I remember September 11, 2001 clearly.
Sixteen years ago, two planes crashed into the World Trade Center in New York City. The Twin Towers were the first structures targeted.
The scene was jarring. At around 8:46 am in NYC, the Northern tower was hit. The south tower would be hit at 9:03 am.
But the attacks didn’t stop there. A third plane crashed into the Pentagon. Then a third crash landed in a field in Pennsylvania.
I was not awake when the fits planes hit but someone alerted me to the news about the Twin Towers.
It was total chaos. No one understood what was happening and after the Pentagon was attacked, we expected even more to come, but the last attack was thwarted. George W. Bush, who was reading a story to Kindergarteners, was frozen when a Secret Serviceman whispered the news in his ear.
Oddly enough, Dick Cheney’s location was unknown. Just where was he?
On the television, there were scenes of people fleeing the burning building, but the most unfortunate people in the buildings had nowhere to escape. Some of them jumped from windows high up as the towers smoldered.
Within an hour, at 9:59 am, the south tower fell. It was followed by the collapse of the north tower at 10:28 am. Building 7 also fell much later in the day and other buildings in that complex suffered damage.
More importantly, 2,996 lives were lost. Among the victims were passengers of the airlines, diplomats and workers from around the world, and hundreds of first responders.
For a while, New York City looked like a war zone. Some compared the scenes to what a nuclear winter would look like.
This was a devastating attack, the largest act of terrorism on American soil. But in the following days, many of us allowed ourselves to set aside our differences and recognize that we were all citizens of the world. Americans in particular expressed a type of solidarity never seen since.
By the time Dubya visited the area that came to be known as “Ground Zero,” many of us cheered him on when he said the following words in response to a first responder who yelled, “I can’t hear you!”
I can hear you. I can hear you. The rest of the world hears you and the people who knocked these buildings down will hear all us soon.
Bush’s words were met with cheers and chants of “USA! USA!”
Bush’s words were what many of us needed. We needed someone who showed leadership, reassured us, and gave a stern warning to the people responsible for that attack.
For all intents and purposes, this was uncharted territory. For so many young people, it marked the end of their innocence. For those who had heard and read about terrorism before, this was likely their first look at it up close.
At that moment, Bush had more trust than he previously had on Inauguration Day. He had more respect around the world than he ever had and he had a tremendous amount of political capital …
Part of what followed was the War on Terror.
The War on Terror
As we soon found out, the perpetrators of the attacks were operatives of a terrorist organization named Al Qaida. The network was created by Osama Bin Laden, a native of Saudi Arabia who had been an heir to a fortune, but lived in mountainous regions in Afghanistan and Pakistan. As it turns out, fifteen or sixteen of the hijackers on September 11 had also come from Saudi Arabia.
We had to respond, but how? Afghanistan had come to be known as the “Graveyard of Empires” and the Soviets had been bogged down when they made an incursion into that area — or so we believed.
Regardless, we felt that our military had to go. But there stood the Taliban, a regime that had given Al Qaida sanctuary in the 1990’s but refused to hand over the network’s senior leaders. The United States would have to fight the Taliban, too. And so the war in Afghanistan began on October 7, 2001.
At home, anxiety levels were raised as the military went abroad and people had to see their loved ones fight in a war many of us felt was justified. What we did not know was how long it would take — nor did we know that Iraq would serve as another stage in a global war on terror.
The Long-Term Effects of the September 11, 2001 Attacks
This war is currently in its 16th year and with each year, more and more people are questioning the efficacy of it. While most people will say they’d like to see an end to terrorism once and for all, the question remains: Can this be done with conventional fighting?
Whenever that question is asked, it might be met by silence or outright mockery. And often we are told to look at the next threat. Yesterday, it was Syria. Tomorrow, it might be North Korea. But we are already dealing with secret wars in Pakistan and parts of Africa …
The kids and many adults are growing weary.
Additionally, we are still dealing with the fear and mistrust of Muslims, at home and abroad. Now, a case can be made about vetting entrants into countries and every year we hear about attacks in Europe which have been carried out by those linked to militant Islamists. The United States (and Canada) have tough vetting standards as it is and many of our Muslims are fairly progressive in their views and peaceful. But the prejudice persists, often reinforced by news outlets …
These are some of the challenges we face today. What will be our way forward?