Read our research on: Immigration & Migration | Podcasts | Election 2024

Regions & Countries

9/11 facts for essay

Two Decades Later, the Enduring Legacy of 9/11

Table of contents.

Americans watched in horror as the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, left nearly 3,000 people dead in New York City, Washington, D.C., and Shanksville, Pennsylvania. Nearly 20 years later, they watched in sorrow as the nation’s military mission in Afghanistan – which began less than a month after 9/11 – came to a bloody and chaotic conclusion.

Chart shows 9/11 a powerful memory for Americans – but only for adults old enough to remember

The enduring power of the Sept. 11 attacks is clear: An overwhelming share of Americans who are old enough to recall the day remember where they were and what they were doing when they heard the news. Yet an ever-growing number of Americans have no personal memory of that day, either because they were too young or not yet born.

A review of U.S. public opinion in the two decades since 9/11 reveals how a badly shaken nation came together, briefly, in a spirit of sadness and patriotism; how the public initially rallied behind the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, though support waned over time; and how Americans viewed the threat of terrorism at home and the steps the government took to combat it.

As the country comes to grips with the tumultuous exit of U.S. military forces from Afghanistan, the departure has raised long-term questions about U.S. foreign policy and America’s place in the world. Yet the public’s initial judgments on that mission are clear: A majority endorses the decision to withdraw from Afghanistan, even as it criticizes the Biden administration’s handling of the situation. And after a war that cost thousands of lives – including more than 2,000 American service members – and trillions of dollars in military spending, a new Pew Research Center survey finds that 69% of U.S. adults say the United States has mostly failed to achieve its goals in Afghanistan.

This examination of how the United States changed in the two decades following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks is based on an analysis of past public opinion survey data from Pew Research Center, news reports and other sources.

Current data is from a Pew Research Center survey of 10,348 U.S. adults conducted Aug. 23-29, 2021. Most of the interviewing was conducted before the Aug. 26 suicide bombing at Kabul airport, and all of it was conducted before the completion of the evacuation. Everyone who took part is a member of the Center’s American Trends Panel (ATP), an online survey panel that is recruited through national, random sampling of residential addresses. This way nearly all U.S. adults have a chance of selection. The survey is weighted to be representative of the U.S. adult population by gender, race, ethnicity, partisan affiliation, education and other categories. Read more about the  ATP’s methodology .

Here are the questions used  for the report, along with responses, and  its methodology .

A devastating emotional toll, a lasting historical legacy

Shock, sadness, fear, anger: The 9/11 attacks inflicted a devastating emotional toll on Americans. But as horrible as the events of that day were, a 63% majority of Americans said they couldn’t stop watching news coverage of the attacks.

Chart shows days after 9/11, nearly all Americans said they felt sad; most felt depressed

Our first survey following the attacks went into the field just days after 9/11, from Sept. 13-17, 2001. A sizable majority of adults (71%) said they felt depressed, nearly half (49%) had difficulty concentrating and a third said they had trouble sleeping.

It was an era in which television was still the public’s dominant news source – 90% said they got most of their news about the attacks from television, compared with just 5% who got news online – and the televised images of death and destruction had a powerful impact. Around nine-in-ten Americans (92%) agreed with the statement, “I feel sad when watching TV coverage of the terrorist attacks.” A sizable majority (77%) also found it frightening to watch – but most did so anyway.

Americans were enraged by the attacks, too. Three weeks after 9/11 , even as the psychological stress began to ease somewhat, 87% said they felt angry about the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon.

Fear was widespread, not just in the days immediately after the attacks, but throughout the fall of 2001. Most Americans said they were very (28%) or somewhat (45%) worried about another attack . When asked a year later to describe how their lives changed in a major way, about half of adults said they felt more afraid, more careful, more distrustful or more vulnerable as a result of the attacks.

9/11 facts for essay

Even after the immediate shock of 9/11 had subsided, concerns over terrorism remained at higher levels in major cities – especially New York and Washington – than in small towns and rural areas. The personal impact of the attacks also was felt more keenly in the cities directly targeted: Nearly a year after 9/11, about six-in-ten adults in the New York (61%) and Washington (63%) areas said the attacks had changed their lives at least a little, compared with 49% nationwide. This sentiment was shared by residents of other large cities. A quarter of people who lived in large cities nationwide said their lives had changed in a major way – twice the rate found in small towns and rural areas.

The impacts of the Sept. 11 attacks were deeply felt and slow to dissipate. By the following August, half of U.S. adults said the country “had changed in a major way” – a number that actually increased , to 61%, 10 years after the event .

A year after the attacks, in an open-ended question, most Americans – 80% – cited 9/11 as the most important event that had occurred in the country during the previous year. Strikingly, a larger share also volunteered it as the most important thing that happened to them personally in the prior year (38%) than mentioned other typical life events, such as births or deaths. Again, the personal impact was much greater in New York and Washington, where 51% and 44%, respectively, pointed to the attacks as the most significant personal event over the prior year.

Chart shows in 2016 – 15 years after 9/11 – the attacks continued to be seen as one of the public’s top historical events

Just as memories of 9/11 are firmly embedded in the minds of most Americans old enough to recall the attacks, their historical importance far surpasses other events in people’s lifetimes. In a survey conducted by Pew Research Center in association with A+E Networks’ HISTORY in 2016 – 15 years after 9/11 – 76% of adults named the Sept. 11 attacks as one of the 10 historical events of their lifetime that had the greatest impact on the country. The election of Barack Obama as the first Black president was a distant second, at 40%.

The importance of 9/11 transcended age, gender, geographic and even political differences. The 2016 study noted that while partisans agreed on little else that election cycle, more than seven-in-ten Republicans and Democrats named the attacks as one of their top 10 historic events.

9/11 facts for essay

9/11 transformed U.S. public opinion, but many of its impacts were short-lived

It is difficult to think of an event that so profoundly transformed U.S. public opinion across so many dimensions as the 9/11 attacks. While Americans had a shared sense of anguish after Sept. 11, the months that followed also were marked by rare spirit of public unity.

Chart shows trust in government spiked following Sept. 11 terror attack

Patriotic sentiment surged in the aftermath of 9/11. After the U.S. and its allies launched airstrikes against Taliban and al-Qaida forces in early October 2001, 79% of adults said they had displayed an American flag. A year later, a 62% majority said they had often felt patriotic as a result of the 9/11 attacks.

Moreover, the public largely set aside political differences and rallied in support of the nation’s major institutions, as well as its political leadership. In October 2001, 60% of adults expressed trust in the federal government – a level not reached in the previous three decades, nor approached in the two decades since then.

George W. Bush, who had become president nine months earlier after a fiercely contested election, saw his job approval rise 35 percentage points in the space of three weeks. In late September 2001, 86% of adults – including nearly all Republicans (96%) and a sizable majority of Democrats (78%) – approved of the way Bush was handling his job as president.

Americans also turned to religion and faith in large numbers. In the days and weeks after 9/11, most Americans said they were praying more often. In November 2001, 78% said religion’s influence in American life was increasing, more than double the share who said that eight months earlier and – like public trust in the federal government – the highest level in four decades .

Public esteem rose even for some institutions that usually are not that popular with Americans. For example, in November 2001, news organizations received record-high ratings for professionalism. Around seven-in-ten adults (69%) said they “stand up for America,” while 60% said they protected democracy.

Yet in many ways, the “9/11 effect” on public opinion was short-lived. Public trust in government, as well as confidence in other institutions, declined throughout the 2000s. By 2005, following another major national tragedy – the government’s mishandling of the relief effort for victims of Hurricane Katrina – just 31% said they trusted the federal government, half the share who said so in the months after 9/11. Trust has remained relatively low for the past two decades: In April of this year, only 24% said they trusted the government just about always or most of the time.

Bush’s approval ratings, meanwhile, never again reached the lofty heights they did shortly after 9/11. By the end of his presidency, in December 2008, just 24% approved of his job performance.

9/11 facts for essay

U.S. military response: Afghanistan and Iraq

With the U.S. now formally out of Afghanistan – and with the Taliban firmly in control of the country – most Americans (69%) say the U.S. failed in achieving its goals in Afghanistan.

Chart shows broad initial support for U.S. military action against 9/11 terrorists, even if it entailed thousands of U.S. casualties

But 20 years ago, in the days and weeks following 9/11, Americans overwhelmingly supported military action against those responsible for the attacks. In mid-September 2001, 77% favored U.S. military action, including the deployment of ground forces, “to retaliate against whoever is responsible for the terrorist attacks, even if that means U.S. armed forces might suffer thousands of casualties.”

Many Americans were impatient for the Bush administration to give the go-ahead for military action. In a late September 2001 survey, nearly half the public (49%) said their larger concern was that the Bush administration would not strike quickly enough against the terrorists; just 34% said they worried the administration would move too quickly.

Even in the early stages of the U.S. military response, few adults expected a military operation to produce quick results: 69% said it would take months or years to dismantle terrorist networks, including 38% who said it would take years and 31% who said it would take several months. Just 18% said it would take days or weeks.

The public’s support for military intervention was evident in other ways as well. Throughout the fall of 2001, more Americans said the best way to prevent future terrorism was to take military action abroad rather than build up defenses at home. In early October 2001, 45% prioritized military action to destroy terrorist networks around the world, while 36% said the priority should be to build terrorism defenses at home.

9/11 facts for essay

Initially, the public was confident that the U.S. military effort to destroy terrorist networks would succeed. A sizable majority (76%) was confident in the success of this mission, with 39% saying they were very confident.

Support for the war in Afghanistan continued at a high level for several years to come. In a survey conducted in early 2002, a few months after the start of the war, 83% of Americans said they approved of the U.S.-led military campaign against the Taliban and al-Qaida in Afghanistan. In 2006, several years after the United States began combat operations in Afghanistan, 69% of adults said the U.S. made the right decision in using military force in Afghanistan. Only two-in-ten said it was the wrong decision.

Chart shows public support for withdrawing U.S. troops from Afghanistan increased after Osama bin Laden was killed in 2011

But as the conflict dragged on, first through Bush’s presidency and then through Obama’s administration, support wavered and a growing share of Americans favored the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan. In June 2009, during Obama’s first year in office, 38% of Americans said U.S. troops should be removed from Afghanistan as soon as possible. The share favoring a speedy troop withdrawal increased over the next few years. A turning point came in May 2011, when U.S. Navy SEALs launched a risky operation against Osama bin Laden’s compound in Pakistan and killed the al-Qaida leader.

The public reacted to bin Laden’s death with more of a sense of relief than jubilation . A month later, for the first time , a majority of Americans (56%) said that U.S. forces should be brought home as soon as possible, while 39% favored U.S. forces in the country until the situation had stabilized.

Over the next decade, U.S. forces in Afghanistan were gradually drawn down, in fits and starts, over the administrations of three presidents – Obama, Donald Trump and Joe Biden. Meanwhile, public support for the decision to use force in Afghanistan, which had been widespread at the start of the conflict, declined . Today, after the tumultuous exit of U.S. troops from Afghanistan, a slim majority of adults (54%) say the decision to withdraw troops from the country was the right decision; 42% say it was the wrong decision. 

There was a similar trajectory in public attitudes toward a much more expansive conflict that was part of what Bush termed the “war on terror”: the U.S. war in Iraq. Throughout the contentious, yearlong debate before the U.S. invasion of Iraq, Americans widely supported the use of military force to end Saddam Hussein’s rule in Iraq.

Importantly, most Americans thought – erroneously, as it turned out – there was a direct connection between Saddam Hussein and the 9/11 attacks. In October 2002, 66% said that Saddam helped the terrorists involved in the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

In April 2003, during the first month of the Iraq War, 71% said the U.S. made the right decision to go to war in Iraq. On the 15th anniversary of the war in 2018, just 43% said it was the right decision. As with the case with U.S. involvement in Afghanistan, more Americans said that the U.S. had failed (53%) than succeeded (39%) in achieving its goals in Iraq.

9/11 facts for essay

The ‘new normal’: The threat of terrorism after 9/11

There have been no terrorist attacks on the scale of 9/11 in two decades, but from the public’s perspective, the threat has never fully gone away. Defending the country from future terrorist attacks has been at or near the top of Pew Research Center’s annual survey on policy priorities since 2002.

Chart shows terrorism has consistently ranked high on Americans’ list of policy priorities

In January 2002, just months after the 2001 attacks, 83% of Americans said “defending the country from future terrorist attacks” was a top priority for the president and Congress, the highest for any issue. Since then, sizable majorities have continued to cite that as a top policy priority.

Majorities of both Republicans and Democrats have consistently ranked terrorism as a top priority over the past two decades, with some exceptions. Republicans and Republican-leaning independents have remained more likely than Democrats and Democratic leaners to say defending the country from future attacks should be a top priority. In recent years, the partisan gap has grown larger as Democrats began to rank the issue lower relative to other domestic concerns. The public’s concerns about another attack also remained fairly steady in the years after 9/11, through near-misses and the federal government’s numerous “Orange Alerts” – the second-most serious threat level on its color-coded terrorism warning system.

A 2010 analysis of the public’s terrorism concerns found that the share of Americans who said they were very concerned about another attack had ranged from about 15% to roughly 25% since 2002. The only time when concerns were elevated was in February 2003, shortly before the start of the U.S. war in Iraq.

In recent years, the share of Americans who point to terrorism as a major national problem has declined sharply as issues such as the economy, the COVID-19 pandemic and racism have emerged as more pressing problems in the public’s eyes.

