September 11th used to just be another early fall day in the ninth month of the year. All that changed in 2001, however. The world changed forever, that morning, when 19 Muslim terrorists launched a concerted effort to hijack four commercial airliners in the United States. They were successful. The most powerful military in the world was unable to stop men armed only with box cutters from attacking the heart of the nation. Our air defenses were finely tuned to stop an attack from OUTSIDE the United States. Four hijacked aircraft, fat with fuel for long flights from NYC and NJ to California, were quickly and intentionally crashed into targets on the ground. Three of those planes hit their targets. Two planes struck the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center, in NYC, vaporizing everyone on board the planes and causing out-of-control fires in the buildings which caused both of the 110 story structures to collapse. Loss of life on the ground was tremendous. Nearly 3,000 people were killed; many were not even Americans. Over 90 countries had citizens killed in the attacks. Around 6,000 people were injured. Only the incredible heroism and sacrifice of first responders prevented an even greater tragedy. They paid a heavy price; this event marked the greatest loss of life among American firefighters and police officers in all US history.
Only the December, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor, by the Empire of Japan, could come close to the carnage. That, at least, had been directed towards the US MILITARY, and had only been a surprise attack by accident and incompetence. The 9/11 attack was an intentional assault on human decency, itself, and was a crime against humanity.
What of the other two planes? Hijackers successfully flew the third plane into the Pentagon, the very heart of the United States military. Again, the plane took off from so close that it was impossible to sort out the chaos, much less stop it before the terrorists flew it into their target. Sadly, 125 people died when the Pentagon was struck.
The hijackers of the fourth plane were not so successful. Passengers and crew were able to receive news of what was occurring elsewhere. They then tried to wrest control of the plane from the hijackers. That plane crashed into a Pennsylvania cornfield, intentionally or otherwise, during the struggle for control. Their target is generally thought to have been the US capitol building, or the White House. American civilians on that plane, alone and afraid, stopped them from committing further carnage. These brave passengers were also heroes. They surely saved many lives on the ground with their own sacrifices.
Roughly a month after 9/11, The United States would soon invade Afghanistan, as that country had harbored Osama Bin Laden, the fanatical mastermind of the terrorist attacks. The Taliban government there would soon be driven out, but to this very day, the United States is ensnared in ensuring they remain defeated.
In 2003, Iraq was also invaded by the United States and our allies, believing the Iraqi dictator, Saddam Hussein, was also involved in the 9/11 attacks upon the US. No credible evidence has ever been produced to support this, but the United States still remains committed to supporting the weak democracy that now governs the country; once that criminal was removed, and finally given the ultimate justice by his own people.
The US, and the world, have changed irrevocably since the original 9/11. US government deficits have expanded to record levels, partly to fight the War on Terror, the longest conflict in US History. The Department of Homeland Security was formed, as the newest cabinet level position, under the President. There are serious concerns about our government having now become too big, too intrusive, and a danger to basic civil rights. Americans have been forced to become more paranoid about their safety…something that had long been taken for granted. The Middle East remains an incredibly unstable region, despite an international effort to crush terrorism there. The future is uncertain, but the seeds of the original 9/11 will be with us for a long time. Generations from now, the world will still be dealing with the repercussions.
Freedom is not free. Remember those who paid with their lives on that day, 15 years ago, and those who have since, so that others could be free.
Lonnie Brett Griffith
Assistant Professor of History