It’s hard to believe it has already been twenty years since the United States was attacked by terrorists, hijacking commercial airplanes and flying them into the World Trade Center in NYC, the Pentagon in Washington, DC, and an attack thwarted by brave souls on Flight 93 that crashed in a Pennsylvania field. The wound is still fresh. For most of us who were alive on that fateful day, we think of September 11, 2001 often.
In the aftermath of the attack, Americans came together in unity and a sense of national purpose. We were determined to “not let the terrorists win.” President Bush encouraged us to go on with our lives, get back to normal, and show those that meant us harm that they could not defeat us.
We went to war in Iraq to “combat terrorism.” Later, our war on terrorism spilled over into Afghanistan. All tolled, we lost more than 3400 members of the military in Iraq and Afghanistan, and more than 330,000 civilians were killed.
At home, we agreed to give up certain liberties in an effort to keep us all safe and to make sure than we didn’t suffer another deadly terrorist attack. We agreed to undergo significantly increased security measures in order to fly on commercial airlines, including allowing TSA personnel to feel us up to make sure we weren’t carrying bombs.
We learned words like “waterboarding” and “FISA courts,” heard about places like Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib, the Department of Homeland Security was created and became a behemoth within our government, Muslim hate crimes became common, and a ban on Muslim immigrants was attempted.
The good news is that the wars in far off lands and the changes at home have kept us safe. Although it may be true that correlation doesn’t equal causation, the fact is, for nearly twenty years, we have not suffered another large scale, mass fatality event in the United States. The bad news is, in the end, the terrorists won.
If the terrorists goal was to kill a bunch of Americans and send our lives into chaos, then they succeeded. Sure, in the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 attack, we felt a closeness to our fellow citizens and a willingness to bend a little for the common good, but those days are long behind us.
Today, twenty years after the worst terrorist attack on U.S. soil in history, we are divided like never before. One of our political parties is pushing us to abandon our democracy in favor of authoritarianism. Their rhetoric and actions led to an insurrection in January 2021, and their continuing efforts have accomplished what the 9/11 terrorists could have only dreamed of. There is a clear, direct line that can be drawn from the 9/11 terrorist attack to the efforts by the 1/6 insurrectionists.
In addition, about 25% of our citizens refuse to do the simplest things to keep us all safe from the ongoing pandemic. Unlike those who came together immediately after the 9/11 attack, these Americans refuse to do the work our nation is desperate for them to do. These people have chosen their own narrow interests over the common good of the nation. If the 9/11 terrorists thought they could disrupt the American way of life with their attack, we’ve proven them right.
Just a few days before the twentieth anniversary of 9/11, President Biden issued vaccine mandates for U.S. government employees and contractors, including the military, and he ordered businesses who employ more than 100 people to require their employees to get vaccinated or be tested weekly for COVID. These requirements are being implemented more than a year-and-a-half after we first became aware of COVID, and several months after a safe, effective vaccine was developed.
If you’re thinking these requirements shouldn’t be necessary, you’re right. In the 9/11 attacks, nearly 3,000 people were killed. Today, that many people die from COVID every couple of days. We’ve lost more than 650,000 Americans to COVID in the past eighteen months or so, but nearly a quarter of the population still refuses to wear a mask or get vaccinated in order to stop the deaths and get COVID under control.
The reason people refuse to do what is right varies from person to person, but all of the reasons are based in ignorance, selfishness, and misinformation. Right wing media has railed against masks and the vaccines in the name of freedom, many Republican politicians have stood against masks and vaccines as a political ploy, trying to advance their careers and agenda, and a significant chunk of Americans have blindly believed the lies, even though those lies defy logic and the facts are easy to find for anyone that wants to know the truth.
On this twentieth anniversary of 9/11, I remember those who died in the terrorist attacks, and I mourn our loss of civic pride, patriotic duty, and a united America that was willing to make the tough choices and work together for the common good. Those qualities were poisoned on 9/11, and the divided, ignorant, weak-minded country we live in now is the result.
Twenty years after the attack, the verdict is in. The terrorists won.