Chart shows in recent years, terrorism declined as a ‘very big’ national problem

In 2016, about half of the public (53%) said terrorism was a very big national problem in the country. This declined to about four-in-ten from 2017 to 2019. Last year, only a quarter of Americans said that terrorism was a very big problem.

This year, prior to the U.S. withdrawal of forces from Afghanistan and the subsequent Taliban takeover of the country, a somewhat larger share of adults said domestic terrorism was a very big national problem (35%) than said the same about international terrorism . But much larger shares cited concerns such as the affordability of health care (56%) and the federal budget deficit (49%) as major problems than said that about either domestic or international terrorism.

Still, recent events in Afghanistan raise the possibility that opinion could be changing, at least in the short term. In a late August survey, 89% of Americans said the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan was a threat to the security of the U.S., including 46% who said it was a major threat.

9/11 facts for essay

Addressing the threat of terrorism at home and abroad

Just as Americans largely endorsed the use of U.S. military force as a response to the 9/11 attacks, they were initially open to a variety of other far-reaching measures to combat terrorism at home and abroad. In the days following the attack, for example, majorities favored a requirement that all citizens carry national ID cards, allowing the CIA to contract with criminals in pursuing suspected terrorists and permitting the CIA to conduct assassinations overseas when pursuing suspected terrorists.

Chart shows following 9/11, more Americans saw the necessity to sacrifice civil liberties in order to curb terrorism

However, most people drew the line against allowing the government to monitor their own emails and phone calls (77% opposed this). And while 29% supported the establishment of internment camps for legal immigrants from unfriendly countries during times of tension or crisis – along the lines of those in which thousands of Japanese American citizens were confined during World War II – 57% opposed such a measure.

It was clear that from the public’s perspective, the balance between protecting civil liberties and protecting the country from terrorism had shifted. In September 2001 and January 2002, 55% majorities said that, in order to curb terrorism in the U.S., it was necessary for the average citizen to give up some civil liberties. In 1997, just 29% said this would be necessary while 62% said it would not.

For most of the next two decades, more Americans said their bigger concern was that the government had not gone far enough in protecting the country from terrorism than said it went too far in restricting civil liberties.

The public also did not rule out the use of torture to extract information from terrorist suspects. In a 2015 survey of 40 nations, the U.S. was one of only 12 where a majority of the public said the use of torture against terrorists could be justified to gain information about a possible attack.

9/11 facts for essay

Views of Muslims, Islam grew more partisan in years after 9/11

Concerned about a possible backlash against Muslims in the U.S. in the days after 9/11, then-President George W. Bush gave a speech to the Islamic Center in Washington, D.C., in which he declared: “Islam is peace.” For a brief period, a large segment of Americans agreed. In November 2001, 59% of U.S. adults had a favorable view of Muslim Americans, up from 45% in March 2001, with comparable majorities of Democrats and Republicans expressing a favorable opinion.

Chart shows Republicans increasingly say Islam is more likely than other religions to encourage violence

This spirit of unity and comity was not to last. In a September 2001 survey, 28% of adults said they had grown more suspicious of people of Middle Eastern descent; that grew to 36% less than a year later.

Republicans, in particular, increasingly came to associate Muslims and Islam with violence. In 2002, just a quarter of Americans – including 32% of Republicans and 23% of Democrats – said Islam was more likely than other religions to encourage violence among its believers. About twice as many (51%) said it was not.

But within the next few years, most Republicans and GOP leaners said Islam was more likely than other religions to encourage violence. Today, 72% of Republicans express this view, according to an August 2021 survey.

Democrats consistently have been far less likely than Republicans to associate Islam with violence. In the Center’s latest survey, 32% of Democrats say this. Still, Democrats are somewhat more likely to say this today than they have been in recent years: In 2019, 28% of Democrats said Islam was more likely than other religions to encourage violence among its believers than other religions.

The partisan gap in views of Muslims and Islam in the U.S. is evident in other meaningful ways. For example, a 2017 survey found that half of U.S. adults said that “Islam is not part of mainstream American society” – a view held by nearly seven-in-ten Republicans (68%) but only 37% of Democrats. In a separate survey conducted in 2017, 56% of Republicans said there was a great deal or fair amount of extremism among U.S. Muslims, with fewer than half as many Democrats (22%) saying the same.

The rise of anti-Muslim sentiment in the aftermath of 9/11 has had a profound effect on the growing number of Muslims living in the United States. Surveys of U.S. Muslims from 2007-2017 found increasing shares saying they have personally experienced discrimination and received public expression of support.

9/11 facts for essay

It has now been two decades since the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon and the crash of Flight 93 – where only the courage of passengers and crew possibly prevented an even deadlier terror attack.

For most who are old enough to remember, it is a day that is impossible to forget. In many ways, 9/11 reshaped how Americans think of war and peace, their own personal safety and their fellow citizens. And today, the violence and chaos in a country half a world away brings with it the opening of an uncertain new chapter in the post-9/11 era.

Facts are more important than ever

In times of uncertainty, good decisions demand good data. Please support our research with a financial contribution.

About Pew Research Center Pew Research Center is a nonpartisan fact tank that informs the public about the issues, attitudes and trends shaping the world. It conducts public opinion polling, demographic research, media content analysis and other empirical social science research. Pew Research Center does not take policy positions. It is a subsidiary of The Pew Charitable Trusts .

  • Share full article


Supported by

Teaching Ideas

10 Ways to Teach About 9/11 With The New York Times

Ideas for helping students think about how the Sept. 11 attacks have changed our nation and world.

9/11 facts for essay

By Nicole Daniels and Michael Gonchar

Sept. 11, 2001 , is one of those rare days that, if you ask most adults what they remember, they can tell you exactly where they were, whom they were with and what they were thinking. It is a day seared in memory. But for students who were born in a post- 9/11 world and have grown up in the aftermath, it is complex history that needs to be remembered, taught and analyzed like any other historical event.

Twenty years ago, four commercial planes were hijacked by operatives from the radical Islamist group Al Qaeda. One plane was flown into the Pentagon outside Washington, D.C., and two others were flown into the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York. A fourth hijacked plane crashed in Shanksville, Pa. Almost 3,000 people died that day, including more than 400 emergency workers.

In the wake of those attacks, the United States initiated a global “war on terror” to destroy Al Qaeda — a campaign that expanded into decades-long wars in Afghanistan, Iraq (even though Iraq was not responsible for Sept. 11 ) and elsewhere. In the wake of Sept. 11, the United States changed in other fundamental ways as well, from increased police surveillance to a rise in Islamophobia .

Below, we provide a range of activities that use resources from The New York Times, including archival front pages and photographs, first-person accounts, and analysis pieces published for the 20th anniversary . But we also suggest ideas borrowed from other education organizations like the Choices Program , RetroReport , the 9/11 Memorial and Museum and the Newseum .

On Sept. 30, we are hosting a free event, featuring Times journalists, for students that will look at how Sept. 11 has shaped a generation of young people who grew up in its aftermath. Teachers and students can register here , and students can submit their own videos with questions, many of which we hope to feature during the live event.

1. Reflect on What 9/11 Means to You

In the essay “ What Does It Mean to ‘Never Forget’? ,” Dan Barry writes:

Inevitably, someday there will be no one alive with a personal narrative of Sept. 11. Inevitably, the emotional impact of the day will fade a little bit, and then a little bit more, as time transforms a visceral lived experience into a dry history lesson. This transformation has already begun; ask any high school history teacher.

Or, ask any student. They are at the center of the transition that Mr. Barry describes.

Invite students to respond to one or more of the following questions, and share their responses with other students from around the world by responding to our related Student Opinion question :

What does Sept. 11 mean to you? Is it mostly a “dry history lesson” or does it resonate for you in deeper ways?

What do you know about the events that took place on Sept. 11? Where and how did you learn about them?

What questions do you have about that day and what happened next?

Have the events of Sept. 11 and its aftermath affected you personally in any way? If so, how? How do you think they may have shaped your generation as a whole?

Note: To ensure your class has a shared understanding of what happened on Sept. 11, you might want to have students watch this two-minute video or scroll through this interactive timeline , both created by the 9/11 Memorial and Museum. Alternatively, students can watch this five-minute video from the History Channel which is focused on the attacks at the World Trade Center.

2. Interview Someone Who Remembers

Although teenagers today are too young to have their own personal memories of Sept. 11, people they know and love do. The Choices Program at Brown University has created a lesson plan that walks students through the process of conducting an interview about Sept. 11 with someone they know while also considering the importance of oral history.

The accompanying student handout suggests questions that students may want to ask, such as: What were you doing on Sept. 11, 2001? How did you find out about the attacks?

After conducting their interviews, students can share what they have learned in small groups and with the class. They might even create an oral history book or site that they can share with future classes.

For inspiration or as mentor texts, students can take a look at this “Revisiting the Families” collection of short follow-up interviews and articles that Times reporters did to commemorate the fifth anniversary of the attacks. It offers small glimpses of those who lost family members, and of their lives since.

3. Revisit History’s First Draft

Newspapers have been described as “history’s first draft.” Reporters and editors from around the world who published on the morning of Sept. 12 had less than a day to figure out how to make sense of what happened for their readers.

Invite students to look closely at the New York Times front page (or the full paper ) from that day. They can click on the individual articles as well. What do they notice? What questions does the front page bring up for them? What do they learn about coverage on that first day?

Then they can investigate front pages from other newspapers from around the world and across the country. The Newseum (you’ll need to create a free account) provides images of front pages of over 100 newspapers from dozens of cities — from Anchorage and Richmond, Va., to Turku, Finland, and Osaka, Japan. Business Insider compiled some of the images from the Newseum’s archival, to show what the front pages of newspapers from around the world looked like on Sept. 12 .

Students can choose three or four front pages and take note of the similarities and differences that they see in coverage; what choices might they have made had they been editors that day; and what additional questions these front pages raise for them.

4. Look Closely at Archival Photos

Photographs can be a powerful and accessible way for students to learn more about what happened on and after Sept. 11. Students can study the New York Times photo collection “ The Towers’ Rise and Fall ,” which was originally published on the 10th anniversary of the attacks, to see what stories these 72 images tell about the World Trade Center, the terrorist attacks and the aftermath.

Students can closely investigate two or three images using our What’s Going On in This Picture? protocol from Visual Thinking Strategies :

What is going on in this picture?

What do you see that makes you say that?

What more can you find?

Or, you can invite students to take on the role of curator in a museum who is creating an exhibit about Sept. 11 in New York. They can choose only six to eight photographs to tell the story. Which images would they select and why?

5. Listen to and Read First-Person Stories

Students can watch one or more of the three-minute videos from the “ Portraits Redrawn ” series that was created by The Times for the 10th anniversary of Sept. 11. The six videos are all interviews with people who had a family member die in the attacks.

They can watch this 10-minute video from VICE in which a civilian mariner talks about assisting with the world’s largest boat lift that rescued half a million people from Lower Manhattan.

They can also watch this 12-minute RetroReport video that features interviews with emergency workers who survived the attacks at the World Trade Center and do all or part of this related lesson plan (and student activity ).

Or, students can read this article about a survivor navigating life with post-traumatic stress disorder after the attack on the World Trade Center.

After watching or reading, they can consider: What have you learned about Sept. 11 by hearing stories of survivors, families and people who died in the attacks? And, how do first-person stories change, or deepen, your understanding of what happened?

6. Consider the Importance of Memory

Op-docs: where the towers stood, the world trade center wreckage once smoldered here. now visitors come from around the world to learn, remember and grieve the loss of 9/11..

[somber music playing] [airplane engine] See it? Yeah. Am I just seeing things? Oh, jeez. Oh, they’re people. Oh. Oh, jeez, they’re people. They’re people. They’re people. [quiet music playing] I’m going to take us right here to this tree where there in shade and there is sun, so you could have which ever you prefer. So we don’t get in everyone’s way, if we can stay over here on the left hand side, we’ll be in good shape. The memorial is designed for you to make physical contact with it, to actually touch the names. So do not feel that the appropriate behavior that shows respect is to be standoffish. It is not. The only thing that we do ask — and I really doubt that any of you would have the impulse to do this anyhow — do not put things on the name. Coats, elbows, cups, bags, anything like that. The other thing I want to say to you is this was truly — you’re an international group of people — this was the World Trade Center. People from over 90 countries died here that morning. They were Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, atheists. Some made their way in the world washing dishes, others ran powerful companies, but almost every single one of them dies that morning because they do something that all of us do with most of our lives — they woke up and they went to work. [somber music playing] Excuse me. Hello. Hello, hello, hello. There’s no smoking in the plaza. No smoking in the plaza. That’s quite all right. Thank you. So I want to talk to you about the pools. Directly in front of you is the south pool. The south pool stands in the footprint of the South Tower, World Trade Center number two. So that’s exactly where World Trade Center number two stood. Can everyone see that line of trees that goes around the pool? That line of trees represents the outer wall of the building. So that means in a few minutes when we go up to see the falls and you go past those trees, you will be standing in what was once the lobby of World Trade Center number two. You’re going to see the falls. The falls come out in individual rivulets, one for each person killed on 9/11. Goes down about 20 feet or so into a huge pool. In the center of the pool, another opening goes on another 10 feet or so. No matter how hard you try, you can’t see the bottom of that opening because it’s a void, and the void is a symbol of the emptiness that we feel here over the loss of life. I’m sure all of you can see the water under the names. That water comes directly from the pool. What someone will do, visiting a loved one — and please feel free to do the very, very same — take their hand, put it in the water, rub their hand over a name. Water, of course, a symbol of life. And notice how the names are on the wall. They are not arranged in alphabetical order. For example, people who worked in the same office in this building, they’re together. Firefighters out on the same firehouse, together. Police officers out of the same police precinct, together. We call that meaningful adjacencies. People together in death just the way they were together in life. I have a stupid question. The names of the killers. Are they — Absolutely not. Not. Absolutely not. Yeah. The only place you’ll find them is if you should go into the museum, there’s a special part that deals with Al Qaeda. [somber music playing] [water cascading] [somber music playing]

Video player loading

To learn more about the 9/11 Memorial in New York City, students can watch the above 18-minute video from our Film Club series. Then, they can respond to the questions below in writing or discussion.

