Obama Answers the 9/11 Question

Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.

Where were you?

It’s a question millions of Americans have acknowledged each year since Sept. 11, 2001, recalling what they were doing the moment they learned about the hijacked planes. This afternoon, during a town hall with service members at Fort Meade, Maryland, the commander in chief shared his answer:

Michelle and I were just talking about this morning. Sasha, my youngest daughter, had just been born. She was four or five months old, and September 11th was Malia's first day of preschool—or kindergarten. So Michelle had gone with the girls to drop Malia off at school. They were tiny. I was at the time a state senator, so I was going to downtown Chicago to a hearing on an issue, and I remember driving on Lake Shore Drive in Chicago and hearing the reports of a plane crashing into the buildings.

Obama recalled the confusion surrounding the nature of what happened:

...at that time, no one was sure whether this was going to be an ongoing attack … people didn't know what to think, and I remember going to my law office and that's when we saw the images of the towers starting to come down.

And how he felt that night:

That evening I have memories of, you know, giving Sasha a bottle and rocking her to sleep while we were watching the aftermath of those attacks … it gave you a sense, for the first time in my lifetime, that our homeland could be vulnerable in that way. We hadn't seen an attack like that since Pearl Harbor.

Obama said that although he has “strong disagreements” with some decisions the Bush administration made after 9/11, he gives “great credit” to George W. Bush for standing in the rubble at Ground Zero days after the attack.