George W. Bush: The 9/11 Interview

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How would Abraham Lincoln have recalled April 12, 1861, the day the Confederates attacked Fort Sumter, igniting the Civil War? Or, what would Franklin Roosevelt have said about his experience on December 7, 1941, after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor? As the tenth anniversary of the terrorist attacks on September 11 nears, the National Geographic Channel’s George W. Bush: The 9/11 Interview, offers the 43rd president’s personal reflections on what he aptly calls a “monumental day,” and the immediate days afterward. While Bush covered much of the same ground in his 2010 memoir, Decision Points, the interview provides a rare chance to hear a former president’s comprehensive oral history on his defining moment—and a turning point in American life.

On the morning of September 11, 2001, as he took a predawn jog around the golf course of the Colony Beach and Tennis Resort outside Sarasota, Florida, President Bush almost certainly would have been contented with going down in history as the “education president.” He had, after all, held out the prospect in the heated presidential campaign of 2000, touting the education “miracle” he had helped realize during his six-year tenure as governor of Texas. An appearance later that morning before a second grade class at Sarasota’s Emma A. Booker Elementary School was meant to align Bush with the issue of education and serve as a backdrop for his reform plans.

But it was not to be. When Bush left the school anxiously soon after learning that New York’s Twin Towers had each been struck by terrorists using commercial aircraft as guided missiles, he knew instinctively that he had instead become a “wartime president,” something he “never anticipated” and “never wanted.” Like that of almost all Americans, George W. Bush’s life had changed in an instant. So had his presidency.

Being able to hear the former president in his own words words is important for another reason, too. The raw emotions Bush felt that day are palpable in his telling a decade after the fact, and as we listen to him and see once again the images that are rolled up in the collective consciousness of nearly all of those older than their mid-teens, we will likely recall feeling those same emotions. Bush, we hear in the interview, felt like almost any American on 9/11: shocked, angry and overcome with feelings of helplessness, a fierce will for justice and a desire to hear the voices of those he loved.

We will just as easily be stirred by memories of the pride we felt in the immediate days after the attack. The interview winds down as Bush talks of his visit to lower Manhattan on September 14, which he described as “like walking into hell.” There, among the smoking ruins and heroic firefighters who stood ghostly gray from ash and numb with exhaustion, Bush began hitting his leadership stride. In his most memorable unscripted moment as president, he stepped up to the role of comforter-in-chief with bullhorn in hand, rallying the crowd—and the nation—on a metaphorical mound of rubble that had been a gleaming fire engine just three days before.

The interview steers clear of the disunity that came in time as Bush’s “War on Terror” took on dimensions that will be left to history’s judgment. But as divisive as the out years may have become, few Americans would take issue with the thoughts Bush shares in the interview’s last minutes: “The terrorists never won. They may have thought they won; they inflicted terrible damage on people’s lives and our economy. But they were never going to defeat America.”

Mark K. Updegrove

Director, Lyndon Baines Johnson Presidential Library and Museum. Author, Baptism by Fire: Eight Presidents in Times of Crisis, and the forthcoming Indomitable Will: LBJ in the Presidency.

Tune in to George W. Bush: The 9/11 Interview this Sunday at 10P et/pt.


  1. trishadow*11
    August 29, 2011, 3:15 am

    Would have been nice to have this broadcast as advertised. I waited all week to see it and it was quite a disappointment. I wont wait for any other programs you advertise.

  2. DaisyGirl
    August 29, 2011, 3:22 am

    I was surprised to see footage of the crowd on Times Square supposedly listening to Bush’ speech – in full winter regalia. Sorry but in New York in September nobody’s wearing coats, hats and gloves. Do your research NatGeo!

  3. Proud_American
    August 29, 2011, 6:22 pm

    Thank you Natgeo for bringing to light everything that happened on 9/11. I was truly moved by each and every one of the chapters that were presented. I was appalled when I saw the abuse suffered by the people of Iraq at the hands of the Hussein family. I can equate that to the atrocities suffered by the jews under Hitler. WMD or not we did the right thing by removing him from power. I applaude GWB for his courage and determination to free the people of Iraq. God Bless America and our troops.

