, the president vowed revenge on the organizers of the deadliest terrorist attacks in American history.

It was without a doubt one of the most important speeches the president would ever make, coming as his first fully considered response to the four simultaneous hijackings just over a week earlier. Just as September 11, 2001, reminded Americans of the surprise Japanese military attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on December 7, 1941, so President Bush's speech invited comparisons to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt's declaration of war on Japan and his famous description of the "day that will live in infamy."

In the case of President Bush, though, there was no obvious national enemy against which to declare war. Instead, he declared war on terrorism—which could take in an enormous range of enemies with nothing in common except a set of tactics.

Things to remember while reading Address to a Joint Session of Congress:

  • President Bush had many different audiences for his speech. He addressed the American people, who wanted to hear how their leader would respond to the attack; foreign governments, whom President Bush wanted to recruit to help fight the war on terrorism; Muslims (followers of the religion Islam) worldwide, who heard President Bush distinguish between Osama bin Laden's views and other forms of Islam (bin Laden [c. 1957–] and his terrorist network, Al Qaeda, were held responsible for the attacks); and members of Congress, whom the Bush administration soon would ask to pass laws and authorize spending money to respond to the attacks.
  • In some respects, President Bush's speech was like a stew—a bit of something for everyone. For example, at one point the president told Americans the hijackers on September 11 were attacking the idea of a democratic government. In the very next paragraph, he mentioned they also were going after governments in the Muslim world such as Saudi Arabia, a monarchy (kingdom) which has no hint of democratic government but is a U.S. ally in the Middle East.

Address to a Joint Session of Congress, September 20, 2001

Mr. Speaker, Mr. President Pro Tempore, Members of Congress, and fellow Americans:

In the normal course of events, Presidents come to this Chamber to report on the state of the Union. Tonight, no such report is needed. It has already been delivered by the American people.

We have seen it in the courage of passengers, who rushed terrorists to save others on the ground, passengers like an exceptional man named Todd Beamer. And would you please help me to welcome his wife, Lisa Beamer, here tonight.

We have seen the State of our Union in the endurance of rescuers, working past exhaustion. We have seen the unfurling of flags, the lighting of candles, the giving of blood, the saying of prayers in English, Hebrew, and Arabic. We have seen the decency of a loving and giving people who have made the grief of strangers their own.

My fellow citizens, for the last 9 days, the entire world has seen for itself the state of our Union, and it is strong.

Tonight we are a country awakened to danger and called to defend freedom. Our grief has turned to anger and anger to resolution. Whether we bring our enemies to justice or bring justice to our enemies, justice will be done.

I thank the Congress for its leadership at such an important time. All of America was touched, on the evening of the tragedy, to see Republicans and Democrats joined together on the steps of this Capitol, singing "God Bless America." And you did more than sing, you acted, by delivering 40 billion dollars to rebuild our communities and meet the needs of our military.

Speaker Hastert, Minority Leader Gephardt, Majority Leader Daschle, and Senator Lott, I thank you for your friendship, for your leadership, and for your service to our country.

And on behalf of the American people, I thank the world for its outpouring of support. America will never forget the sounds of our national anthem playing at Buckingham Palace, on the streets of Paris, and at Berlin's Brandenburg Gate. We will not forget South Korean children gathering to pray outside our Embassy in Seoul, or the prayers of sympathy offered at a mosque in Cairo. We will not forget moments of silence and days of mourning in Australia and Africa and Latin America.

Nor will we forget the citizens of 80 other nations who died with our own: dozens of Pakistanis; more than 130 Israelis; more than 250 citizens of India; men and women from El Salvador, Iran, Mexico, and Japan; and hundreds of British citizens. America has no truer friend than Great Britain. Once again, we are joined together in a great cause—so honored the British Prime Minister [Tony Blair] has crossed an ocean to show his unity with America. Thank you for coming, friend.

On September 11th, enemies of freedom committed an act of war against our country. Americans have known wars, but for the past 136 years, they have been wars on foreign soil, except for one Sunday in 1941. Americans have known the casualties of war, but not at the center of a great city on a peaceful morning. Americans have known surprise attacks but never before on thousands of civilians. All of this was brought upon us in a single day, and night fell on a different world, a world where freedom itself is under attack.

Americans have many questions tonight. Americans are asking, who attacked our country? The evidence we have gathered all points to a collection of loosely affiliated terrorist organizations known as Al Qaida. They are some of the murderers indicted for bombing American Embassies in Tanzania and Kenya, and responsible for bombing the USS Cole. Al Qaida is to terror what the Mafia is to crime. But its goal is not making money. Its goal is remaking the world and imposing its radical beliefs on people everywhere.

