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9/11 intensified U.S. dedication to peace

WASHINGTON — I had to escape the TV images last Thursday, the second anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks.

Everything in Washington seemed to stop that day as people remembered. So I had the black-and-white TV in my office tuned to cable news as it replayed the same raw footage it showed two years earlier: planes slamming into buildings, fire, bodies, people jumping from towers, the Pentagon exploding, the trade center collapsing.

It brought back too many memories. So I took a head-clearing walk to the National Mall, a couple of blocks from my office. As I saw the Washington Monument sparkling in the sun, I felt a desire to go to its top — something I had not done in years.

One can see things clearly up there — including how much America has changed in the past two years, and how some important things that were threatened still survive.

I was happy to look east and still see the U.S. Capitol's white dome gleaming. I was in it the day of the attacks. After the World Trade Center was hit, I had walked next door to a House office building looking for Utah Olympics officials, who ironically were in town lobbying for more anti-terrorism money.

While there, former Rep. Jim Hansen, R-Utah, and I watched out his window as people fled the Capitol. Police had told them a plane was coming, and they should run as fast and far as they could. They did.

But no plane hit the Capitol that day, nor the White House — clearly visible to my north from the Washington Monument. The president's house was similarly evacuated that day.

A plane that may have originally targeted those buildings ended up instead directly to my south, at the Pentagon. It could have killed me that day, but it killed others — a haunting thought. And another plane, which crashed in Pennsylvania, was also thought to have targeted the Capitol — but a passenger revolt led to its crash, maybe also saving me through the sacrifice of others.

I'll never forget seeing the Pentagon two years ago when I left the House office building. It billowed charcoal-black smoke, marring a perfectly blue sky. It stopped me in my tracks. Explosions there were loud enough even miles away on Capitol Hill, that people around there hit the ground for cover.

Our safe world was shattered.

On Thursday, the Pentagon looked peaceful in the distance. Its damage was long ago repaired, as is much of the 9/11 damage done to the nation as a whole. But the view from the monument shows we still have scars.

The small hill around the Washington Monument itself, for example, is now surrounded by a tall, temporary wall. A ranger told me it was put up as the National Park Service is about to excavate sort of a moat maze around it. She said the landscape from afar will still look flat and pretty, but the new trap should stop terrorists from driving to the monument.

From atop the monument, one also can see that Washington has become a city of bomb barricades. Every federal building is surrounded by concrete barriers — disguised as flower planters — to keep terrorists' cars and bombs at a distance.

Security is still tight everywhere. Even going up the Washington Monument requires passing a metal detector and having bags X-rayed. Every museum and federal building requires the same. Even parking at federal lots requires officers to use mirrors to check under each car for bombs, and in every trunk.

As I awaited the elevator at the top of the monument, I saw a quote from George Washington himself. It long ago described Americans' dreams — which leads evil men to hate us but makes us the hope of those who seek freedom and help.

Washington said in 1785, "My first wish . . . is to see the whole world in peace, and the Inhabitants of it as one band of brothers, striving who should contribute the most to the happiness of mankind."

I believe America is striving the most of any nation to contribute to the happiness of mankind. We were attacked because of it. We've bound up our wounds, and have moved forward — a bit more wary. We have not achieved Washington's "first wish," but are working on it; 9/11 did not deter that, but intensified it.


Deseret Morning News Washington correspondent Lee Davidson can be reached by e-mail at lee@desnews.com