What moments in this film stood out for you? Why?

Were there any surprises? Anything that challenged what you know — or thought you knew?

What messages, emotions or ideas will you take away from this film? Why?

What connections can you make between this film and your own life or experience? Why? Does this film remind you of anything else you’ve read or seen? If so, how and why?

Then, students can read a 2019 article about the opening of the 9/11 Memorial Glade in Lower Manhattan — a memorial for people, largely rescue and recovery workers, whose illnesses and deaths came years after Sept. 11, 2001.

After watching the video and reading the article, students can reflect on the following questions in a class discussion:

Why do we memorialize people or events? What purpose should a memorial serve?

What purpose does memorializing Sept. 11 serve? How do you think Sept. 11 can be most effectively or meaningfully memorialized?

What concerns or challenges should societies or organizations be mindful of when they create memorials? Why?

If you’re interested in furthering the conversation about the memorial in your class, the 9/11 Memorial and Museum has a collection of resources for teachers and students.

7. Evaluate International Repercussions

How the u.s. military response to the 9/11 attacks led to decades of war., officials who drove the decades-long war in afghanistan look back on the strategic mistakes and misjudgments that led to a 20-year quagmire..

Two decades after invading Afghanistan, the United States is withdrawing, leaving chaos in its wake and the country much as it found it 20 years ago. “The Taliban don’t just control Kabul, but the whole country.” How did a war that began in response to the 9/11 attacks become the longest in American history? “If somebody had told me in 2001 that we were going to be there for another 20 years, I would not have believed them.” And what lessons can be learned for the future? “We were doing the same thing year after year after year, expecting a different result.” “Nearly 2,400 Americans have died in Afghanistan.” “More than 43,000 Afghan civilians lost their lives.” “You can’t remake a country on the American image. You can’t win if you’re fighting people who are fighting for their own villages and their own territory. Those were lessons we thought we learned in Vietnam. And yet, 30, 40 years later, we end up in Afghanistan, repeating the same mistakes.” On the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, President George W. Bush was visiting an elementary school in Sarasota, Fla., when he received word of an attack on the World Trade Center in New York City. “We’re looking at a live picture of the, of the building right now. And, uh, what would you say? That would be about the 90th floor or so?” The president joined his staff in an empty classroom, where his C.I.A. intelligence briefer, Michael Morell, had been watching the attack unfold. “There was a TV there and the second plane hit.” “Oh my goodness.” “Oh God.” “There’s another one.” “Oh.” “Oh my goodness, there’s another one.” “God.” “And when that happened, I knew that this was an act of terrorism.” At the Capitol in Washington, Representative Barbara Lee’s meeting was interrupted. “I heard a lot of noise saying, ‘Evacuate. Leave. Get out of here. Run fast.’ So, I ran up Independence Avenue. As I turned around, I was able to see a heck of a lot of smoke.” “Another aircraft, unbelievably, has crashed into the Pentagon.” “What you have to understand is this is the largest attack ever in the entire history of the country.” At 9:59 a.m., the second World Trade Center tower to be struck collapsed. Twenty-nine minutes later, the other tower followed. “The president, he asked to see me in his office on Air Force One. The president looked me in the eye and he said, ‘Michael, who did this?’ I told the president that I would bet my children’s future that Al Qaeda was responsible for this attack.” Within hours, evidence surfaced that Al Qaeda, a multinational terrorist organization headed by the Islamic fundamentalist Osama Bin Laden, had committed the attacks. The group was being given safe haven in Afghanistan by the Taliban regime. “The president’s inclination was to hit back and hit back hard.” “I can hear you. The rest of the world hears you. And the people — ” “So the president decided to go to war.” “ — And the people who knocked these buildings down will hear all of us soon.” “We had to go to Afghanistan. There’s no question in any of our minds, it’s a war of necessity. We had to go after Al Qaeda, we had to kill them, we had to get them out, and we had to pursue them to the ends of the earth.” “The word on the street was everyone’s got to be united with the president. You know, the country is in mourning.” Three days after the attacks, Lee was under pressure to vote yes on a resolution in Congress to authorize going to war against Al Qaeda and its allies when she heard a eulogy at a memorial service. “That as we act, we not become the evil we deplore.” “It was at that point I said, We need to think through our military response, our national security response and the possible impact on civilians.” “Mr. Speaker, members, I rise today really with a very heavy heart. One that is filled with sorrow for the families and the loved ones who were killed and injured this week. Yet I am convinced that military action will not prevent further acts of international terrorism against the United States.” “Got back to the office and all hell was breaking loose.” “The only dissenting voice was Democrat Barbara Lee of California, voting no.” “Phone calls, threats. People were calling me a traitor. She’s got to go. But I knew then it was going to set the stage for perpetual war.” Within weeks of 9/11, the U.S. struck back in Afghanistan. “The United States military has begun strikes against Al Qaeda terrorist training camps and military installations of the Taliban regime.” Soon after, U.S. ground troops arrived in the country. “The invasion was a success very quickly.” “At the gates of Kabul, news of a Taliban collapse had already reached these thousands.” “The Taliban retreat has turned into a rout.” “By the end of the year, the Taliban had been driven from power. A large number of Al Qaeda operatives had either been killed or captured.” And although Osama Bin Laden had managed to escape, the U.S. had accomplished its main goal. “Al Qaeda could not operate out of Afghanistan anymore.” President Bush knew there was a history of failed military campaigns in Afghanistan. “We know this from not only intelligence but from the history of military conflict in Afghanistan. It’s been one of initial success followed by long years of floundering and ultimate failure. We’re not going to repeat that mistake.” [Applause] But after his initial success, Bush expanded the mission to nation-building. To prevent further Al Qaeda attacks, his administration said it wanted to transform the poor, war-torn country into a stable democracy, with a strong central government and U.S.-trained military. “The idea was it would be impossible for the Taliban to ever return to power and impossible for Afghanistan to ever be used as a safe haven again.” “There were girls starting to go to school, there were clinics and hospitals being set up, there were vaccinations, there were elections planned. Everything was kind of humming along and we all thought, OK, this is going to be fine.” But by the mid-2000s, after the Bush administration expanded the war on terror to Iraq, Richard Boucher realized that the U.S.-backed Afghan government was plagued by corruption and mismanagement. “I used to say to my guys on the Afghan desk, ‘If we’re winning, how come it don’t look like we’re winning?’” “The Taliban have staged a major comeback, seizing control of large swaths of the country.” “The people were not rejecting the Taliban. And that was, in the end, because the government couldn’t deliver much for the people. Everybody had this idea in their heads that government works the way it does in Washington. But Afghanistan hasn’t worked that way in the past. I think that was a moment we should’ve at least asked ourselves whether it wasn’t really time for us to leave and to say to the Afghans, ‘It’s your place, you run it as best you can.’” Instead, by 2011, President Bush’s successor, Barack Obama, had sent nearly 50,000 more troops to Afghanistan, hoping to reverse the Taliban’s gains. “I think one of the biggest mistakes we made strategically, after 9/11, was to fail to finish the job here, focus our attention here. We got distracted by Iraq.” One of those troops was Marine Captain Timothy Kudo. Part of his job was to shore up support for the government by digging wells and building schools. He soon lost faith in that mission after, he says, his company killed two Afghan teenagers they mistakenly believed were firing on them. “And their family saw this happen. The mothers, the grandmothers, they came out. It was the first time I’d ever seen an Afghan woman without wearing a burqa. They were sobbing and crying uncontrollably. I mean, how can you kill two innocent people and expect anything that you say to matter at that point?” “People here have little faith in U.S. forces anymore. More Afghans now blame the violence here on the U.S. than on the Taliban.” Weeks after Kudo returned home from Afghanistan, there was a monumental development. “I started getting all these texts, like, ‘You’ve got to check out the TV.’ My roommate calls me from the other room. ‘Turn on CNN.’” “The United States has conducted an operation that killed Osama Bin Laden, the leader of Al Qaeda.” “U.S.A.! U.S.A.!” “In that moment, people are celebrating in front of the White House. They’re celebrating by Ground Zero.” “This is where it happened. We’re back. It’s justice!” “And to my mind, there’s no more reason to go through this madness. And, of course, we then did it for another decade.” “I think the military and the national security apparatus thought they could win. And I think that they also wanted to believe that because they had invested so much. People had died and they didn’t want them to die in vain.” “2011, Bin Laden is now dead. Why was it so hard to de-escalate?” Jeffrey Eggers was on President Obama’s National Security Council. He says that the goal since 9/11, to make sure Afghanistan would never again be a safe haven for terrorists, had become a recipe for endless war. “We will forever prevent the conditions that led to such an attack.” “Danger close!” [Gunfire] “And if you define it that way, when are you finished?” [Gunfire] “Go! Come on, come on, come on!” Though the surge failed to push back the Taliban, the U.S. drew down troop levels even as doubts were growing that Afghan forces would be able to defend the country. In 2021, President Biden, the fourth president to preside over the war, announced that he would withdraw U.S. troops, a plan set in motion by his predecessor, Donald Trump. “Nobody should have any doubts. We lost the war in Afghanistan.” “And we’re clear to cross?” “It wasn’t a peace agreement; it was a withdrawal agreement. The agreement was essentially, As we withdraw, don’t attack us.” As the U.S. leaves Afghanistan, the Taliban is taking over again, having quickly overrun the Afghan Army, which the U.S. spent more than $80 billion to train and equip. “The Taliban are out in full force. And their Islamist rule is already coming back.” “They can use this as a recruiting tool. They are now the champions of the jihadi movement because they pushed out the United States.” And U.S. officials are reflecting on the beginning of the war, 20 years after 9/11. “More people should have thought about endless war, not just in Congress but in the State Department, in the Defense Department, C.I.A. and elsewhere, in the White House. That the recipe of using military means to go after terrorism was just going to get us into one fight after another after another. One can only hope that Americans of the new generation will think about this.”

Video player loading

In an address to Congress and the nation on Sept. 20, 2001, President George W. Bush made it clear that the response to the terrorist attacks would not be confined to a single military strike on one group, network or country: “Our war on terror begins with Al Qaeda, but it does not end there. It will not end until every terrorist group of global reach has been found, stopped and defeated.”

Help students uncover the motivation behind the attacks and evaluate the international repercussions of the “war on terror” using the following resources:

The Terrorist Attack : Who was responsible for the attacks on Sept. 11? Why did they target the United States, and particularly civilians? Britannica and USA Today each offer brief summaries of the plot and the roles of Al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden. To go more in depth, you might have students watch the three-part documentary series “ Road to 9/11 ” from the History Channel, which provides a 360-degree overview of events that led to the attack.

To help students understand why the World Trade Center, Pentagon and U.S. Capitol were targeted, see the 9/11 Memorial and Museum lesson plan, “ Targeting American Symbols .”

The U.S. Response and the Global “War on Terror”: On Oct. 7, 2001, just weeks after the attacks, Mr. Bush announced that America had started a bombing campaign against Al Qaeda, the group responsible for the attacks, and the Taliban, the group that harbored them in Afghanistan.

So began the longest war in American history, which ended this year with the removal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan. What did the war accomplish? Use our Lesson of the Day on “ The U.S. War in Afghanistan: How It Started, and How It Ended ” to have students evaluate the causes and consequences of the 20-year conflict. They can also watch the 10-minute RetroReport video (embedded above), which looks at the decisions that shaped the war. And, they can use our Lesson of the Day “ What Will Become of Afghanistan’s Post-9/11 Generation? ” about how the lives of young people in Afghanistan have suddenly changed with the withdrawal of U.S. forces.

Beyond The Times, see the five-part lesson plan “ The Costs of War ,” created by the Choices Program, which examines the human, economic, social and political costs of the “war on terror” through videos and class discussions.

Veterans of the War in Afghanistan: Listen to voices of veterans in The Argument podcast episode “ You Don’t Bring Democracy at the Point of a Gun ” or read about their experiences in the essay “ Serving in a Twenty Year War .” How do these firsthand accounts and perspectives change how students understand the realities of the so-called war on terror? What questions would they ask these veterans if they were New York Times reporters?

After exploring one or more of the pieces in this section, students might discuss the prompts below:

What is terrorism? Why do some individuals and groups target civilians for political purposes?

Was the United States justified in using military force in Afghanistan after Sept. 11? What is the legacy of the “war on terror”? Has it made us safer?

What lessons can we learn from the war? How do you think the United States and other countries should work toward preventing future terrorist attacks? If the United States, or another country, were hit by foreign terrorism again in the future, how should we respond? What principles, critical questions and experiences should help us form our response?