  4. bchahano
    August 29, 2011, 7:07 pm

    did anyone catch where Pres Bush said when he was in Louisiana he told the driver of his car to slow down that there were no Al Quaeda in the US but he did not know who may have been responsible for the attacks until his next stop many hours later at Offit AFB? See for yourself………

  5. fanof2012
    August 30, 2011, 12:14 am

    I have a few comments about Bush’s interview, and what I have to say probably won’t thrill many of you. Before the interview aired, I spent 2.5 hours watching the history channel’s special THE SECRETS OF BODY LANGUAGE (it was on youtube) and took notes while watching it. I then watched Bush’s interview to see if I could spot any signs that would suggest Bush is lying, and I strongly feel that I can say that BUSH FAILED THE BODY LANGUAGE TEST! There were actually a couple of times I noticed Bush "gulp" after saying something, and there were a couple of times when he didn’t appear angry when during the interview he claimed he was angered. Not to mention that at the end of the interview, his right eyebrow flickered after he mentioned that justice had been served when bin Laden was killed. All of these gestures (and there were a few others Bush made, btw) were stated by the Secrets of Body Language documentary to be things that a liar would do when he explains something, and this is yet another thing that has led me to believe that 9/11 was actually an inside job. I used to believe Islamic terrorists did it, but I don’t believe that anymore.

    If you think I’m crazy, then do it for yourself. Watch THE SECRETS OF BODY LANDGUAGE, take notes, and then watch Bush’s interview and look out for signs that he is lying. I guarantee you will be wondering if Bush is being truthful if you do this.

  6. Vagabond King
    August 30, 2011, 12:26 am

    I love most of your shows but this was a travesty and completely insults all the victims of this tragedy. Bush is a LIAR and apparently as delusional as the dictator he blamed 9/11 on.

  7. hotvtx1800
    August 30, 2011, 4:01 am

    Just like the rest of the channels, showing the one track for the people to think. Lot of people died for someone or some group of people. Wont mention no names. To much happened not to stop is madness that day. "I still dont think those planes knocked those towers down!!!!!!!

  8. matts68
    August 30, 2011, 3:56 pm

    I thought this program was very well done. thank you for continually airing programs that are not one sided, but try to show the entire story. inside the state department was another great program.

  9. edigital
    September 2, 2011, 6:20 am

    YES bchahano, I did. In fact, I sat up ramrod straight in my chair and couldn’t believe my ears! I thought I heard Bush say that Al Qaeda was never brought up until the first time when it was mentioned at Offutt AFB. If that’s true, then why did Bush make the "Al Qaeda" remark to the driver going too fast at Barksdale AFB several hours earlier in the day?

  10. Usgovaretyrants
    September 3, 2011, 6:05 am

    Bunch if s and lies from a publication that I respected as a child. Then again, I suppose you can be considered mainstream media now, the way you have been wh0r3d out on tv.

    The US federal government is behind 9-11. There is no doubt about it for intelligent people. For the stupid naive lambs, you sick people sure pulled off a good hoax.

    There is absolutely no way on this planet with physics and gravity that buildings the size and construction of the twin towers Dan fall straight down the way they did from an aircraft impact such what transpired on 9-11. There are over a thousand of some of the best structural engineers on the planet that believe this. If you’ve ever seen a controlled demolition of a building, you would know how important it is to get all the explosives just right so the building falls straight down.

    The aircrafts may have been hijacked by some Muslims. I can believe that. But there were red flags with the men that were blatantly ignored. This was allowed to happen.

    The truth will come out eventually. You federal government azzh0l3s will pay for what you’ve done. The war on terror is bs. It was created to enslave US citizens with fear so you jag offs could invade the middle east, topple the leaders, install your own and expand the banking cartels empire.

    To you people, and to you sick fvcks at natgeo for playing along with this whole set up, fvck you, go to h311.

  11. Usgovaretyrants
    September 3, 2011, 6:08 am

    Fvck you bush. Why don’t you have your mainstream media sell out friends do an interview on you with some questions about your turd grandfather, Prescott bush, and his role in financing hilter and the nazis.

