September 10, 2021 – Grote Kerk, The Hague
I grew up in New Jersey, just across the Hudson from Manhattan—or as I, a Dutch-born American, secretly thought of it —“New Amsterdam.” As a child, my mother would regularly take me to the “City”, sharing her love for the vibrant diversity and palpable energy that invigorated every step we took.
It was like a monthly treat, a dip into the kaleidoscope of people, shops, and buildings that define the most famous city in the world.
And no buildings stood taller than those of the World Trade Center.
We’d walk for hours. And as we made our way through Lower Manhattan, it was hard to get lost. Because no matter where you looked, the towers were visible, orienting you, like a beacon. As I got older, I realized the city itself was a beacon too, this outsized, dynamic, giant beating heart of the U.S. pulsing with ideas and opportunities.
New York welcomed generations of immigrants in search of a better life. The Village was a sanctuary for the LGBT community. Journalists all over the world dreamed of writing for “the Times”. We had a Chinatown.
The United Nations. We even had our own Harlem. [Pause]
On a given block you could spot rabbis, Sikhs, priests, or imams. To so many, New York represented the best of us because it was ALL of us. [Pause]
That is why I think the events of that day, both in Manhattan and at the Pentagon, stay with us so vividly. They were attacks on symbols, they were attacks on many. And they struck at values that we all hold dear: Freedom. Pluralism. Security.
I was at our Embassy in Malaysia when the attacks took place, watching like so many from afar – riveted and struck with fear for my friends and colleagues in New York and D.C.
As the chaos unfolded and the horror of what was happening became clear, we knew the world had just changed irrevocably.
With our nation, with our values under attack, it was unclear where the world stood. But within days, within hours, we had our answer. Allies came to our side.
Presidents and prime ministers offered condolences. Markets froze, planes were grounded, and the world wept with us.
In New York, in Washington, in cities around the world, we were connected in our grief: Collective grief, forever bonded by the innocent lives that were lost that day. Lives from all over the world, loved ones from so many of the countries represented here today.
We grieved for fathers, mothers, sons and daughters, friends and family.
We grieved for the heroes: first responders, law enforcement, uniformed personnel, and everyday colleagues who showed uncommon bravery in a corridor or down a stairwell.
Shortly after the attacks, I returned to our headquarters in Washington to work with the EU — Wanting to work with our Allies as the world forged a new path. Despite our best efforts, we did not always get it right. Our responses were imperfect.
Even today, the legacy of those days is causing momentous ripple effects on the other side of the planet.
A generation forever changed and shaped by the events of that day.
But our response as a people, as a global community, was inspiring. We became more interconnected. We shared information. Opened our doors to new partnerships while we pursued justice.
We prioritized aid and recognized that poverty and inequity threaten the developing world and industrialized nations alike.
Instead of closing ourselves off, we coalesced. Issues that normally divided us, gave way to the values that unite us all.
Some will argue that the ultimate legacy of September 11th is fear, violence, tragedy.
But you, I, every one of us sitting in this great hall today are living breathing proof that the true legacy of September 11th is community.
Recognition of our humanity and shared values. A renewed resolve to pursue security, to champion pluralism, and defend freedom.
20 years later, the 2,977 souls lost on that day have not been forgotten. They have given us purpose.
The heroes of New York, the Pentagon, and on United Flight 93 redefined courage for an entire generation. Like the towers themselves, they serve as a beacon, to remind us of what matters.
Today we remember those we lost but we also give thanks for our friends. I am deeply touched that so many partners and contacts, representing all sectors of government, law enforcement, and civil society have taken the time to be here this morning.
We are fortunate to be joined by Rick Nieman and Max Westerman, two journalists who covered 9/11 as it happened. We will also hear a song from native New Yorker Michelle David. But first I want to turn the floor over to one of our most steadfast allies and good friends, Prime Minister Mark Rutte.