On September 11, 2001, al-Qaeda, the terrorist group headed by Osama bin Laden, executed four attacks using hijacked planes, igniting the war on terrorism. Two of them took out the twin World Trade Center Towers, a third destroyed part of the Pentagon, and a fourth hit a field in Pennsylvania. That one was reported to have been retaken from the terrorist hijackers and deflected from its original unspecified target. Over 3,000 people lost their lives that day, including firefighters and paramedics, as well as passengers on all four of those planes, military personnel in the Pentagon and bystanders around the Trade Towers.
The destruction wasn’t just confined to the towers, both of which collapsed completely, with the massive television antenna on the top of the north tower dropping straight down through all of the floors. Neighboring buildings, including the state-of-the-art city command center, were destroyed, essentially turning New York City into a war zone. Millions of phone calls jammed communications networks, and in the case of many of the passengers aboard the jets, would be the last words their loved ones heard. The personal stories of those involved stretches out in an intricate web of interconnected accounts of courage and perseverance in the face of tragedy.
The reasons for the al-Qaeda attacks were stated before and after, and included the response of America’s support of Israel, sanctions against Iraq, the aggression against Muslims in Lebanon, Chechnya, Somalia, and Kashmir, and the presence of U.S. troops in Saudi Arabia. In 1998, Laden called for the killing of American citizens in a holy war because of these reasons. Very strong motives indeed.
9/11 brought home the realization no American ever thought was possible: international terrorism and its war on the Western World had finally struck American soil. It did so in a pointed and brutal way that still reverberates to this day. Conspiracy theories surrounding 9/11 abound. President George W. Bush knew about the attacks before they happened and profited from them. Jewish traders in the towers knew and were a no-show on that day. The many tapes that were released with bin Laden claiming full responsibility were faked. The planes’ black boxes were kept secret to support the secret scheme of the planned attacks. The planes themselves, constructed of light weight aluminum didn’t have the mass necessary to cause that level of destruction to the towers and so well-placed explosives were involved. These are but a few of the conspiracy theories that emerged in the wake of the attacks.
9/11 launched the full-scale “war on terrorism” and would see America step up its military presence in the Middle East, removing the Taliban from power in Pakistan and actively hunting down Osama bin Laden. The U.S. Government increased its surveillance practices that included data mining millions of cell phones and collecting personal information on Americans as well as foreign nationals. Its process even included NSA presence in online roleplaying games.
Osama bin Laden was eventually found and killed in 2011 by Seal Team Six in Pakistan during Operation Neptune Spear launched by CIA. Though bin Laden’s death was favorably received by the American public, ethical questions were raised about the operation, including the fact that bin Laden had been unarmed. al-Qaeda has promised retribution but many believed their international teeth had been pulled with bin Laden’s death.
The 9/11 attacks were a wake-up call illustrating that, finally, mainland America could be reached by hostile forces—something not even the Japanese nor the Germans, both with far more monetary and military resources at their disposal, could accomplish during World War II. The war on terrorism continues, claiming combatants and civilians and 9/11 stands as the day it sparked it all.
Editorial by Lee Birdine