  12. Usgovaretyrants
    September 3, 2011, 6:10 am

    Bush, why don’t you have your mainstream media sell out friends run a special on your grandfather prescott bush and how he financed the rise of hitler and the naz1s.

  13. Usgovaretyrants
    September 3, 2011, 6:12 am

    Fvck the US federal government. Fvck the bilderbergs. Fvck you illuminati azzh0les. Fvck you bankers.

  14. proudamerican
    September 3, 2011, 8:00 pm

    I enjoyed the interview and the footage presented. Mr. Bush raised to the occassion on 9/11 as every past President have done when our freedom is in danger. Too bad the present one only goes around apologizing for something we are not guilty of. Keep showing this kind of programing which is very much enjoyed by the ones who truly love America above anything else.

  15. fanci
    September 6, 2011, 10:59 pm

    Really? Mr. Bush states that "…unlike others, I had a job to do…" What? How about the first responders who risked, and lost, their lives – didn’t they DO their jobs? What about the citizens of NYC who jumped in to help – they saw a job to be done and did it, some also losing their life. And today, a great number of these people who had a job to do are sick and dying because they jumped in. How are you feeling Mr. Bush? WTF – YOU had a job to do as if you were the only person to respond – you should be ashamed but I know you are not capable…

  16. ownupdawg
    September 9, 2011, 7:35 pm

    9/11 was an inside job. Yes it was a travesty for those families, yes innocent victims died, but let’s not use our emotions aimed toward the wrong group of people.

    1. We attack Iraq after clearly Osama was the target?
    2. World Trade Tower 7 crashed and fell as a result from the fire from the Twin Towers?
    3. Our air defense attack weren’t allowed to engage in air warfare by Dick Cheney?

    This is a bunch of bull and those who believe that Al Qaeda did it are perhaps accurate, but Bush and his Administration knew about it also. JUSTICE needs to be served!

  17. stoneeye
    September 11, 2011, 10:29 pm

    I just would like to say: Mr. President, thank you very much for your explanations regarding your experiences on September 11th 2001. You have spoken to the world trough this interview.

  18. liarliarpantsonfire
    September 12, 2011, 1:35 am

    I refused to watch what I am sure would be just a series of lies, not unlike Bush’s entire presidency. I have to wonder why NatGeo would give this evil creature a platform. Did his family make a donation, are you now part of Halliburton or did someone at NatGeo just sell their soul?

  19. RobertoSoto
    September 13, 2011, 2:17 am

    I never waste time listening to what gov. says… good or bad, everybody knows, I mean the most common people.

    I wish the world can be changed to what it used to be but I and so week to do that.

  20. Michael Laverty
    March 1, 2012, 11:13 pm

    I’ve never in all my 53 yrs been so utterly ashamed of being an American as I was when I noticed that just moments after the 9/11 horror “Experts” seemed to be everywhere including Mr paul bremmer {Mr Iraq} who should have been in his office at the WTC but instead was giving an interview and banging the drums for War before any meaningful investigation even took place , odd how nobody noticed that morning Dick Cheney was at the controls of NORAD and even with countless witnesses telling anyone and everyone who would listen about the huge explosions going on underground prior to the first aircraft hitting anything not one eyewitness who’s account differerd from the “Official Terrorist story” was ever even called to testify not to mention all the facts that never seemed to make it into the final draft like the 9 month long elevator renovations or the powering down of the WTC just prior to the attacks and never mind ole uncle Larry silversteins “PULL IT” comment with reguard to Blg 7 , Never in my life have I ever felt so betrade so disgusted so humiliated of My Government they sold themselves out like whores then pimped there ideals to the NWO , I knew to my core the attack was an inside job but the really sad thing is just how Many butt ignorant Americans there really is out there .. Ray Charles could see 9/11 was an inside job it’s just painfully obvious how many corrupted people there really are out there just pretending and perpetrating a fraud just please know this it will certainly come out in the end …You know it they even know it but I say why wait let’s round em all up and get em up aganst the wall…why we can cven hire Collin powell to give another powerpoint presentation like the one he gave at the United Nation security counsel when he delivered up the phony faux evidence for there Bogus WAR on terror …