In an unprecedented departure from tradition, President Joe Biden has chosen not to observe the upcoming 9/11 anniversary at either the White House or any of the three attack sites. Instead, the President will be notably absent from the customary ceremonies and will travel to Alaska to mark the solemn occasion. This break from convention has sparked discussions and debates about the significance of this decision.
On the 22nd anniversary of the tragic 9/11 attacks, which occurred on Monday, September 11, President Biden will be found at a military base in Alaska. The White House Press Secretary, Karine Jean-Pierre, released a statement shedding light on this decision, revealing that Biden will participate in a memorial ceremony alongside members of the military and their families in Alaska. The statement disclosed that the President’s absence from the White House on September 11 is due to his return from a “climate change” meeting in Vietnam on September 10. After his diplomatic trip to Hanoi, President Biden will jet off to Alaska to commemorate the day.
During his stay in Vietnam, Biden is expected to engage with Vietnamese General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong and other leaders to discuss topics of technological innovation and climate change, in a concerted effort to strengthen the bilateral relationship between the two nations.
In a departure from this unusual choice, Vice President Kamala Harris is set to preside over a commemoration ceremony at the National September 11 Memorial and Museum in New York City, while First Lady Jill Biden will lay a wreath at the National 9/11 Pentagon Memorial in Arlington, Virginia.
This deviation from the norm by President Biden marks the first instance since the attacks that a Commander-in-Chief has opted out of participating in the commemorative ceremonies either at the White House or the attack sites. Historically, there have only been two occasions when a sitting President observed the anniversary at the White House instead of at an attack site. In 2015, former President Barack Obama led a moment of silence on the White House lawn before journeying to Maryland’s Fort Meade. Similarly, in 2005, former President George W. Bush participated in a ceremony on the White House grounds.
Traditionally, on every other anniversary of the September 11 attacks, Presidents have made a point to travel to at least one of the three attack sites—New York City, northern Virginia, and Shanksville, Pennsylvania—to pay their respects and honor the memory of the lives lost.
The date September 11 also holds significance as the deadline President Biden set in 2021 for the complete withdrawal of all remaining U.S. troops from Afghanistan. This ambitious goal, however, culminated in a botched withdrawal that resulted in catastrophe in August 2021, as a terrorist attack claimed the lives of 13 American service members who were safeguarding the Kabul airport during the chaotic evacuation effort led by the U.S. and its allies.
President Biden’s decision to commemorate the 9/11 anniversary in Alaska raises questions about the message he aims to convey through this unorthodox choice. While the President’s focus on climate change and technological innovation is clear, critics argue that his absence from the customary ceremonies might be interpreted as a departure from honoring the victims and responders who bravely faced the tragic events of that fateful day. This move sparks a broader conversation about the evolving nature of commemorations and how leaders choose to express their respect and condolences.
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