On September 11, 2001 at 8:46 a.m. ET, Americans’ safe and secure lives changed forever. At that moment, the first hijackers’ plane crashed into the north tower of the WTC. This was followed quickly by a second plane crashing into the south tower, and a third one crashing into the Pentagon. Incredibly and inexplicably, by 10:28 both towers had collapsed. Later in the day, a fourth plane crashed into a field in Shanksville, PA. It is believed that this fourth plane was bound for a target in Washington, D.C., perhaps, the White House or the Capitol, and it would have succeeded but for the heroism of some of the passengers on board.
Sunday will mark the 15th anniversary of those horrific attacks. The attacks resulted in just under 3,000 deaths. Most of those were workers who were trapped in their offices and consumed by fire or smoke/chemical inhalation. They could not escape because most of the stairwells were blocked. Compounding the tragedy was the fact that NYC’s 911 operators were not as well informed as they should have been. Thus, they were advising callers from inside the towers not to descend the stairs on their own. Some of them proceeded to the roof hoping to be rescued by helicopter. Unfortunately, helicopters could not land on the roofs due to the heat and thick smoke. Many of us who were watching on tv witnessed the awful sight of people jumping to their deaths (in some cases, actually holding hands with others for support) rather than awaiting their fates from the fire.
The horror of the attacks, themselves, was amplified by the fact that the victims were not soldiers but innocent civilians who were merely working at their jobs. This was the deadliest attack on US soil ever. By comparison, the shocking Japanese sneak attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, which President FDR characterized as “a date that will live in infamy” resulted in “only” 2,400 deaths, and they were mostly military personnel.
In addition to the deaths there was significant damage to the economy of NYC and the US as a whole. The entire Wall Street area, including the financial markets, was closed until September 17. Air travel was disrupted. Americans’ psyche was severely damaged. The cleanup of the WTC area was not completed until May 2002. All in all, it took 3.1 million hours to clean up 1.8 million tons of debris at a cost of $750 million. Internationally, countries were generally horrified and supportive, although some of the people in some Muslim countries, such as Iraq, were seen to be celebrating.
Fifteen of the hijackers were from Saudi Arabia, with the others having originated from Egypt, Lebanon and the UAE. The terrorist group, Al Qaeda, led by Osama bin Laden, quickly claimed responsibility. Bin Laden had declared a holy war on the US and had issued a fatwa calling for the killing of Americans. Following 9/11, bin Laden became public enemy number 1. Eventually, the US exacted revenge, hunting him down and killing him.
In addition, to the thousands of civilians, police officers, firemen and EMS workers that were killed in the attacks, themselves, thousands more volunteer workers and even people who lived or worked in the vicinity ended up contracting various illnesses from inhaling the various carcinogens in the air and dying subsequently, in some cases many years later. In fact, horrifying as it may seem, some doctors have predicted that eventually these victims will exceed the 3,000 killed on 9/11. Many of us know or know of someone who suffered this fate. The shame of it is they went out of their way to volunteer their services and paid for it with their lives.
The primary illnesses are cancer, respiratory disorders, asthma, COPD and gastroesophageal reflux disorder. In addition, health workers have noted a significant increase in anxiety, depression and PTSD. As I said, many of the above have manifested themselves years later. Even now, new cases are being presented. The number of documented cancer cases, alone, has tripled in the past two years. The physical, mental and emotional toll has been astounding. An estimated 18,000 people have contracted illnesses from the toxic dust. Moreover, there is speculation that 9/11 has caused health issues in babies whose mothers were pregnant at the time of the attacks, such as premature birth, respiratory problems, below average weight, and increased neo-natal requirements.
In the aftermath of the attacks, Americans wanted to know how our intelligence agencies had failed to anticipate them. Who had “dropped the ball?” Amid many investigations and finger-pointing it became obvious that the major factor was failure to communicate and share intelligence and information. For example:
- The CIA had intelligence reports that a terrorist attack was forthcoming, but it was expecting it to be in Israel, not the US.
- The CIA knew that two known terrorists had slipped into the US.
- The FBI had information of certain anomalies at some US flight schools.
- The Justice Department policies advocated very limited intelligence sharing, even with other agencies.
- The CIA and NSA were reluctant to reveal sources of information and their methods of attaining it.
- None of these agencies reported their information to each other or to the White House.
- In 2004 Attorney General John Ashcroft testified to the “9/11 Commission” that the “single greatest structural cause…. was the wall that segregated or separated criminal investigators and intelligence agents.”
Americans’ lives have changed considerably since 9/11. Many believe that not all of these changes are good or even necessary. For instance:
- The US created the Department of Homeland Security to coordinate and oversee intelligence activities and security. In addition, it passed the USA Patriot Act. These agencies have improved our readiness and security but at the price of certain civil liberties. There is, and should be, a balance between security and liberty, and depending on your political point of view the pendulum may have swung too far, or not enough, towards security.
- Enhanced security at airports and train and bus terminals has made travel more complicated, time-consuming, and nerve-wracking. Some people have curtailed or ceased their travel entirely, particularly internationally.
- Parents are apprehensive, if not paranoid, about letting their children go outside to play or ride their bicycles in the neighborhood. Also, they accompany their children to the school or school bus stop and pick them up at the end of the day. The various terrorist attacks in schools in recent years have done little to assuage these fears and concerns.
- On the plus side, there has been a significant increase in patriotism and gratitude toward veterans.
In my opinion, parents should make a concerted effort to educate their children on the tragedy of 9/11, what happened, how it happened and what it means. Roughly 21 million of the country’s 320 million population are under the age of 20 and, therefore, have little or no recollection or knowledge of this event. The danger is that as time passes the populace will forget, and we should never allow that to happen.
On Sunday, I would urge each of you to take a moment during the day in remembrance of the 9/11 victims.