8. Examine Ripple Effects in the United States

In the two decades since Sept. 11, many aspects of American life have changed, from travel and art to education and immigration . Your conversation with students about post-9/11 America could take on any one or many of these topics. Below, we suggest two possible lenses, based on recent Times texts, through which to examine the ripple effects in the United States:

Muslims in America : Invite students to read “ Muslim Americans’ ‘Seismic Change’ ” by Elizabeth Dias and consider how the aftermath of Sept. 11 has brought both challenges, including a surge in Islamophobia, but also possibilities for the Muslim American community, such as the election of Muslim Americans to Congress and award-winning television featuring Muslim American actors and stories, that would have been unfathomable 20 years ago.

Civil Liberties and Surveillance: Two decades after the attacks, police departments across the United States, and particularly the N.Y.P.D., are using counterterrorism tools, like facial recognition software, to combat routine street crime. Although police officials say these methods have helped thwart would-be attacks, others say they subject everyday people to “near-constant surveillance — a burden that falls more heavily on people of color.” Invite students to read “ How the N.Y.P.D. Is Using Post-9/11 Tools on Everyday New Yorkers ” and debate the benefits and drawbacks of these tactics.

After reading one or both of these articles, students might discuss the following questions:

In what important ways has Sept. 11 transformed American life?

Did anything described in the articles connect with anything you’ve experienced, read or witnessed? How have these changes affected your life, whether you knew it or not?

What does America’s response to Sept. 11 say about the United States today?

9. Explore Why Conspiracy Theories Sometimes Flourish

Video player loading

Today’s students are often familiar with conspiracy theories and their popularity on social media. Here is how one student responded to our 2020 Student Opinion question: Do You Think Online Conspiracy Theories Can Be Dangerous? :

Conspiracy theories can either be malicious, dumb fun, or anything in between. Some conspiracy theories can be serious and about tragedies such as 9/11, but some conspiracy theories can be interesting, such as bots in a video game being alive. I enjoy a conspiracy theory every now or then, but I wouldn’t take them as an absolute truth, you always have to take them with a grain of salt.

In the article “ How a Viral Video Bent Reality ,” Kevin Roose writes about how the conspiracy film “Loose Change” energized the “9/11 truther” movement and also supplied the template for the current age of disinformation.

Students can read this article and consider some of the questions raised in the article:

Why do you think some people are drawn to conspiracy theories?

What role does technology play in the spread of conspiracy theories?

Respond to this quote from the article: “A more urgent lesson to take from ‘Loose Change’ is that conspiracy theories tend to flourish in low-trust environments, during periods of change and confusion.” Why do you think that is? How does that lesson apply to today’s world?

You can pair this article with the Student Opinion question mentioned above, inviting students to post their own comments in response to that question, or with our Lesson of the Day “How to Deal With a Crisis of Misinformation,” which includes strategies for countering misinformation.

10. Watch Our On-Demand Panel for Students: The Post-9/11 Generation

How did 9/11 shape the generation that grew up in its aftermath?

With New York Times journalists and student voices, we discuss this question in our special interactive panel. The panel features Yousur Al-Hlou and Biz Herman, who examined how Sept. 11 has been taught in classrooms around the world, and Kiana Hayeri, who photographed young Afghans as they experienced the recent withdrawal of U.S. troops from their country. Invite students to register and view the on-demand panel .

Want more? For the 10th anniversary of Sept. 11, in 2011, we published this roundup of hundreds of resources from The Learning Network and The New York Times for teaching about Sept. 11 and the aftermath, including ideas from educators across the country and links to the front pages of The Times for the 10 days after Sept. 11.

Nicole Daniels has been a staff editor with The Learning Network since 2019. More about Nicole Daniels

How 9/11 Changed the World

Photo of two people on bikes and other bystanders looking towards the twin towers as they burn. The air is filled with ash and the photo is very hazy.

The World Trade Center buildings in New York City collapsed on September 11, 2001, after two airplanes slammed into the twin towers in a terrorist attack. Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images

BU faculty reflect on how that day’s events have reshaped our lives over the last 20 years

Bu today staff.

Saturday, September 11, 2021, marks the 20th anniversary of 9/11, the largest terrorist attack in history. On that Tuesday morning, 19 al-Qaeda terrorists hijacked four American commercial flights destined for the West Coast and intentionally crashed them. Two planes—American Airlines Flight 11 and United Airlines Flight 175—departed from Boston and Flight 11 struck New York City’s World Trade Center North Tower at 8:46 am and Flight 175 the South Tower at 9:03 am, resulting in the collapse of both towers. A third plane, American Airlines Flight 77, leaving from Dulles International Airport in Virginia, crashed into the Pentagon at 9:37 am, and the final plane, United Airlines Flight 93, departing from Newark, N.J., crashed in a field in Shanksville, Pa., at 10:03 am, after passengers stormed the cockpit and tried to subdue the hijackers.

In the space of less than 90 minutes on a late summer morning, the world changed. Nearly 3,000 people were killed that day and the United States soon found itself mired in what would become the longest war in its history, a war that cost an estimated $8 trillion . The events of 9/11 not only reshaped the global response to terrorism, but raised new and troubling questions about security, privacy, and treatment of prisoners. It reshaped US immigration policies and led to a surge in discrimination, racial profiling, and hate crimes.

In observance of the anniversary, BU Today reached out to faculty across Boston University—experts in international relations, international security,  immigration law, global health, terrorism, and ethics—and asked each to address this question: “How has the world changed as a result of 9/11?”

Find a list of all those with ties to the BU community killed on 9/11 here.

Explore Related Topics:

  • Immigration
  • International Relations
  • Pardee School of Global Studies
  • Public Policy
  • Share this story
  • 43 Comments Add

BU Today staff Profile

Comments & Discussion

Boston University moderates comments to facilitate an informed, substantive, civil conversation. Abusive, profane, self-promotional, misleading, incoherent or off-topic comments will be rejected. Moderators are staffed during regular business hours (EST) and can only accept comments written in English. Statistics or facts must include a citation or a link to the citation.

There are 43 comments on How 9/11 Changed the World

this is very scary to me.

Yes this is very scary

This was a very sad moment in time but we need to remember the people that sacrificed themselves to save us and the people that died during this event. It was sad but at least it brought us closer together. I wonder what the world would be like if 9/11 never happened?..

Yes that is a good thing to rember…

We will all remember 9/11, a very important moment in our life, and we honor the ones who sacrificed their lives to save others in there.

It changed the world forever, it is infact a painful memory to remember

I feel bad for all the families that had family and friends die.

i feel bad for all the people and their family and friends that died

9/11 is tragic and it will always be remembered though I have to say that saying 9/11 changed the word is quite an overstatement. More like how it changes America in certain ways and the ones responsible for it but saying something like what you said makes it sound like it was Armageddon or something.

Whether or not those of us in other countries like it, for the last several decades and certainly still in the current time, when something changes the USA in significant ways that impact policy, legislation, education, the economy, health care, etc. (not to mention the ways in which public opinion drives the American political machine), the US’s presence on the international stage means those changes ripple outward through their foreign policy, treatment of both residents/citizens of the USA and local people where the USA has a military, economic and/or other presence around the world.

The complex web of international agreements, alliances, organizational memberships, and financial interdependency means that events that happen locally often have both direct and indirect implications, short and long term, around the world, for individuals and for entire segments of society.

As for the direct results of 20 years of military response to 9/11 on civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan, it certainly changed their world.

The original BU 9/11 Memorial webpage is still up:

Reading through the remembrances from that day onward …

Omg scary .

I honor them all.

I wonder how much time people had to get out before the building collapsed

the south tower collapsed in 10 seconds.

Yes but it didnt colapse untill 56 minutes after it was hit

Shall all the people who risked their lives, never be forgotten.

am i blind or was there no mention of how it actually affected the world afterwards??

I know right?

My dad died in 9/11, He was a great pilot

Wow. I’m really sorry for your loss I hope you can still go far in life even without your dad. Sometimes you just have to go with your gut and let them go.

i dont really think you understood that comment

i just read the story and im so sade for the dad that died . If i was there i wouls of creiyed and i saw someone in the chare that someone dad died and i felt so bad when i saw the comment but i dont know if that is real but if it is i feal bad for you if my dad died or my mom i woulld been so sade i would never get over it but this story changed my life when i read it.Also 1 thing i hoop not to any dads diead because i feel bad fo thos kids.

yo all the dads and moms died all of them will never get forgoten every single one of them

Never forget, always remember

everyone is talking about the twin towers but what about the pentagon.

I know, right?

it is super scary

Sorry for all the people who Lost their family

Thanks for helping me with this report, and yes so sorry for all yall who lost family

So, so sorry to all y’all who lost family

I am deeply sorry for anyone who lost family, friends, co workers, or anybody you once knew. This really was a tragedy to so many.

my dad almost died from the tower

very scary but needs too be remembered!

I have to say this is most definitely a U.S. American write up. Saying the word is an overstatement in many ways. It would be more better if you were to specifically point out you mean the US and those others involved with the attacks. Overall if we are going to be completely factual “people/individuals” are the ones who change things depending on whatever. The world changes every day since the start of time.

While I agree with your first point, I would say that the attacks did in fact change the world. At the very least, they changed the way airline security is done everywhere.

great article,

I believe that the people, who sacrificed their lives in flight 93, the one that crashed in Pennsylvania, resonated the most with me, as it could have gone anywhere, and they sacrificed themselves to save more. I am deeply sorry for all losses, but I hope we remember this crucial moment in history to learn from our mistakes in global affairs, but also honor those who sacrificed themselves in all the attacks.

Post a comment. Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Latest from BU Today

New music march 2024: new albums, local concerts, your everything guide to coffee, did you win the free dune : part two tickets for tonight, “we will not remain silent”: afghan girls and women highlight pardee school summit in washington, bu men’s lacrosse plays patriot league home opener saturday against navy, meet this year’s undergraduate academic advising awards winners, the weekender: february 29 to march 3, your everything guide to studying abroad at bu, can civilians own automatic weapons supreme court takes up the issue of bump stocks, office artifacts: lawford anderson, are you running in the boston marathon to raise money for a charity, com student wins directors guild of america student award, maestro celebrates the art of conducting. how accurate is it, pov: the truth behind trump’s nato threats, applications for the bu class of 2028 are in: here’s what we know so far, five years old at college bu’s leap year babies get to celebrate rare birthday, bu freshman heads to us synchronized skating championships, alabama court ruling that frozen embryos are children and its impact on the future of ivf treatment, terriers host patriot league indoor track and field championships this weekend, the first time since 2017, the weekender: february 22 to 25.

9/11 facts for essay

Language selector

Don't have an account? Create an account today and support the 9/11 Memorial & Museum.

Log in with Google , Facebook or Twitter .

  • Create new account
  • Forgot your password?
  • 9/11 Primer

Group of middle school students in different skin tones write on clipboards inside the museum, with aluminum cladding visible in the background.

The 9/11 Primer provides educators and online learners with foundational information about the World Trade Center and the Twin Towers, the 9/11 attacks and their aftermath, and the rebuilding of the World Trade Center site.

Six dark-haired men and women looking up to an artifact of a damaged 3-piece steel beams mounted on textured aluminum claddings.

The 9/11 Primer is divided into six thematic modules, each with a range of educational resources that help learners understand the events of 9/11, the antecedents of the attacks, and the ongoing repercussions of that day. These modules can be used in preparation for a visit to the Museum or as a guide for in-classroom teaching. The types of resources presented include primary sources, first-person video stories, public program video recordings, lesson plans, interactive timelines, and object highlights. Recommended grade levels for each resource are provided.

Image of a woman speaking in the Museum for the Anniversary in Schools webinar

  • Anniversary Digital Learning Experience

The 9/11 Memorial & Museum invites teachers, students, libraries, and other community organizations to register for a free program commemorating the anniversary of 9/11.

Image of the back of a woman holding a young girl while looking at the Memorial parapet on a sunny day

Talking to Children About Terrorism

The following tips provide broad guidelines to help you talk to children and students about terrorist attacks in the United States and around the world.

  • Group Visits
  • Museum Admission Discounts
  • Health and Safety
  • Visitor Guidelines
  • Getting Here
  • Accessibility
  • Exhibitions
  • The Collection
  • Programs and Events
  • Find a Name
  • Outdoor Memorial Audio Guide
  • 9/11 Memorial Glade
  • The Survivor Tree
  • Past Public Programs
  • School Programs
  • Lesson Plans
  • Digital Learning Experience Archives
  • Teacher Professional Development
  • Activities at Home
  • Youth and Family Tours
  • Talking to Children about Terrorism
  • Digital Exhibitions
  • Interactive Timelines
  • Oral Histories
  • WTC Health Program
  • Visiting Information
  • Rescue and Recovery Workers
  • Witnesses and Survivors
  • Service Members and Veterans
  • September 11, 2001
  • Remember the Sky
  • February 26, 1993
  • May 30, 2002
  • The MEMO Blog
  • Sponsor a Cobblestone
  • Other Ways to Give
  • Member Login
  • 5K Run/Walk
  • Benefit Dinner
  • Summit on Security
  • Corporate Membership
  • The Never Forget Fund
  • Visionary Network
  • Give to the Collection
  • Skip to main content
  • Keyboard shortcuts for audio player

9/11 facts for essay

The 20th Anniversary Of The 9/11 Attacks

The world has changed since 9/11, and so has america's fight against terrorism.

Ryan Lucas in 2018

An American flag at ground zero on the evening of Sept. 11, 2001, after the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City. Mark Lennihan/AP hide caption

An American flag at ground zero on the evening of Sept. 11, 2001, after the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City.

