The chaotic US withdrawal and evacuation campaign from Afghanistan at the end of August can be traced back to 8:45 a.m. on September 11, 2001.
That’s when terrorist Mohamed Atta hijacked American Airlines Flight 11 and crashed it into the north tower of the World Trade Center in New York City. Over the next nearly two hours, other planes crashed into the south tower of the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
As smoke still rose from the collapsed twin towers in Manhattan and the Pentagon, the domestic and foreign policy of the United States began to change, affecting the whole world.
A strong desire to fight terrorism has led the United States to the 20-year war in Afghanistan, the decade-long war in Iraq, and other global counterterrorism operations. US foreign and defense policy is also focused on fighting Islamic extremism and participating in major global wars.
The Middle East is reeling between wars, conflicts and regime change. Syria was devastated and the self-proclaimed Islamic State (IS) was born, rose and fell. Australia, a close US ally and a target of terrorism, became more assertive and joined the US-led international coalition in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
As long-term wars waged by the United States broke out, the terrorist attack also had lasting effects on the psyche and way of life of Americans. For all Americans under the age of 23, about 25% of the population, 9/11 is history, not experience, or so to speak, they have no memory of that day. A younger generation was not born at the time of the terrorist attack, but is trying to figure out everything about it, according to Joe Pfeifer, a former New York firefighter.
“They didn’t live at that time, they only saw it in the movies. To them, it was a historical event,” said Pfeifer.
Although many people did not experience that horrible day directly, they are still living with its consequences. The sufferings and fears of that day are still smoldering under the cover of everyday life.
With the exception of a few films like the World Trade Center and Oliver Stone’s Flight 93 in 2006, Hollywood has largely shied away from the subject. Even those movies have been criticized by many victims’ relatives.
“I’ve had conversations with many filmmakers, but those movies were never made. I think 9/11 was too much of a pain for those who went through it. As for the producers, I think they will feel a lot of pain watching it,” said Pfeifer, who was lucky to have survived the terrorist attack.
The psychological scars of the terrorist attack can also be seen in the way the 9/11 memorial seeks to recreate the event without hurting visitors. The 9/11 Memorial Museum, which opened in 2014, tells the story of four terrorist flights in separate areas, allowing visitors to avoid one of the stories if they wish. Terrorist photo galleries, such as the famous “Falling Man”, are also segregated so that people can choose whether they want to see them or not.
Anniversaries throughout the past 19 years have always been celebrated the same way. During the 102-minute memorial, the names of the 2983 dead were read out, along with moments of silence at the exact time the four planes crashed and the twin towers collapsed.
Two reflecting pools have been built with waterfalls around them at the exact location of the north and south towers of the World Trade Center. The names of the victims are engraved on the bronze plaques surrounding the lake. White roses are always placed on the victim’s name on every birthday.
The Freedom Tower, or No. 1 World Trade Center, was newly built near two lakes to replace the twin towers in 2014. The memorial has become one of the most popular attractions in America, with more than 7 million visitors each year. Memorials outside the Pentagon and in Pennsylvania, where United Airlines Flight 93 crashed, are also attractions. These sites seem to become places of pilgrimage for Americans every year.
The most obvious legacy that 9/11 left behind is how it changed the balance of civil liberties and security across the United States. Aviation security has been tightened since then.
Two months after the terrorist attacks, the US Congress established the Transportation Security Administration. Security controls at the airport are enhanced. Passengers must remove shoes and belts, remove computers and liquids from their bags, and go through a full-body scanner before boarding. Baggage is also scanned by scanners, while passenger lists are always checked against the FBI’s no-fly list.
In addition, the US also enacted the Patriot Act just six weeks after the attack, giving more powers to intelligence agencies to detect terrorist suspects.
Civil liberties groups have campaigned for two decades to remove what they see as violations of liberties, but tougher legislation remains in place. Despite some criticism, laws and surveillance measures remain tight and the US has not had a major terrorist attack since 9/11.
The 9/11 terrorist attacks also changed US policy on immigration. The Department of Homeland Security was set up a few months after the terrorist attack to help prevent potential attacks, monitor border security and immigration. The agency’s unwritten mission is to ensure that no terrorist group like the 9/11 hijackers ever sets foot in the United States undetected. The US administrations under Presidents George W. Bush, Barack Obama and Donald Trump all pursued tougher and more restrictive immigration policies.
“Immigration after 9/11 is not just a question of migration, it’s a matter of security,” said David Leblang, a professor of politics at the University of Virginia. “That has dramatically changed the nature of immigration regulation.”
One of the saddest legacies of the 9/11 attacks is the increasing number of people getting sick from dust and toxic substances. The rubble from the twin towers has released a lot of concrete dust, broken glass or toxic substances such as lead, mercury and asbestos into the environment. At least 80,000 people at the terror site and 400,000 people living, working, and studying in the southern Manhattan area have inhaled toxic gases and dust.
“We knew people were getting infected while cleaning up the wreckage at the scene. Everyone had a sore throat and a runny nose,” John Feal, a construction worker, said in 2018.
Feal said he has attended more than 180 funerals since 9/11, a fraction of the more than 2,000 and possibly 5,000 people who have died of liver, rectal and other diseases in the wake of the attacks. .
One of the most famous survivors is Marcy Borders, who is also known as “Ash Woman” for her full body photo covered in white dust after the terrorist attacks at the Twin Towers. She died of stomach cancer in 2015, allegedly from inhaling toxic dust.
After the campaigns of Feal and many others, in 2018, the US Congress passed an additional $ 10.2 billion in compensation funds to ensure all victims of 9/11-related illnesses and their families. Their families have enough to cover the rest of their lives.
“It’s only going to get worse because we don’t see a wave of asbestos-related cancers now, which are usually detected after 20-25 years,” Feal said.
A Pew Research Center survey found that 97 percent of Americans can remember where they were at the time of a terrorist attack, far exceeding the percentage surveyed about the assassination of President John F. Kennedy 1963 or the killing of terrorist Osama bin Laden in 2011.
The 9/11 terrorist attacks also reawakened the sense of national unity of the United States when together they overcome the pain of common loss. This spirit of solidarity was maintained for many months after the attack. However, 20 years later, American society gradually divided, from rich and poor, ethnic to political. The attack on Capitol Hill on January 6 was the clearest example of these divisions.
This weekend’s 20th anniversary of the terrorist attacks will be a rare opportunity to remind Americans of solidarity. To this day, the annual memorial service has always been one of the few occasions in which the United States has come to be in complete unanimity. The reason is because 20 years have passed, that dark day continues to be the smoldering pain of America.
“September 11 should never be forgotten,” Feal said.
Thanh Tam (Follow Australian)