Bush Calls for Calm, Vigilance
President Bush said Thursday that the nation is waging “a war to save civilization itself,” as Americans enter an era of civic and government responsibility that will call for a renewed spirit of courage and resolve.
In nationally televised remarks that were part pep talk, part progress report, he called on Americans not to give in to panic or intimidation in the face of the anthrax attacks and the terrorist hijackings of Sept. 11, declaring:
“Our nation faces a threat to our freedoms, and the stakes could not be higher. We are the target of enemies who boast they want to kill, kill all Americans, kill all Jews and kill all Christians. We have seen that type of hate before, and the only possible response is to confront it and to defeat it.”
The president and others close to him are in the midst of an aggressive effort to reach multiple audiences: In addition to the speech Thursday night, Bush will find his widest international audience Saturday in a speech to the U.N. General Assembly on terrorism. Also on Thursday, First Lady Laura Bush put aside her reluctance to address large audiences, giving a speech in Washington that encouraged Americans to donate to charities and to perform volunteer work.
President Bush spoke to an audience of several thousand--consisting largely of firefighters, police officers, postal workers and military troops--that offered a collage of American uniforms. It was his first major address on the effect of the anthrax attacks, which began nearly six weeks ago in Florida and have killed four people, and since the high alerts warning of possible terrorist strikes.
Summoning the nation to deal with the threat of another attack and the need to move forward with their day-to-day lives, the president said:
“A terrorism alert is not a signal to stop your life. It is a call to be vigilant, to know that your government is on high alert and to add your eyes and ears to our efforts to find and stop those who want to do us harm.”
The president spoke at the Georgia World Congress Center after touring a focal point of the defense against anthrax: the 23-building campus of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta’s outskirts.
In his address, Bush announced the formation of a Corporation for National and Community Service, a “modern civil defense service” that would allow Americans to involve themselves in security efforts and provide neighborhood assistance when government services are stretched thin.
Bush also announced a task force to recommend how Americans can prepare at home and work for the consequences of terrorist attacks.
Speech ‘an Important Progress Report’
Earlier Thursday, Condoleezza Rice, Bush’s national security advisor, said the White House considered the speech “an important progress report” for which Bush wanted to travel beyond the capital to bring home a message of assurance to a nation on edge.
Bush, standing in front of an oversized array of photographs of rescue workers, spoke for 32 minutes and was interrupted by applause 35 times.
Bush has come under increasing pressure to explain where the foreign campaign is heading and to ease domestic fears. He faces not only a country gripped by anxiety but also a Congress peeved at a lack of progress in solving the anthrax cases and experts predicting that the war in Afghanistan could require many months to uproot Osama bin Laden and the Al Qaeda terrorist network.
“We wage a war to save civilization itself,” he said. “We did not seek it, but we will fight it and we will prevail.
“When the terrorists and their supporters are gone, the people of Afghanistan will say with the rest of the world, ‘Good riddance.’ ”
But asking for patience while placing the current campaign at just the start of a lengthy fight against terrorism, the president said:
“Afghanistan is only the beginning of our efforts in the world. No group or nation should mistake America’s intentions. Where terrorist groups of global reach exist, the United States and our friends and allies will seek it out and we will destroy it.”
As it fights the foreign war, the president said, the nation has entered a new era that demands of the government stepped up security at home--for instance, making air travel safer--and from its citizens, a refusal “to live in a state of panic or a state of denial.”
“There is a difference between being alert and being intimidated, and this great nation will never be intimidated,” the president said.
Americans, he said, “must be vigilant, inspect our mail, stay informed on public health matters. We will not give in to exaggerated fears or passing rumors. We will rely on good judgment and good old common sense.
“We have our marching orders,” he said, as he echoed a man on one of the doomed planes as passengers sought to fight the hijackers before they crashed in Pennsylvania: “My fellow Americans,” Bush said, “let’s roll.”
White House Hoped for More Network Coverage
The White House had hoped broadcast television networks would carry the speech live, but it did not make specific requests for the prime-time coverage.
White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer said he had called the networks’ Washington bureau chiefs earlier in the week to inform them of Bush’s plan to speak, telling them that a decision whether to cover it live was “a judgment that you all will have to make.”
Only ABC committed to broadcasting the speech. NBC and CBS would have had to preempt or delay top-rated programs. “It’s a speech by the president of the United States, and we felt it was important to bring it to the American people,” said an ABC News spokesman.
An NBC News spokeswoman said the White House didn’t ask for the time, so NBC felt MSNBC and CNBC cable coverage was appropriate. CNN and the Fox News Channel also carried it.
A CBS News spokeswoman said that, because there was no request and “based on what we know of the content, we felt it was appropriate to cover it in our newscasts,” including an updated “CBS Evening News” on the West Coast.
With Bush and much of Congress at odds over how to overhaul the airport security system, including Bush’s opposition to a measure that would make workers at the checkpoints federal employees, the president plans to disclose additional steps today to strengthen security without adding to the federal payroll, a White House official said.
Those steps are likely to include a plan to assign the National Guard to protect airport perimeters and parked aircraft at night.
In his upbeat remarks, Bush, who is often hesitant to reach for a lyrical tone, sought to remind the nation of its strengths in the wake of the coordinated attacks that stunned the world and took nearly 5,000 lives when four hijacked planes slammed into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and a Pennsylvania field.
“Our great national challenge is to hunt down the terrorists and strengthen our protections against future attacks; our great national opportunity is to preserve forever the good that has resulted,” he said.
Saluting the work of public officials and private citizens, the president said: “We are a different country than we were on September the 10th, sadder and less innocent, stronger and more united. And in the face of ongoing threats, determined and courageous.”
At the CDC, which he visited with Thomas J. Ridge, the director of his homeland security council, and Tommy G. Thompson, the secretary of Health and Human Services, Bush said that, “because of the good folks” who work at the research center, “we’ve saved a lot of lives in America.”
The president said he is still considering options for protecting the country against smallpox, a potential biological weapon, but is hesitant to order a massive vaccination program because the vaccine itself would likely kill some people.
But, he said, “one thing is for certain. We need to make sure vaccines are available if there were to ever be an outbreak.”
Times staff writers Edwin Chen in Washington and Elizabeth Jensen in New York contributed to this story.