It Was My Duty

Author: Gary Hart

Decades more must pass before the human heart and mind can grasp the full meaning of September 11, 2001. Those of us close enough to have issued warnings that were ignored have our own memories and burdens.
I am clear on one thing, however. Save for our Civil War, there is no other event in American history where the meaning of duty was revealed more vividly. Responding to the increasingly urgent emergency calls, hundreds of New York City firemen and policemen rushed to the scene. Three hundred and forty three firemen and 60 policemen—at least 418 first responders–did not come out alive.
Why did they do it? What causes men and women to act bravely and without concern for personal safety? This is one of the deepest mysteries of the human condition. Those who escaped this man-made holocaust said, when asked why they did it, it was my job. It was my duty.
Duty in this case goes well beyond fulfilling a contract or doing what one is paid to do. It involves willingness to sacrifice one’s life for others. Greater love hath no man than that he lay down his life for another.
A woman who had always been put off by the excessive display of the American flag stood on Seventh Avenue in Midtown that day. As a flatbed truck loaded with hard-hat construction workers raced southward with flags flying, she said she wept.
Duty in the interest of saving lives is near the essence of what makes us human and what adds a spiritual dimension to our character. Most of us wonder if, when faced with personal danger to help another, we would have the courage to act. There is not one report of a fireman or policeman who suddenly found something else to do when the alarms went off and calls to action went out. There were fellow Americans, fellow human beings, in those buildings. This is my job. This is my duty.
Who can ever forget the hollow-eyed shock on the grim and grimy faces of the surviving public safety workers coming out of those collapsing buildings. I shared only one thing with them: the sense that I did not do enough. And it haunts me to my grave that I should have pounded on the doors of editorial writers and presidents demanding that they take the warnings of terrorist attacks seriously.
I cannot say, then, that I did my duty. Unlike those courageous firemen and policemen, I should have done more.
Duty is near the core of the values that matter. To do one’s duty is to achieve integrity and integrity is near the center of nobility.
It is my hope that Americans alive on September 11, 2001, will never forget the firemen and the policemen, both those who gave their lives and those who survived. They are lessons in duty and integrity and nobility. They are symbols of that to which we all may aspire.
“Some things” such as duty, “are universal, catholic, and undying. They do not age or pass out of fashion, for they symbolize eternal things. They are the guardians of the freedom of the human spirit, the proof of what our mortal frailty can achieve.” (Montrose, John Buchan)

14 Responses to “It Was My Duty”

  1. Chris R. Says:

    Senator Hart,

    In all seriousness, if the Hart-Rudman Commission report had been ignored by the Bush administration, and you had attempted to use your influence with Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice to get them to take the issue more seriously, how could you have gotten your foot in the door at the White House? If Jimmy Carter had walked you to the door? I am certain that the Bush family and the Bush White House had little time for either of you.

    With regard to U.S. newspaper editors, I don’t remember reading any editorials from you on anything after your last presidential campaign ended. You had disappeared from the news in much of the U.S. In my opinion the only way you could have gotten media coverage was by appealing to their need for sensationalism. That would have required having a certain very classy lady from your past hold a joint news conference with you. Even then, the questions you would have received would have been about other personal matters, and the urgency of your message would have been overshadowed, or ignored in a media feeding frenzy.

    For whatever solace it gives you, remember that a prophet is not without honor, save in his own land, and we do indeed get the kind of leaders that we deserve.

  2. Paul G. Says:

    Will ‘We The People’ jump to save our republic?

    IMAGINE staring 70 stories down to choose jumping to death or burning to death as our leaders did nothing! 10 years of ensuing defense-security related costs have exploded to a $1trillion a year while our values as a republic that cares about people have imploded. Why? What will we do?


    After President Clinton’s Hart-Rudman commission spent 2 years traveling the Middle East hearing anger about encroachment on sacred lands, they warned President Bush of certain attacks on US cities.


    Clinton and Bush never publicly uttered “Hart-Rudman.”