In the fall of 2001, Aaron Zebley was a 31-year-old FBI agent in New York. He had just transferred to a criminal squad after working counterterrorism cases for years.

His first day in the new job was Sept. 11.

"I was literally cleaning the desk, I was like wiping the desk when Flight 11 hit the north tower, and it shook our building," he said. "And I was like, what the heck was that? And later that day, I was transferred back to counterterrorism."

It was a natural move for Zebley. He'd spent the previous three years investigating al-Qaida's bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. And he became a core member of the FBI team leading the investigation into the 9/11 attacks.

It quickly became clear that al-Qaida was responsible.

The hijackers had trained at the group's camps in Afghanistan. They received money and instructions from its leadership. And ultimately, they were sent to the U.S. to carry out al-Qaida's "planes operation."

9/11 facts for essay

President George W Bush gives an address in front of the damaged Pentagon following the Sept. 11 terrorist attack there as Counselor to the President Karen Hughes and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld stand by. Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images hide caption

President George W Bush gives an address in front of the damaged Pentagon following the Sept. 11 terrorist attack there as Counselor to the President Karen Hughes and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld stand by.

As the nation mourned the nearly 3,000 people who were killed on 9/11, the George W. Bush administration frantically tried to find its footing and prevent what many feared would be a second wave of attacks.

President Bush ordered members of his administration, including top counterterrorism official Richard Clarke, to imagine what the next attack could look like and take steps to prevent it.

"We had so many vulnerabilities in this country," Clarke said.

At the time, officials were worried that al-Qaida could use chemical weapons or radioactive materials, Clarke said, or that the group would target intercity trains or subway systems.

"We had a very long list of things, systems, that were vulnerable because no one in the United States had seriously considered security from terrorist attacks," he said.

That, of course, quickly changed.

Security became paramount.

And over the next two decades, the federal government poured money and resources — some of it, critics say, to no good use — into protecting the U.S. from another terrorist attack, even as the nature of that threat continuously evolved.

The response to keeping the U.S. secure takes shape

The government built out a massive infrastructure, including creating the Department of Homeland Security, all in the name of protecting against terrorist attacks.

The Bush administration also empowered the FBI and its partners at the CIA, National Security Agency and the Pentagon to take the fight to al-Qaida.

The military invaded Afghanistan, which had been a haven for the group. The CIA hunted down al-Qaida operatives around the world and tortured many of them in secret prisons.

Part of Flight 93 crashed on my land. I went back to the sacred ground 20 years later

The NPR Politics Podcast

Part of flight 93 crashed on my land. i went back to the sacred ground 20 years later.

The Bush administration also launched its ill-fated war in Iraq, which unleashed two decades of bloodletting, shook the Middle East and spawned another generation of terrorists.

On the homefront, FBI Director Robert Mueller shifted some 2,000 agents to counterterrorism work as he tried to transform the FBI from a crime-fighting first organization into a more intelligence-driven one that prioritized combating terrorism and preventing the next attack.

Part of that involved centralizing the bureau's international terrorism investigations at headquarters and making counterterrorism the FBI's top priority.

Chuck Rosenberg, who served as a top aide to Mueller in those early years, said the changes Mueller imposed amounted to a paradigm shift for the bureau.

9/11 facts for essay

Robert S. Mueller, then-director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, talks to reporters on Aug. 17, 2006, in Seattle. Ted S. Warren/AP hide caption

Robert S. Mueller, then-director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, talks to reporters on Aug. 17, 2006, in Seattle.

"Mueller, God bless him, couldn't be all that patient about it," Rosenberg said. "It couldn't happen at a normal pace of a traditional cultural change. It had to happen yesterday."

It had to happen "yesterday" because al-Qaida was still plotting. Overseas, its operatives carried out horrific bombings in Bali, Madrid, London and elsewhere.

In the U.S., al-Qaida operative Richard Reid was arrested in December 2001 after trying to blow up a trans-Atlantic flight with a bomb hidden in his shoe. More plots were foiled in the ensuing years, including one targeting the Brooklyn Bridge.

Over time, the FBI and its partners better understood al-Qaida, its hierarchical structure, and how to unravel the various threads of a plot.

That stemmed to large degree, Zebley says, from the U.S. getting better at pulling together various threads of intelligence and by upping the operational tempo.

"If you have a little thread that could potentially tell you about a terrorist plot, not only were we much better at integrating the intelligence, but we did it at a pace that was tenfold what we were doing before," he said.

But critics warned that the government's new anti-terrorism tools were eroding civil liberties, while the American Muslim community felt it was all too often the target of an overzealous FBI.

The digital world helps transform terrorism

By the early days of the Obama administration, the U.S. had to a large extent hardened the homeland against 9/11-style plots. But the terrorism landscape was evolving.

At that time, Zebley was serving as a senior aide to Mueller. Each morning, he would sit in on the FBI director's daily threat briefing.

"I was thinking about al-Qaida for years leading up until that moment," he said. "And now I'm sitting in these morning threat briefings and I'm seeing al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb in North Africa, al-Shabab. ... One of my first thoughts was 'the map looks very different to me now.' "

9/11 facts for essay

Robert Mueller (left) and Aaron Zebley testify on Capitol Hill in Washington on July 24, 2019, before the House Intelligence Committee hearing on his report on Russian election interference. Susan Walsh/AP hide caption

Robert Mueller (left) and Aaron Zebley testify on Capitol Hill in Washington on July 24, 2019, before the House Intelligence Committee hearing on his report on Russian election interference.

Ultimately, AQAP — al-Qaida's branch based in Yemen — emerged as a significant threat to the U.S. homeland.

That became clear in November 2009 when U.S. Army Maj. Nidal Hasan shot and killed 13 people at Fort Hood, Texas. A month later, on Christmas Day, a young Nigerian man tried to blow up a passenger jet over Detroit with a bomb hidden in his underwear.

It quickly emerged that both men had been in contact with a senior AQAP figure, an American-born Yemeni cleric named Anwar al-Awlaki.

"My sense when I first heard about him was 'well, he's some charismatic guy, born in the U.S., fluent English speaker and all that. But how big a threat could he be?" said John Pistole, who served as the No. 2 official at the FBI from 2004 until 2010 when he left to lead the Transportation Security Administration.

"I think I failed to recognize and appreciate his ability to influence others to action."

Awlaki used the internet to spread his calls for violence against America, and his lectures and ideas influenced attacks in several countries. Awlaki was killed in a U.S. drone strike in 2011, a move that proved controversial because he was an American citizen.

A few years later, a different terrorist group emerged from the cauldron of Syria and Iraq — the Islamic State, or ISIS, a group that would build on Awlaki's savvy use of the digital world.

"When ISIS came onto the scene, particularly that summer of 2014, with the beheadings and the prolific use of social media, it was off the charts," said Mary McCord, who was a senior national security official at the Justice Department at the time.

Her Brother Died On Flight 93. She Still Sees Him Surfacing In Small Ways

Her Brother Died On Flight 93. She Still Sees Him Surfacing In Small Ways

Like al-Qaida more than a decade before, ISIS used its stronghold to plan operations abroad, such as the coordinated attacks in 2015 that killed 130 people in Paris. But it also used social media platforms such as Twitter and Telegram to pump out slickly produced propaganda videos.

"They deployed technology in a much more sophisticated way than we had seen with most other foreign terrorist organizations," McCord said.

ISIS produced materials featuring idyllic scenes of life in the caliphate to entice people to move there. At the same time, the group pushed out a torrent of videos showing horrendous violence that sought to instill fear in ISIS' enemies and to inspire the militants' sympathizers in Europe and the U.S. to conduct attacks where they were.

"The threat was much more horizontal. It was harder to corral," said Chuck Rosenberg, who served as FBI Director James Comey's chief of staff.

People inspired by ISIS could go from watching the group's videos to action relatively quickly without setting off alarms.

"It was clear too that there were going to be attacks we just couldn't stop. Things that went from left of boom to right of boom very quickly. People were more discreet, the thing we used to refer to as lone wolves," Rosenberg said. "A lot of bad things could happen, maybe on a smaller scale, but a lot of bad things could happen more quickly."

Bad things did happen

Europe was hit by a series of deadly one-off attacks. In the U.S., a gunman killed 49 people at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Fla., in 2016. A year later, a man used a truck to plow through a group of cyclists and pedestrians in Manhattan, killing eight people. Both men had been watching ISIS propaganda.

9/11 facts for essay

A makeshift memorial stands outside the Tree of Life Synagogue in the aftermath of a deadly shooting in Pittsburgh in 2018. Matt Rourke/AP hide caption

A makeshift memorial stands outside the Tree of Life Synagogue in the aftermath of a deadly shooting in Pittsburgh in 2018.

The group's allure waned after a global coalition led by the U.S. managed to retake all the territory that ISIS once claimed.

By then, America's most lethal terror threat already stemmed not from foreign terror groups, but from the country's own domestic extremists.

For nearly two decades, the FBI had prioritized the fight against international terrorists. But in early 2020, FBI Director Christopher Wray said that had changed.

"We elevated to the top-level priority racially motivated violent extremism so it's on the same footing in terms of our national threat banding as ISISI and homegrown violent extremism," he testified before Congress.

The move came in the wake of a series of high-profile attacks by people espousing white supremacist views in Charlottesville, Va., Pittsburgh, Pa., Poway, Calif., and El Paso, Texas.

At the same time, anti-government extremist groups and conspiracy theories like QAnon were attracting more adherents.

Those various movements converged in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 6, 2021, in the storming of the U.S. Capitol as Congress was certifying Joe Biden's presidential win.

9/11 facts for essay

Rioters climb the west wall of the the U.S. Capitol in Washington on Jan. 6. Jose Luis Magana/AP hide caption

Rioters climb the west wall of the the U.S. Capitol in Washington on Jan. 6.

The FBI has since launched a massive investigation into the assault, and Wray has bluntly described the Capitol riot as "domestic terrorism."

McCord, who is now the executive director at the Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection at the Georgetown University Law Center, says domestic extremist groups are using many of the same tools that foreign groups have for years.

"You see that in the use of social media for the same kind of things: to recruit, to propagandize, to plot, and to fundraise," she said.

The Capitol riot has put a spotlight on far-right extremism in a way the issue has never received in the past two decades, including in the media and the highest levels of the U.S. government.

President Biden, for one, has called political extremism and domestic terrorism a looming threat to the country that must be defeated, and he has made combating the threat a priority for his administration.

  • terrorist attacks
  • FBI Director Robert Mueller
  • President George W. Bush
  • Sept. 11 attacks

Remembering September 11

Learn how this historic day in 2001 changed the lives of those living in the United States—and around the world.

On September 11, 2001, people in New York City woke up to a beautiful late summer day. It was a Tuesday, and people were preparing for another day at work and school.

Thousands of people headed for the World Trade Center, a complex of seven buildings that included a pair of skyscrapers known as the twin towers. Each tower had 110 stories and stood about 1,360 feet high. The tallest buildings in New York City at the time, the twin towers rose above the city’s downtown skyline. Nobody there knew that in just a few hours, both buildings would fall.

A shocking event

People who live in New York are used to seeing and hearing airplanes flying overhead. But on the morning of September 11, people stopped on the streets and looked up. The sound of an approaching airplane was too loud, and the plane seemed to be flying too low. To the horror of people watching below, the airplane flew straight into one of the twin towers of the World Trade Center. 

American Airlines Flight 11 hit the north tower at 8:46 a.m. The impact of the crash tore a hole that stretched from the 93rd to 99th floors of the building. Smoke and flames poured out of the tower. Many people thought they had just seen a terrible accident. But 17 minutes later, a second plane flew into another one of the World Trade Center buildings—this time into the south tower. 

United Airlines Flight 175 crashed into the 77th through 85th floors of the south tower at 9:03 a.m. Some cell phone and TV station cameras caught the second attack on film. The footage was played over and over again on television. Soon people knew that hijackers—individuals who capture an aircraft, ship, or vehicle by force—had taken over the planes. A group of men had taken control of the cockpit of each airplane and flown them into the buildings on purpose.

The attack continues

The United States was under attack. About half an hour after the second tower was struck in New York City, hijackers crashed a third airplane. American Airlines Flight 77 hit the west side of the Pentagon, a five-sided concrete building that serves as headquarters for the U.S. Department of Defense, in Arlington, Virginia , just outside Washington, D.C. The plane’s fuel tanks exploded, and two giant fireballs blasted into the air.

The U.S. government ordered all airplanes flying over the country to land as soon as possible. But it was too late for United Airlines Flight 93. Hijackers had already taken control of this fourth aircraft. They were flying the plane toward Washington, D.C.

Passengers and crew members on the plane called loved ones, who told them about the other attacks in New York and Virginia. People on Flight 93 thought their aircraft would be used as a weapon, too. So they fought the hijackers to try to get control of the plane. In a phone call recorded as passengers and crew began to fight back, passenger Todd Beamer was heard saying, “Are you ready? OK, let’s roll.”

Flight 93 eventually crashed into a field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania . The crash site was close to the hijackers’ likely target, a government building in Washington, D.C.

The rescue begins

Back in New York City, dark smoke poured from the twin towers. People rushed to escape the area, which later became known as ground zero. First responders—including police officers, firefighters, and paramedics—arrived within minutes of the first attack on the World Trade Center. They rushed into both towers to help people trapped inside, even though it would be an extremely difficult rescue operation. Almost all the elevators in the twin towers had stopped working. So rescuers started climbing up the stairs, but many were blocked by rubble or fire. Still, firefighters forged ahead, ignoring the danger. ( Read more about the heroes of 9/11 .)          