The terrorists practice a fringe form of Islamic extremism that has been rejected by Muslim scholars and the vast majority of Muslim clerics, a fringe movement that perverts the peaceful teachings of Islam. The terrorists' directive commands them to kill Christians and Jews, to kill all Americans, and make no distinctions among military and civilians, including women and children.

This group and its leader, a person named Osama bin Laden, are linked to many other organizations in different countries, including the Egyptian Islamic Jihad and the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan. There are thousands of these terrorists in more than 60 countries. They are recruited from their own nations and neighborhoods and brought to camps in places like Afghanistan, where they are trained in the tactics of terror. They are sent back to their homes or sent to hide in countries around the world to plot evil and destruction.

The leadership of Al Qaida has great influence in Afghanistan and supports the Taliban regime in controlling most of that country. In Afghanistan, we see Al Qaida's vision for the world. Afghanistan's people have been brutalized. Many are starving, and many have fled. Women are not allowed to attend school. You can be jailed for owning a television. Religion can be practiced only as their leaders dictate. A man can be jailed in Afghanistan if his beard is not long enough.

The United States respects the people of Afghanistan—after all, we are currently its largest source of humanitarian aid —but we condemn the Taliban regime. It is not only repressing

From Times Square in New York City Americans watch President Bush address a joint session of Congress. Bush summoned all nations to wage war on terrorism and vowed that From Times Square in New York City Americans watch President Bush address a joint session of Congress. Bush summoned all nations to wage war on terrorism and vowed that "justice will be done" against those who killed thousands on September 11. Published by Gale Cengage AP/Wide World Photos
its own people; it is threatening people everywhere by sponsoring and sheltering and supplying terrorists. By aiding and abetting murder, the Taliban regime is committing murder.

And tonight, the United States of America makes the following demands on the Taliban: Deliver to United States authorities all the leaders of Al Qaida who hide in your land. Release all foreign nationals, including American citizens, you have unjustly imprisoned. Protect foreign journalists, diplomats, and aid workers in your country. Close immediately and permanently every terrorist training camp in Afghanistan, and hand over every terrorist and every person in their support structure to appropriate authorities. Give the United States full access to terrorist training camps, so we can make sure they are no longer operating. These demands are not open to negotiation or discussion. The Taliban must act and act immediately. They will hand over the terrorists, or they will share in their fate.

I also want to speak tonight directly to Muslims throughout the world. We respect your faith. It's practiced freely by many millions of Americans and by millions more in countries that America counts as friends. Its teachings are good and peaceful, and those who commit evil in the name of Allah blaspheme the name of Allah. The terrorists are traitors to their own faith, trying, in effect, to hijack Islam itself. The enemy of America is not our many Muslim friends; it is not our many Arab friends. Our enemy is a radical network of terrorists and every government that supports them.

Our war on terror begins with Al Qaida, but it does not end there. It will not end until every terrorist group of global reach has been found, stopped, and defeated.

Americans are asking, why do they hate us? They hate what we see right here in this Chamber, a democratically elected government. Their leaders are self-appointed. They hate our freedoms—our freedom

of religion, our freedom of speech, our freedom to vote and assemble and disagree with each other.

They want to overthrow existing governments in many Muslim countries, such as Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Jordan. They want to drive Israel out of the Middle East. They want to drive Christians and Jews out of vast regions of Asia and Africa.

These terrorists kill not merely to end lives but to disrupt and end a way of life. With every atrocity, they hope that America grows fearful, retreating from the world and forsaking our friends. They stand against us, because we stand in their way.

We are not deceived by their pretenses to piety. We have seen their kind before. They are the heirs of all the murderous ideologies of the twentieth century. By sacrificing human life to serve their radical visions, by abandoning every value except the will to power, they follow in the path of fascism and Nazism and totalitarianism. And they will follow that path all the way, to where it ends, in history's unmarked grave of discarded lies.

Americans are asking, how will we fight and win this war? We will direct every resource at our command, every means of diplomacy, every tool of intelligence, every instrument of law enforcement, every financial influence, and every necessary weapon of war, to the disruption and to the defeat of the global terror network.

This war will not be like the war against Iraq a decade ago, with a decisive liberation of territory and a swift conclusion. It will not look like the air war above Kosovo two years ago, where no ground troops were used and not a single American was lost in combat.