    Paul Revere warned the people, “The British are Coming!”
    JFK warned the people, “The Russians are Coming!”
    Gary Hart warned the White House, “The Terrorists are Coming!”

    Sept. 6, 2001, Hart flew to the White House and met with Condolezza Rice and told her he believed the attacks are imminent as headlined by Canada’s Montreal Gazette the previous day. She told him the president had delegated his primary constitutional responsibility to the VP.

    Thousands who paid their taxes for the warning they never read or heard died horrible deaths as many had to tearfully make their only choice: jump or burn.

    Those leaders falsely warned us, “The Iraqis are Coming!”


    Recently, our leaders even cited the deficit as reason to deny cancer coverage to thousands of first responders who are dying from their efforts to save us on 9/11.


    History is replete with warnings of this reality: either we jump to save our republic or we burn as all empires must.

  3. Gary Hart Says:

    To Chris R., I did meet with National Security Advisor Rice on September 6th, 2011, in the White House and urged the administration to set their hair on fire regarding homeland security. Leaving me aside, our Commission included seven senior Republicans, including Newt Gingrich and former Secretary of Defense James Schlesinger. So, the ignor-ance toward our Commission wasn’t just resestance to me. And I did have quite a few opinion pieces in various publications after returning to private life.
    The relevant matter is that the national press core simply did not take our Commission and its recommendations seriously. I do not believe that was based on animosity to me personally.

  4. Tom Gee Says:

    Senator, it appears not to be in our national DNA to heed warnings and learn from the past. I remember with great pride the opportunity I had to meet with President Truman in his Independence library during his later years. He exhorted me, as if speaking to my entire generation, to study history and learn the lessons of the past. He cited India and Pakistan, in particular, and questioned his own support of partitioning. I have never forgotten that, and I couldn’t agree more with your summation here, except that I do think you did your level best, and I am grateful for you effort and wisdom, as always.

  5. Nancy Lee Says:

    This is a beautifully written tribute to our first responders to this tragic, horrific attack. Why some people have to use it as a way to question ones intentions is heartbreaking. This is not the time for more divisive comments. This is a time to stand united as Americans and go forward in the spirit of oneness.

  6. Chris R. Says:

    Senator Hart,

    The point that I am making is that Harry Truman had that sign on his desk, which read, “The buck stops here!” President Bush is reported to have told the CIA briefer giving him the August 6 PDB entitled “Bin Ladin Determined to Strike in US,” All right. You’ve covered your ass, now.” Considering that, how can you expect that anything that you might have said would have been considered any more seriously, especially considering your relationship with the Bush family? (You did give President G. H. W. Bush a rather tough time during his confirmation as CIA director, and rightfully so!) Regrettably to many of us, you are not a member of the former presidents club and could not get a meeting with the President any time you wanted.

    Would President Carter have gotten any further than you did?

    Somehow, I don’t think he would have been any more successful, and ultimately, the buck needs to stop with President Bush. I realize some don’t want to point fingers, but it happened on his watch. If it had been a Democratic president in office on 9-11, we would never hear the end of it. Ultimately, the responsibility for that day rests with President G. W. Bush with no excuses or blame shifting to anyone else. The buck stops with him.

    Ron Suskind, George W. Bush and the Aug. 6, 2001, PDB

  7. Jim Engelking Says:

    Thank you for focusing on those who bravely did their duty in trsponse to an emergency they did not understand. That is the very best of courage and honor. I will remember always the Jesuit priest/chaplain who died ministering to his flock, his brothers and sisters.

    I am so proud of you for speaking out now, Gary. I have wondered for 10 years what you have been thinking. I know that I am still ashamed for paying so little attention to what you and Warren Rudman produced, merely skimming your article which the Denver Post published before the disasters. I should have been hammering at the decision makers on out federal government, but my focus was elsewhere.