The towers fall

When the airplanes hit the twin towers, they caused massive damage. Concrete floors were destroyed. Steel support beams were cut in two. Floors above the crash sites started to sag downward. Meanwhile, the sprinklers in both buildings were damaged. There was nothing to stop the raging fires, which became hot enough to weaken steel. The buildings grew unstable. Then they collapsed.

The south tower fell first. Once it began to crumble, it took only 10 seconds for it to collapse. The impact caused the north tower to shake, and it, too, crumbled to the ground 29 minutes later.

First responders helped many people before the twin towers collapsed. More than 25,000 made it out of the buildings before they fell. But nearly 3,000 people—from the twin towers, the Pentagon, and the four airplanes—died in the attacks that day.

The official response

The events of September 11, 2001, shook the nation. The U.S. government had to respond. President George W. Bush led the country in a day of prayer and remembrance. Then he led the nation’s effort to find and punish the people who had caused the attacks.

A terrorist group based in Afghanistan (a country in the Middle East) called al Qaeda claimed responsibility for the 9/11 attacks. Their leader was Osama bin Laden. Al Qaeda and bin Laden considered the United States to be their enemy, which is why the hijackers used the airplanes to attack important U.S. buildings. In total, 19 hijackers took over the four planes that crashed on 9/11.

World leaders promised to help the United States punish al Qaeda and locate their leader. In October 2001, the United States and its allies started military actions in Afghanistan, searching for members of al Qaeda who worked with bin Laden to plan and carry out the 9/11 attacks. It would take nearly 10 years for these forces to locate and kill bin Laden himself, who was eventually discovered hiding in nearby Pakistan in May 2011.

Banding together

Although the 9/11 attacks took place in the United States, many people from other countries felt that a terrorist attack on such a powerful nation was a threat to peace around the world. They brought flowers to U.S. embassies and lit candles to honor the victims. They gathered to sing “The Star-Spangled Banner.” One French newspaper showed its support with the front-page headline “Nous sommes tous Américains,” meaning: “We are all Americans.”

After the attacks, many people in the United States wanted to show support for their country, too. They gave flowers, candles, food, and thank-you notes to first responders. U.S. residents and organizations also donated a record-breaking $2.8 billion to help the families of victims of the attacks. By the end of 2001, more than 300 U.S. charities were raising money for the cause.

Most Americans tried to help others after the 9/11 attacks. But some people took their anger and fear out on people who looked like they came from the same Middle Eastern countries as the hijackers. Innocent people who had nothing to do with the events of 9/11 were attacked and not treated fairly.    

20 years later

A lot has changed since September 11, 2001. To prevent similar terrorist attacks from happening in the country, the United States government created the Department of Homeland Security in 2002. The organization is responsible for border security, immigrations and customs, and disaster relief and prevention. But they also keep a close watch over suspected terrorist groups and send warnings if they think the country and its people are in danger. That way, the government can protect them.

Air travel became stricter after 9/11. Before the attacks, private security companies performed all airport screenings. After September 11, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) was created to give the federal government direct responsibility for all airport screenings. In 2002, the TSA began using explosive detection systems nationwide to screen all bags for explosives. They also installed more advanced technologies, such as the full-body scanner, to ensure travelers weren’t trying to bring anything harmful on an airplane. (The hijackers used weapons they had carried onboard to gain control of the aircrafts.) Other rules—like using small containers for liquids like shampoo or removing shoes during security checks—were put in place to make sure people didn’t sneak dangerous things onboard.

The United States also entered a long war on terror abroad. In addition to sending troops to Afghanistan, Bush also sent troops to Iraq in 2003 because of rumors that the country was hiding dangerous weapons. By the time Barack Obama was elected president in 2008, some 4,500 American soldiers had died in Afghanistan and Iraq, with many thousands more wounded.

Many Americans felt the loss of life wasn’t worth it—bin Laden was still missing, and no weapons were ever found. But in 2011, bin Laden was finally located and killed. His death was a blow to al Qaeda and gave some U.S. citizens hope that progress was being made in the fight against terrorism.

By the end of 2011, Obama had withdrawn all combat troops from Iraq. But U.S. troops were still fighting in Afghanistan by the end of his second term in 2017. And another terrorist group, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), threatened the region throughout Obama’s presidency and into Donald Trump ’s single term as president, too.

During Trump’s term in office, he announced the removal of all troops from Afghanistan by May 1, 2021. Trump’s successor, Joe Biden , delayed the removal, announcing that the United States would be removing all troops from Afghanistan by August 31 instead, just before the 20-year anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.

Honoring the victims 

Memorials now stand to pay tribute to those who lost their lives on September 11, 2001. The 9/11 Memorial and Museum in New York City contains pools set within each area where the twin towers stood; the names of all the 9/11 victims from each tower are inscribed on bronze panels. At the National 9/11 Pentagon Memorial, each of the 184 benches is dedicated to a victim of the Virginia attack. And the Tower of Voices at the Flight 93 National Memorial in Pennsylvania has 40 wind chimes to honor the plane’s passengers and crew members.

The attacks on September 11, 2001, shook the world and made people realize that even a powerful country like the United States could be a victim of terrorism. But the horrific event also brought Americans closer together. As U.S. senator John Kerry said at the time, “It was the worst day we have ever seen, but it brought out the best in all of us.”

Text partially adapted from the Nat Geo Kids book September 11   by Libby Romero.

Read This Next

Heroes of 9/11.

  • Personality Quiz

History hero

(ad) national geographic readers: september 11, video: 50 birds, 50 states.

  • Terms of Use
  • Privacy Policy
  • Your California Privacy Rights
  • Children's Online Privacy Policy
  • Interest-Based Ads
  • About Nielsen Measurement
  • Do Not Sell My Info
  • National Geographic
  • National Geographic Education
  • Shop Nat Geo
  • Customer Service
  • Manage Your Subscription

Copyright © 1996-2015 National Geographic Society Copyright © 2015-2024 National Geographic Partners, LLC. All rights reserved

9/11 facts for essay

  • History Classics
  • Your Profile
  • Find History on Facebook (Opens in a new window)
  • Find History on Twitter (Opens in a new window)
  • Find History on YouTube (Opens in a new window)
  • Find History on Instagram (Opens in a new window)
  • Find History on TikTok (Opens in a new window)
  • This Day In History
  • History Podcasts
  • History Vault

9/11 Commission Report

By: Editors

Updated: July 18, 2023 | Original: June 20, 2011

The 9/11 Commission Report, September 11 Attacks

The 9/11 Commission Report was published on July 22, 2004, three years after the terror attacks of September 11, 2001. The report was authored by the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, or “9/11 Commission.”

They were an independent, bipartisan group created on November 27, 2002, when President George W. Bush signed congressional legislation mandating that they produce a report exploring what really happened on 9/11. The 9/11 Commission Report studied U.S. preparedness and responsiveness to the attacks and provided recommendations to guard against future threats. The 9/11 Commission began its first hearings in New York City in the spring of 2003 and presented its findings in a public report released on July 22, 2004.

Read a PDF of the report here . 

Birth of the 9/11 Commission

On November 27, 2002, U.S. President George W. Bush signed into law congressional legislation authorizing federal funding for intelligence activities. The legislation also established the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States in order to (in Bush’s words) “examine and report on the facts and causes relating to the September 11th terrorist attacks.”

Former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger was Bush’s choice to head the commission, while Democratic congressional leaders chose former Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell as vice-chairman. Less than a month later, however, both men resigned from the 9/11 Commission, citing potential conflicts of interest. Mitchell did not want to sever ties to his law firm, while Kissinger—whom many considered too close to many national and international leaders to be objective—did not wish to disclose the identities of clients of his consulting firm.

Did you know? In early 2008, after it was revealed that that the CIA had destroyed videotaped interrogations of Al Qaeda operatives, 9/11 Commission leaders Thomas Kean and Lee Hamilton wrote in the New York Times that the commission had asked the CIA repeatedly for information of the kind that would have been obtained in such interrogations; they called the agency's failure to disclose the existence of the tapes "obstruction."

To replace Kissinger, Bush tapped former New Jersey Governor Thomas Kean, a Republican. Congressional Democrats chose former Representative Lee Hamilton, Democrat of Indiana , to replace Mitchell. The 10-member commission included five Democrats and five Republicans. It was given a budget of some $3 million and a total of 18 months, or until the end of May 2004, to complete a full report of the circumstances surrounding the events of 9/11 and provide a number of recommendations to guard against future attacks.

Progress of the 9/11 Commission

Organizations representing the families of the 9/11 victims had been instrumental in the establishment of the 9/11 Commission, and closely monitored its progress. In March 2003, the 9/11 Commission sought $11 million in additional federal funding to complete its task in the allotted time period. Kean requested the funds as part of a $75 billion supplemental spending bill that Bush had submitted in order to pay for war with Iraq. Later that month, the Bush administration agreed to up the commission’s budget by $9 million.

From March 31 to April 1, 2003, the 9/11 Commission held its first public hearing in the United States Customs House, located not far from the World Trade Center site in New York City. Survivors of the 9/11 attacks and relatives of victims delivered their heart-wrenching accounts, and questioned the failures of American intelligence that had allowed such horrific attacks to occur. In a total of 12 public hearings over the next 10 months, the 9/11 Commission heard from a range of witnesses including Department of Justice experts, academics in the fields of terrorism and counterterrorism, and New York City Police and Fire Department representatives.

Prominent leaders who testified before the commission included New York City Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) Director George Tenet, Secretary of State Colin Powell , Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice, former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and former Secretary of Defense William Cohen. President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney gave private testimony (not under oath), as did former President Bill Clinton and former Vice President Al Gore .

9/11 Attacks Artifacts from the 9/11 Memorial Museum

The 9/11 Commission Report

In its final report, published on July 22, 2004, the 9/11 Commission stated that the terrorist attacks of September 2001 “were a shock but they should not have come as a surprise,” as Islamic extremists such as Al Qaeda’s Osama Bin Laden had long declared their intentions to kill large numbers of Americans.

The report outlined the failings of numerous government agencies, particularly the Central Intelligence Agency, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Pentagon and the National Security Council, in acting on existing intelligence in order to protect and defend the nation from such threats. Among a long list of recommendations designed to guard against future attacks, the 9/11 Commission advocated a comprehensive restructuring of U.S. intelligence agencies and an increased emphasis on diplomacy between the United States and the Islamic world.

Some critics have claimed that the 9/11 Commission was not truly independent, as its members were chosen by Congress and the Bush administration, and that it suffered from conflicts of interest due to connections between some of its members and key figures in the administration. Meanwhile, Kean and Hamilton have claimed that the commission was hamstrung by the time and budgetary constraints it was under, and that its effectiveness was hampered by misinformation given by organizations like the Pentagon and the Federal Aviation Administration.

9/11 facts for essay

HISTORY Vault: 102 Minutes That Changed America

The terror of 9/11 is chronicled in real time utilizing footage from personal camcorders, police and fire department recordings, and in-the-moment commentary from first responders and witnesses.

9/11 facts for essay

Sign up for Inside History

Get HISTORY’s most fascinating stories delivered to your inbox three times a week.

By submitting your information, you agree to receive emails from HISTORY and A+E Networks. You can opt out at any time. You must be 16 years or older and a resident of the United States.

More details : Privacy Notice | Terms of Use | Contact Us

Daily Video

Sept. 10, 2019, 12:26 p.m.

On the 19th anniversary of 9/11, ask your students: How has the world changed?

Read the article 9/11 to now: Ways we have changed along with the bullet points summarizing the piece. Then answer the questions below. You may wish to assign different sections of the article to different groups of students and have the groups report back as a class.

Then watch Billy Collins, the U.S. poet laureate on Sept. 11th, read a poem he wrote a year after the attack, called “The Names,” in honor of the victims. He read the poem before a special joint session of Congress held in New York City in 2002, and reads it again now in this NewsHour video from 2011.

9/11 Fast Facts

  • Sept. 11th marks the anniversary of the attacks when terrorist-piloted planes hit the World Trade Center and the Pentagon and crashed into a field in Somerset County, Penn. Each year relatives read the names of the 2,977 fallen.
  • Many changes have occurred in U.S. domestic and foreign policy after 9/11, including air travel, with Congress federalizing airport security through the passage of the Aviation and Transportation Security Act, which created the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). Before 9/11, security had been handled by airports, which outsourced the work to private security companies.
  • More than 260 government agencies were created or reorganized after 9/11. The Patriot Act and 48 bills were signed into law, many of them related to counterterrorism work.
  • The U.S. entered the longest war in our country’s history in Afghanistan after the attacks on 9/11, which continues to this day. The terrorist organization, al-Qaeda, led by Osama bin Laden from Saudi Arabia, planned the attacks from Afghanistan with the support of that country’s totalitarian regime.
  • Anti-Islam hate crimes in the U.S. spiked after the attacks and many Muslims were subject to verbal harassment and increased airport security checks. In 2015, incidents of crimes against Muslim people reached 9/11 articles and continues to be a problem in the U.S. Read the Teachers’ Lounge article here to learn more.