Our response involves far more than instant retaliation and isolated strikes. Americans should not expect one battle but a lengthy campaign, unlike any other we have ever seen. It may include dramatic strikes, visible on TV, and covert operations, secret even in success. We will starve terrorists of funding, turn them one against another, drive them from place to place, until there is no refuge or no rest. And we will pursue nations that provide aid or safe haven to terrorism. Every nation, in every region, now has a decision to make. Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists. From this day forward, any nation that continues to harbor or support terrorism will be regarded by the United States as a hostile regime.

Our Nation has been put on notice: We are not immune from attack. We will take defensive measures against terrorism to protect Americans. Today dozens of Federal departments and agencies, as well as State and local governments, have responsibilities affecting homeland security. These efforts must be coordinated at the highest level.

So tonight I announce the creation of a Cabinet-level position reporting directly to me, the Office of Homeland Security. And tonight I also announce a distinguished American to lead this effort to strengthen American security, a military veteran, an effective Governor, a true patriot, a trusted friend, Pennsylvania's Tom Ridge. He will

lead, oversee, and coordinate a comprehensive national strategy to safeguard our country against terrorism and respond to any attacks that may come.

These measures are essential. But the only way to defeat terrorism as a threat to our way of life is to stop it, eliminate it, and destroy it where it grows. Many will be involved in this effort, from FBI agents to intelligence operatives to the reservists we have called to active duty. All deserve our thanks, and all have our prayers. And tonight, a few miles from the damaged Pentagon, I have a message for our military: Be ready. I've called the Armed Forces to alert, and there is a reason. The hour is coming when America will act, and you will make us proud.

This is not, however, just America's fight, and what is at stake is not just America's freedom. This is the world's fight. This is civilization's fight. This is the fight of all who believe in progress and pluralism, tolerance and freedom.

We ask every nation to join us. We will ask, and we will need, the help of police forces, intelligence services, and banking systems around the world. The United States is grateful that many nations and many international organizations have already responded, with sympathy and with support, nations from Latin America, to Asia, to Africa, to Europe, to the Islamic world. Perhaps the NATO Charter reflects best the attitude of the world: An attack on one is an attack on all.

The civilized world is rallying to America's side. They understand that if this terror goes unpunished, their own cities, their own citizens may be next. Terror, unanswered, can not only bring down buildings, it can threaten the stability of legitimate governments. And you know what? We're not going to allow it.

Americans are asking, what is expected of us? I ask you to live your lives and hug your children. I know many citizens have fears tonight, and I ask you to be calm and resolute, even in the face of a continuing threat.

President Bush addressed a joint session of the U.S. Congress nine days after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States. The president declared war on terrorism worldwide and vowed revenge for the surprise attacks. Photograph reproduc President Bush addressed a joint session of the U.S. Congress nine days after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States. The president declared war on terrorism worldwide and vowed revenge for the surprise attacks. Published by Gale Cengage AP/Wide World Photos
I ask you to uphold the values of America and remember why so many have come here. We are in a fight for our principles, and our first responsibility is to live by them. No one should be singled out for unfair treatment or unkind words because of their ethnic background or religious faith.

I ask you to continue to support the victims of this tragedy with your contributions. Those who want to give can go to a central source of information,, to find the names of groups providing direct help in New York, Pennsylvania, and Virginia.

The thousands of FBI agents who are now at work in this investigation may need your cooperation, and I ask you to give it.

I ask for your patience with the delays and inconveniences that may accompany tighter security and for your patience in what will be a long struggle.

I ask your continued participation and confidence in the American economy. Terrorists attacked a symbol of American prosperity. They did not touch its source. America is successful because of the hard work and creativity and enterprise of our people. These were the true strengths of our economy before September 11th, and they are our strengths today.

And finally, please continue praying for the victims of terror and their families, for those in uniform, and for our great country. Prayer has comforted us in sorrow and will help strengthen us for the journey ahead.

Tonight I thank my fellow Americans for what you have already done and for what you will do. And ladies and gentlemen of the Congress, I thank you, their representatives, for what you have already done and for what we will do together.

Tonight we face new and sudden national challenges. We will come together to improve air safety, to dramatically expand the number of air marshals on domestic flights, and take new measures to prevent hijacking. We will come together to promote stability and keep our airlines flying, with direct assistance during this emergency.