    You must never relent, however, because you have gifts which enable you to discern and speak, and that is what you must do to the end. Be courageous always. Jim

  8. Mike N Says:


    Your praise of NY’s First Responders is thoughtfully and eloquently written. Many first responders who survived that horrific day were interviewed in the coming weeks and months, and every one was uncomfortable with being called a hero, or even taking credit for their incredible bravery – because, as you said, they were just doing their duty. To the rest of us, it is precisely their unflinching commitment to duty that makes them heroes.

    And it seems to me that you, Sir, did your job and your duty admirably. The Hart-Rudman Commission gathered critical intelligence and you delivered the time-sensative report to the National Security Advisor. Sadly, neither the authority to act on that intelligence nor the ability to write the headlines were in your hands. The regret for those mistakes belongs to others… Besides, in the words of one wise 9/11 survivor, “‘Why?’ is the wrong question to ask. The question is ‘What do I do now?’.”

  9. P Edward Murray Says:


    You did your duty and those of us who stood by you through thick and thin know that. Someday, years from now, historians will dig through all of the “rubble” of partisanship and find your Hart-Rudman Commission and ask why were your warnings not heeded?

    I sincerely hope that you will come to terms with this with the knowlege that it is not your fault.

    As to George W Bush that is another matter entirely.

    Best wishes!

  10. P. Edward Murray Says:

    Gary, I just posted your newest blog on Huffington ” A Day that will live in infamy” to my facebook page so that it would be seen by the public and also “twittered” it!

  11. Tom Gee Says:

    As was noted by another person on another blog, the first responders whom you honor here were all GOVERNMENT employees and public service UNION members.

  12. Paul G. Says:

    “As someone dutifully wrote elsewhere recently …

    “We The People are dedicated to the restoratio­n of our republic and its establishe­d principles of rights and duties, beginning with the Democratic Party nomination and general election of President Gary Hart, should he decide to accept such an awesome burden on our behalf.”

    Why not? Right now we see “power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely­,” as our leaders speak eloquently but do the opposite as others do the opposite even of their own ideas. Common denominato­r? Money & Time: 80% of service time wallowing for big money to ‘win’ more money?

    But now, with pre-9/11 Commission member and presidenti­al candidate, Newt Gingrich, Senator Hart may credibly fire up debates on why we must end our wars and reinvest savings to honestly protect our people. Enlightene­d education requires our young citizens to understand the dangerousl­y imploding trajectory of our wealth gap at home and our exploding credibilit­y gap abroad, both now endangerin­g our overall security.

    Again, as someone else wrote elsewhere …

    “We The People are dedicated to the restoratio­n of our republic and its establishe­d principles of rights and duties, beginning with the Democratic Party nomination and general election of President Gary Hart, should he decide to accept such an awesome burden on our behalf.”

    When all is said and done – more is said than done – it is our duty too!”

  13. Paul G. Says:

    What Should Happen When Officials Join The Game?

    When players behave unfairly in sports, they get red-carded.
    When referees make officiating mistakes, they get demoted.
    What discipline should result if a referee puts on the opposing team’s shirt?

    Fans would likely abandon the sport unless immediate action was taken. Sadly, this is exactly what appears to be happening in recent presidential debates.

    Last night, immediately following the 10th. anniversary of 9/11, CNN partnered with the T-Party PAC and acted as moderator of last night’s Republican presidential debate among eight candidates. Shocking as that apparent conflict-of-interest may appear to rational observers, the “referee report” is stunning in its red-card omission.

    Both today’s New York Times and CNN’s 1-hour post-debate analysis ignored a major exchange between three candidates on “Why 9/11 occurred,” that has produced 2 major wars, massive loss of life, diminution of our liberties and continuing destruction of our economy and basic livelihoods. Even booing of such serious discussion by the audience was not only tolerated by the “referees,” it was wholly ignored by the referee of record.

    When officials join the game and don’t get red-carded, what should citizens do?

    [Ron Paul’s report card:

  14. Paul G. Says:

    US Constitution Preamble so simple even a 2-years’ old can do it!

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