Discussion questions

  • What do you know about the attacks on September 11, 2001?
  • How have the policies of the U.S. and other countries’ governments changed since 9/11? What about cultural changes? What are ways the world has changed that are not discussed in the story?
  • Why is it important to understand how 9/11 affected the U.S. and much of the world?
  • Why do you think family members of those lost on 9/11 participate in memorial events, including reading the names of the deceased?
  • Does your school set aside time to discuss 9/11? If not, do you think a discussion is warranted? Why or why not?
  • Media literacy : Have you seen any news coverage of the 18th anniversary of 9/11? What topics or images are being shared?

Extension activities

  • Read this first-person account, Column: I was there on 9/11. Now it’s a history lesson that I teach by English teacher Annie Thoms who had just started the school year at her alma mater, Stuyvesant High School, located four blocks from Ground Zero. Why do you think it may be important to hear a teacher’s perspective about Sept. 11th?
  • Then read the article What it was like to watch the 9/11 attacks from your classroom window about Thoms' work with 13 young actors and directors at her school to create a play based on interviews with Stuyvesant students, faculty and staff. Those interviews captured what it was like to witness the nation’s worst act of terrorism and the emotions that followed. Why do you think the students chose to share their thoughts in the form of a play? What is it about the language in the play that makes it sound like poetry? Why does poetry often allow writers to express how they are feeling?

Excerpts f rom “With Their Eyes: September 11th–The View From a High School at Ground Zero.”

Kevin zhang, sophomore, katherine fletcher, english teacher, hudson williams-eynon, freshman, juan carlos lopez, school safety agent, katie berringer, freshman, jennifer suri, assistant principal, social studies, recent daily videos.

<bound method CaptionedImage.default_alt_text of <CaptionedImage: DEATH-OF-A-PRESIDENT-Geroge-Washington-monitor>>

Revealing the painful last moments of George Washington

A series of historical documents sheds light on the final moments of George Washington, whose cause of death has been a mystery for hundreds of years.

  • arts-culture
  • English & Language Arts
  • government-civics
  • social-studies
  • lesson-plan
  • Afghanistan
  • September 11
  • donald-trump
  • Islamophobia
  • Osama bin Laden
  • Teachers' Lounge
  • 911-anniverary
  • September 11th anniversary
  • Patriot Act
  • Billy Collins
  • twin towers
  • shanksville


<bound method CaptionedImage.default_alt_text of <CaptionedImage: lemelson_logo-2447736847_360>>

Copyright © 2023 NewsHour Production LLC. All Rights Reserved

Illustrations by Annamaria Ward

9/11 was a test. The books of the last two decades show how America failed.

9/11 facts for essay

Deep within the catalogue of regrets that is the 9/11 Commission report — long after readers learn of the origins and objectives of al-Qaeda, past the warnings ignored by consecutive administrations, through the litany of institutional failures that allowed terrorists to hijack four commercial airliners — the authors pause to make a rousing case for the power of the nation’s character.

“The U.S. government must define what the message is, what it stands for,” the report asserts. “We should offer an example of moral leadership in the world, committed to treat people humanely, abide by the rule of law, and be generous and caring to our neighbors. . . . We need to defend our ideals abroad vigorously. America does stand up for its values.”

This affirmation of American idealism is one of the document’s more opinionated moments. Looking back, it’s also among the most ignored.

Rather than exemplify the nation’s highest values, the official response to 9/11 unleashed some of its worst qualities: deception, brutality, arrogance, ignorance, delusion, overreach and carelessness. This conclusion is laid bare in the sprawling literature to emerge from 9/11 over the past two decades — the works of investigation, memoir and narrative by journalists and former officials that have charted the path to that day, revealed the heroism and confusion of the early response, chronicled the battles in and about Afghanistan and Iraq, and uncovered the excesses of the war on terror. Reading or rereading a collection of such books today is like watching an old movie that feels more anguishing and frustrating than you remember. The anguish comes from knowing how the tale will unfold; the frustration from realizing that this was hardly the only possible outcome.

Whatever individual stories the 9/11 books tell, too many describe the repudiation of U.S. values, not by extremist outsiders but by our own hand. The betrayal of America’s professed principles was the friendly fire of the war on terror. In these works, indifference to the growing terrorist threat gives way to bloodlust and vengeance after the attacks. Official dissembling justifies wars, then prolongs them. In the name of counterterrorism, security is politicized, savagery legalized and patriotism weaponized.

It was an emergency, yes, that’s understood. But that state of exception became our new American exceptionalism.

It happened fast. By 2004, when the 9/11 Commission urged America to “engage the struggle of ideas,” it was already too late; the Justice Department’s initial torture memos were already signed, the Abu Ghraib images had already eviscerated U.S. claims to moral authority. And it has lasted long. The latest works on the legacy of 9/11 show how war-on-terror tactics were turned on religious groups, immigrants and protesters in the United States. The war on terror came home, and it walked in like it owned the place.

“It is for now far easier for a researcher to explain how and why September 11 happened than it is to explain the aftermath,” Steve Coll writes in “ Ghost Wars ,” his 2004 account of the CIA’s pre-9/11 involvement in Afghanistan. Throughout that aftermath, Washington fantasized about remaking the world in its image, only to reveal an ugly image of itself to the world.

The literature of 9/11 also considers Osama bin Laden’s varied aspirations for the attacks and his shifting visions of that aftermath. He originally imagined America as weak and easily panicked, retreating from the world — in particular from the Middle East — as soon as its troops began dying. But bin Laden also came to grasp, perhaps self-servingly, the benefits of luring Washington into imperial overreach, of “bleeding America to the point of bankruptcy,” as he put it in 2004, through endless military expansionism, thus beating back its global sway and undermining its internal unity. “We anticipate a black future for America,” bin Laden told ABC News more than three years before the 9/11 attacks. “Instead of remaining United States, it shall end up separated states and shall have to carry the bodies of its sons back to America.”

Bin Laden did not win the war of ideas. But neither did we. To an unnerving degree, the United States moved toward the enemy’s fantasies of what it might become — a nation divided in its sense of itself, exposed in its moral and political compromises, conflicted over wars it did not want but would not end. When President George W. Bush addressed the nation from the Oval Office on the evening of Sept. 11, 2001, he asserted that America was attacked because it is “the brightest beacon for freedom and opportunity in the world, and no one will keep that light from shining.” Bush was correct; al-Qaeda could not dim the promise of America. Only we could do that to ourselves.

Image without caption

“The most frightening aspect of this new threat . . . was the fact that almost no one took it seriously. It was too bizarre, too primitive and exotic.” That is how Lawrence Wright depicts the early impressions of bin Laden and his terrorist network among U.S. officials in “ The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11 .” For a country still basking in its post-Cold War glow, it all seemed so far away, even as al-Qaeda’s strikes — on the World Trade Center in 1993, on U.S. Embassies in 1998, on the USS Cole in 2000 — grew bolder. This was American complacency, mixed with denial.

The books traveling that road to 9/11 have an inexorable, almost suffocating feel to them, as though every turn invariably leads to the first crush of steel and glass. Their starting points vary. Wright dwells on the influence of Egyptian thinker Sayyid Qutb, whose mid-20th-century sojourn in the United States animated his vision of a clash between Islam and modernity, and whose work would inspire future jihadists. In “Ghost Wars,” Coll laments America’s abandonment of Afghanistan once it ceased serving as a proxy battlefield against Moscow. In “ The Rise and Fall of Osama bin Laden ,” Peter Bergen stresses the moment bin Laden arrived in Afghanistan from Sudan in 1996, when Khalid Sheikh Mohammed first pitched him on the planes plot. And the 9/11 Commission lingers on bin Laden’s declarations of war against the United States, particularly his 1998 fatwa calling it “the individual duty for every Muslim” to murder Americans “in any country in which it is possible.”

Yet these early works also make clear that the road to 9/11 featured plenty of billboards warning of the likely destination. A Presidential Daily Brief item on Aug. 6, 2001, titled “Bin Ladin Determined to Strike in US” became infamous in 9/11 lore, yet the commission report notes that it was the 36th PDB relating to bin Laden or al-Qaeda that year alone. (“All right. You’ve covered your ass now,” Bush reportedly sneered at the briefer.) Both the FBI and the CIA produced classified warnings on terrorist threats in the mid-1990s, Coll writes, including a particularly precise National Intelligence Estimate. “Several targets are especially at risk: national symbols such as the White House and the Capitol, and symbols of U.S. capitalism such as Wall Street,” it stated. “We assess that civil aviation will figure prominently among possible terrorist targets in the United States.” Some of the admonitions scattered throughout the 9/11 literature are too over-the-top even for a movie script: There’s the exasperated State Department official complaining about Defense Department inaction (“Does al Qaeda have to attack the Pentagon to get their attention?”), and the earnest FBI supervisor in Minneapolis warning a skeptical agent in Washington about suspected terrorism activity, insisting that he was “trying to keep someone from taking a plane and crashing it into the World Trade Center.”

In these books, everyone is warning everyone else. Bergen emphasizes that a young intelligence analyst in the State Department, Gina Bennett, wrote the first classified memo warning about bin Laden in 1993. Pockets within the FBI and the CIA obsess over bin Laden while regarding one another as rivals. On his way out, President Bill Clinton warns Bush. Outgoing national security adviser Sandy Berger warns his successor, Condoleezza Rice. And White House counterterrorism coordinator Richard Clarke, as he reminds incessantly in his 2004 memoir, “ Against All Enemies ,” warns anyone who will listen and many who will not.

With the system “blinking red,” as CIA Director George Tenet later told the 9/11 Commission, why were all these warnings not enough? Wright lingers on bureaucratic failings, emphasizing that intelligence collection on al-Qaeda was hampered by the “institutional warfare” between the CIA and the FBI, two agencies that by all accounts were not on speaking terms. Coll writes that Clinton regarded bin Laden as “an isolated fanatic, flailing dangerously but quixotically against the forces of global progress,” whereas the Bush team was fixated on great-power politics, missile defense and China.

Clarke’s conclusion is simple, and it highlights America’s we-know-better swagger, a national trait that often masquerades as courage or wisdom. “America, alas, seems only to respond well to disasters, to be undistracted by warnings,” he writes. “Our country seems unable to do all that must be done until there has been some awful calamity.”

The problem with responding only to calamity is that underestimation is usually replaced by overreaction. And we tell ourselves it is the right thing, maybe the only thing, to do.

Image without caption

A last-minute flight change. A new job at the Pentagon. A retirement from the fire station. The final tilt of a plane’s wings before impact. If the books about the lead-up to 9/11 are packed with unbearable inevitability, the volumes on the day itself highlight how randomness separated survival from death. “The ferocity of the attacks meant that innocent people lived or died because they stepped back from a doorway, or hopped onto a closing elevator, or simply shifted their weight from one foot to another,” Jim Dwyer and Kevin Flynn write in “ 102 Minutes ,” their narrative of events inside the World Trade Center from the moment the first plane hit through the collapse of both towers. Their detailed reporting on the human saga — such as a police officer asking a fire chaplain to hear his confession as they both flee a collapsing building — is excruciating and riveting at once.

Yet, as much as the people inside, the structures and history of the World Trade Center are key actors, too. They are not just symbols and targets but fully formed and deeply flawed characters in the day’s drama.

[ 9/11 has become all about New York — with D.C. and the Pentagon nearly forgotten ]

Had the World Trade Center, built in the late 1960s and early 1970s, been erected according to the city building code in effect since 1938, Dwyer and Flynn explain, “it is likely that a very different world trade center would have been built.” Instead, it was constructed according to a new code that the real estate industry had avidly promoted, a code that made it cheaper and more lucrative to build and own skyscrapers. “It increased the floor space available for rent . . . by cutting back on the areas that had been devoted, under the earlier law, to evacuation and exit,” the authors write. The result: Getting everybody out on 9/11 was virtually impossible.

Under the new rules, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey was able to rent three-quarters of each floor of the World Trade Center, Dwyer and Flynn report, a 21 percent increase over the yield of older skyscrapers. The cost was dear. Some 1,000 people inside the North Tower who initially survived the impact of American Airlines Flight 11 could not reach an open staircase. “Their fate was sealed nearly four decades earlier, when the stairways were clustered in the core of the building, and fire stairs were eliminated as a wasteful use of valuable space.” (The authors write that “building code reform hardly makes for gripping drama,” an aside as modest as it is inaccurate.) The towers embodied the power of American capitalism, but their design embodied the folly of American greed. On that day, both conditions proved fatal.

The assault on the Pentagon, long treated as an undercard to New York’s main event, could have yielded even greater devastation, and again the details of the building played a role. In his oral history of 9/11, “ The Only Plane in the Sky ,” Garrett Graff quotes Defense Department officials marveling at how American Airlines Flight 77 struck a part of the Pentagon that, because of new anti-terrorism standards, had recently been reinforced and renovated. This meant it was not only stronger but, on that morning, also relatively unoccupied. “It was truly a miracle,” Army branch chief Philip Smith said. “In any other wedge of the Pentagon, there would have been 5,000 people, and the plane would have flown right through the middle of the building.” Instead, fewer than 200 people were killed in the attack on the Pentagon, including the passengers on the hijacked jet. Chance and preparedness came together.

The bravery of police and firefighters is the subject of countless 9/11 retrospectives, but these books also emphasize the selflessness of civilians who morphed into first responders. Port Authority workers Frank De Martini, Pablo Ortiz, Carlos da Costa and Peter Negron, for instance, saved at least 70 people in the World Trade Center’s North Tower by pulling apart elevator doors, busting walls and shining flashlights to find survivors, only to not make it out themselves. “With crowbar, flashlight, hardhat and big mouths, De Martini and Ortiz and their colleagues had pushed back the boundary line between life and death,” Dwyer and Flynn write. The authors also note how the double lines of people descending a World Trade Center staircase would automatically blend into single file when word came down that an injured person was behind them. And Graff cites a local assistant fire chief who recalls the “truly heroic” work of civilians and uniformed personnel at the Pentagon that day. “They were the ones who really got their comrades, got their workmates out,” he says.