We will come together to give law enforcement the additional tools it needs to track down terror here at home. We will come together to strengthen our intelligence capabilities, to know the plans of terrorists before they act and find them before they strike. We will come together to take active steps that strengthen America's economy and put our people back to work.

Tonight we welcome two leaders who embody the extraordinary spirit of all New Yorkers, Governor George Pataki and Mayor Rudolph Giuliani. As a symbol of America's resolve, my administration will work with Congress and these two leaders to show the world that we will rebuild New York City.

After all that has just passed, all the lives taken and all the possibilities and hopes that died with them, it is natural to wonder if America's future is one of fear. Some speak of an age of terror. I know there are struggles ahead and dangers to face. But this country will define our times, not be defined by them. As long as the United States of America is determined and strong, this will not be an age of terror; this will be an age of liberty, here and across the world.

Great harm has been done to us. We have suffered great loss. And in our grief and anger, we have found our mission and our moment. Freedom and fear are at war. The advance of human freedom, the great achievement of our time and the great hope of every time, now depends on us. Our nation—this generation—will lift a dark threat of violence from our people and our future. We will rally the world to this cause by our efforts, by our courage. We will not tire; we will not falter; and we will not fail.

It is my hope that in the months and years ahead, life will return almost to normal. We'll go back to our lives and routines, and that is good. Even grief recedes with time and grace. But our resolve must not pass. Each of us will remember what happened that day and to whom it happened. We'll remember the moment the news came, where we were, and what we were doing. Some will remember an image of a fire or a story of rescue. Some will carry memories of a face and a voice gone forever.

And I will carry this: It is the police shield of a man named George Howard, who died at the World Trade Center trying to save others. It was given to me by his mom, Arlene, as a proud memorial to her son. It is my reminder of lives that ended and a task that does not end. I will not forget this wound to our country and those who inflicted it. I will not yield; I will not rest; I will not relent in waging this struggle for freedom and security for the American people.

The course of this conflict is not known, yet its outcome is certain. Freedom and fear, justice and cruelty have always been at war, and we know that God is not neutral between them.

Fellow citizens, we'll meet violence with patient justice, assured of the rightness of our cause and confident of the victories to come. In all that lies before us, may God grant us wisdom, and may He watch over the United States of America.

Thank you.

What happened next …

The Taliban authorities in Afghanistan refused to hand over Osama bin Laden to the United States. In early October, the American military led a coordinated campaign of air strikes and ground attacks carried out by Afghans friendly towards the United States. These efforts resulted in the overthrow and expulsion of the Taliban government that had protected bin Laden. But bin Laden himself evaded capture.

Most of America's European allies made good on their early promises of assistance. Some allies sent soldiers to Afghanistan. Virtually all U.S. allies voiced strong support for the American retaliation for the attacks of September 11.

In the United States, public approval of President Bush soared to over 80 percent, one of the highest levels ever recorded for any president, and about twice Bush's approval rating before September 11. Most Americans supported the president's response to the attacks.

Did you know …

  • Presidents seldom write their own speeches. They hire professional speechwriters to draft each address; political advisers then review the speech to make sure the words do not offend anyone. They also make sure the speech specifically mentions people the president wants to please. But the president always has the last word on what he will say.

For More Information

Ahmad, Aijaz. "A Task That Never Ends." Canadian Dimension, November–December, 2001, p. 33.

Bruni, Frank. Ambling into History: The Unlikely Odyssey of George W. Bush. New York: HarperCollins, 2002.

Bush, George W. "Address to a Joint Session of Congress," September 20, 2001. Available at (accessed October 14, 2002).

Edwards, Lee. "A Red, White, and Blue Nation." World and I, November 2001, p. 66.

Gilbert, Allison, Phil Hirschkorn, and others, editors. Covering Catastrophe: Broadcast Journalists Report September 11. Chicago, IL: Bonus Books, 2002

Halliday, Fred. Two Hours That Shook the World: September 11, 2001: Causes and Consequences. London: Saqi, 2002.

Harris, Bill. The World Trade Center: A Tribute. Philadelphia, PA: Courage Books, 2001.

Hirsh, Michael and Michael Isikoff. "What Went Wrong: The Inside Story of the Missed Signals and Intelligence Failures That Raise a Chilling Question: Did September 11 Have to Happen?" Newsweek, May 27, 2002, p. 28.

Talbott, Strobe, and Nayan Chanda, editors. The Age of Terror: America and the World after September 11. New York: Basic Books/Yale Center for the Study of Globalization, 2001.