The civilians aboard United Airlines Flight 93, whose resistance forced the plane to crash into a Pennsylvania field rather than the U.S. Capitol, were later lionized as emblems of swashbuckling Americana. But one offhand detail in the 9/11 Commission report underscores just how American their defiance was. The passengers had made phone calls when the hijacking began and had learned the fate of other aircraft that day. “According to one call, they voted on whether to rush the terrorists in an attempt to retake the plane,” the commission report states. “They decided, and acted.”

They voted on it. They voted. Even in that moment of unfathomable fear and distress, the passengers took a moment to engage in the great American tradition of popular consultation before deciding to become this new war’s earliest soldiers. Was there ever any doubt as to the outcome of that ballot?

Such episodes, led by ordinary civilians, embodied values that the 9/11 Commission called on the nation to display. Except those values would soon be dismantled, in the name of security, by those entrusted to uphold them.

Image without caption

Lawyering to death.

The phrase appears in multiple 9/11 volumes, usually uttered by top officials adamant that they were going to get things done , laws and rules be damned. Anti-terrorism efforts were always “lawyered to death” during the Clinton administration, Tenet complains in “ Bush at War ,” Bob Woodward’s 2002 book on the debates among the president and his national security team. In an interview with Woodward, Bush drops the phrase amid the machospeak — “dead or alive,” “bring ’em on” and the like — that became typical of his anti-terrorism rhetoric. “I had to show the American people the resolve of a commander in chief that was going to do whatever it took to win,” Bush explains. “No yielding. No equivocation. No, you know, lawyering this thing to death.” In “Against All Enemies,” Clarke recalls the evening of Sept. 11, 2001, when Bush snapped at an official who suggested that international law looked askance at military force as a tool of revenge. “I don’t care what the international lawyers say, we are going to kick some ass,” the president retorted.

The message was unmistakable: The law is an obstacle to effective counterterrorism. Worrying about procedural niceties is passe in a 9/11 world, an annoying impediment to the essential work of ass-kicking.

Except, they did lawyer this thing to death. Instead of disregarding the law, the Bush administration enlisted it. “Beginning almost immediately after September 11, 2001, [Vice President Dick] Cheney saw to it that some of the sharpest and best-trained lawyers in the country, working in secret in the White House and the United States Department of Justice, came up with legal justifications for a vast expansion of the government’s power in waging war on terror,” Jane Mayer writes in “ The Dark Side ,” her relentless 2008 compilation of the arguments and machinations of government lawyers after the attacks. Through public declarations and secret memos, the administration sought to remove limits on the president’s conduct of warfare and to deny terrorism suspects the protections of the Geneva Conventions by redefining them as unlawful enemy combatants. Nothing, Mayer argues of the latter effort, “more directly cleared the way for torture than this.”

To comprehend what our government can justify in the name of national security, consider the torture memos themselves, authored by the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel between 2002 and 2005 to green-light CIA interrogation methods for terrorism suspects. Tactics such as cramped confinement, sleep deprivation and waterboarding were rebranded as “enhanced interrogation techniques,” legally and linguistically contorted to avoid the label of torture. Though the techniques could be cruel and inhuman, the OLC acknowledged in an August 2002 memo, they would constitute torture only if they produced pain equivalent to organ failure or death, and if the individual inflicting such pain really really meant to do so: “Even if the defendant knows that severe pain will result from his actions, if causing such harm is not his objective, he lacks the requisite specific intent.” It’s quite the sleight of hand, with torture moving from the body of the interrogated to the mind of the interrogator.

After devoting dozens of pages to the metaphysics of specific intent, the true meaning of “prolonged” mental harm or “imminent” death, and the elasticity of the Convention Against Torture, the memo concludes that none of it actually matters. Even if a particular interrogation method would cross some legal line, the relevant statute would be considered unconstitutional because it “impermissibly encroached” on the commander in chief’s authority to conduct warfare. Almost nowhere in these memos does the Justice Department curtail the power of the CIA to do as it pleases.

In fact, the OLC lawyers rely on assurances from the CIA itself to endorse such powers. In a second memo from August 2002, the lawyers ruminate on the use of cramped confinement boxes. “We have no information from the medical experts you have consulted that the limited duration for which the individual is kept in the boxes causes any substantial physical pain,” the memo states. Waterboarding likewise gets a pass. “You have informed us that this procedure does not inflict actual physical harm,” the memo states. “Based on your research . . . you do not anticipate that any prolonged mental harm would result from the use of the waterboard.”

You have informed us. Experts you have consulted. Based on your research. You do not anticipate . Such hand-washing words appear throughout the memos. The Justice Department relies on information provided by the CIA to reach its conclusions; the CIA then has the cover of the Justice Department to proceed with its interrogations. It’s a perfect circle of trust.

Yet the logic is itself tortured. In a May 2005 memo, the lawyers conclude that because no single technique inflicts “severe” pain amounting to torture, their combined use “would not be expected” to reach that level, either. As though embarrassed at such illogic, the memo attaches a triple-negative footnote: “We are not suggesting that combinations or repetitions of acts that do not individually cause severe physical pain could not result in severe physical pain.” Well, then, what exactly are you suggesting? Even when the OLC in 2004 officially withdrew its August 2002 memo following a public outcry and declared torture “abhorrent,” the lawyers added a footnote to the new memo assuring that they had reviewed the prior opinions on the treatment of detainees and “do not believe that any of their conclusions would be different under the standards set forth in this memorandum.”

In these documents, lawyers enable lawlessness. Another May 2005 memo concludes that, because the Convention Against Torture applies only to actions occurring under U.S. jurisdiction, the CIA’s creation of detention sites in other countries renders the convention “inapplicable.” Similarly, because the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment is meant to protect people convicted of crimes, it should not apply to terrorism detainees — because they have not been officially convicted of anything. The lack of due process conveniently eliminates constitutional protections. In his introduction to “ The Torture Memos: Rationalizing the Unthinkable ,” David Cole describes the documents as “bad-faith lawyering,” which might be generous. It is another kind of lawyering to death, one in which the rule of law that the 9/11 Commission urged us to abide by becomes the victim.

Years later, the Senate Intelligence Committee would investigate the CIA’s post-9/11 interrogation program. Its massive report — the executive summary of which appeared as a 549-page book in 2014 — found that torture did not produce useful intelligence, that the interrogations were more brutal than the CIA let on, that the Justice Department did not independently verify the CIA’s information, and that the spy agency impeded oversight by Congress and the CIA inspector general. It explains that the CIA purported to oversee itself and, no surprise, that it deemed its interrogations effective and necessary, no matter the results. (If a detainee provided information, it meant the program worked; if he did not, it meant stricter applications of the techniques were needed; if still no information was forthcoming, the program had succeeded in proving he had none to give.)

“The CIA’s effectiveness representations were almost entirely inaccurate,” the Senate report concluded. It is one of the few lies of the war on terror unmasked by an official government investigation and public report, but just one of the many documented in the 9/11 literature.

Image without caption

Officials in the war on terror didn’t deceive or dissemble just with lawmakers or the public. In the recurring tragedy of war, they lied just as often to themselves.

In “ To Start a War: How the Bush Administration Took America Into Iraq ,” Robert Draper considers the influence of the president’s top aides. Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz (long obsessed with ousting Saddam Hussein), Pentagon chief Donald Rumsfeld (eager to test his theories of military transformation) and Cheney (fixated on apocalyptic visions of America’s vulnerability) all had their reasons. But Draper identifies a single responsible party: “The decision to invade Iraq was one made, finally and exclusively, by the president of the United States, George W. Bush,” he writes.

A president initially concerned about defending and preserving the nation’s moral goodness against terrorism found himself driven by darker impulses. “I’m having difficulty controlling my bloodlust,” Bush confessed to religious leaders in the Oval Office on Sept. 20, 2001, Draper reports. It was not a one-off comment; in Woodward’s “Bush at War,” the president admitted that before 9/11, “I didn’t feel that sense of urgency [about al-Qaeda], and my blood was not nearly as boiling.”

Bloodlust, moral certainty and sudden vulnerability make a dangerous combination. The belief that you are defending good against evil can lead to the belief that whatever you do to that end is good, too. Draper distills Bush’s worldview: “The terrorists’ primary objective was to destroy America’s freedom. Saddam hated America. Therefore, he hated freedom. Therefore, Saddam was himself a terrorist, bent on destroying America and its freedom.”

Note the asymmetry. The president assumed the worst about what Hussein had done or might do, yet embraced best-case scenarios of how an American invasion would proceed. “Iraqis would rejoice at the sight of their Western liberators,” Draper recaps. “Their newly shared sense of national purpose would overcome any sectarian allegiances. Their native cleverness would make up for their inexperience with self-government. They would welcome the stewardship of Iraqi expatriates who had not set foot in Baghdad in decades. And their oil would pay for everything.”

Image without caption

There are lies, and then there is self-delusion. The Americans did not have to anticipate the specifics of the civil war that would engulf the country after the invasion; they just had to realize that managing postwar Iraq would never be as simple as they imagined. It did not seem to occur to Bush and his advisers that Iraqis could simultaneously hate Hussein and resent the Americans — feelings that could have been discovered by speaking to Iraqis and hearing their concerns.

Anthony Shadid’s “ Night Draws Near: Iraq’s People in the Shadow of America’s War ,” published in 2005, is among the few books on the war that gets deep inside Iraqis’ aversion to the Americans in their midst. “What gives them the right to change something that’s not theirs in the first place?” a woman in a middle-class Baghdad neighborhood asks him. “I don’t like your house, so I’m going to bomb it and you can rebuild it again the way I want it, with your money?” In Fallujah, where Shadid hears early talk of the Americans as “kuffar” (heathens), a 51-year-old former teacher complains that “we’ve exchanged a tyrant for an occupier.” The occupation did not dissuade such impressions when it turned the former dictator’s seat of government into its own luxurious Green Zone, or when it retrofitted the Abu Ghraib prison (“the worst of Saddam’s hellholes,” Shadid calls it) into its own chamber of horrors.

Shadid understood that governmental legitimacy — who gets to rule, and by what right — was a matter of overriding importance for Iraqis. “The Americans never understood the question,” he writes; “Iraqis never agreed on the answer.” It’s hard to find a better summation of the trials of Iraq in the aftermath of America’s invasion. When the United States so quickly shifted from liberation to occupation, it lost whatever legitimacy it enjoyed. “Bush handed that enemy precisely what it wanted and needed, proof that America was at war with Islam, that we were the new Crusaders come to occupy Muslim land,” Clarke writes. “It was as if Usama bin Laden, hidden in some high mountain redoubt, were engaging in long-range mind control of George Bush, chanting ‘invade Iraq, you must invade Iraq.’ ”

[ The Pentagon's Obsession With Counterinsurgency ]

The foolishness and arrogance of the American occupation didn’t help. In “ Imperial Life in the Emerald City: Inside Iraq’s Green Zone ,” Rajiv Chandrasekaran explains how, even as daily security was Iraqis’ overwhelming concern, viceroy L. Paul Bremer, Bush’s man in Baghdad, was determined to turn the country into a model free-market economy, complete with new investment laws, bankruptcy courts and a state-of-the-art stock exchange. In charge of the new exchange was a 24-year-old American with no academic background in economics or finance. The man tasked with remaking Iraq’s sprawling university system had no experience in the Middle East — but did have connections to the Rumsfeld and Cheney families. A new traffic law for Iraq was partially cut and pasted from Maryland’s motor vehicle code. An antismoking campaign was led by a U.S. official who was a closet smoker. And a U.S. Army general, when asked by local journalists why American helicopters must fly so low at night, thus scaring Iraqi children, replied that the kids were simply hearing “the sound of freedom.”

Message: Freedom sounds terrifying.

For some Americans, inflicting that terror became part of the job, one more tool in the arsenal. In “ The Forever War ” by Dexter Filkins, a U.S. Army lieutenant colonel in Iraq assures the author that “with a heavy dose of fear and violence, and a lot of money for projects, I think we can convince these people that we are here to help them.” (Filkins asked him if he really meant it about fear and violence; the officer insisted that he did.) Of course, not all officials were so deluded and so forthright; some knew better but lied to the public. Chandrasekaran recalls the response of a top communications official under Bremer, when reporters asked about waves of violence hitting Baghdad in the spring of 2004. “Off the record: Paris is burning,” the official told the journalists. “On the record: Security and stability are returning to Iraq.”

In “The Rise and Fall of Osama bin Laden,” Bergen sums up how the Iraq War, conjured in part on the false connections between Iraq and al-Qaeda, ended up helping the terrorist network: It pulled resources from the war in Afghanistan, gave space for bin Laden’s men to regroup and spurred a new generation of terrorists in the Middle East. “A bigger gift to bin Laden was hard to imagine,” Bergen writes.

If Iraq was the war born of lies, Afghanistan was the one nurtured by them. Afghanistan was where al-Qaeda, supported by the Taliban, had made its base — it was supposed to be the good war, the right war, the war of necessity and not choice, the war endorsed at home and abroad. “U.S. officials had no need to lie or spin to justify the war,” Washington Post reporter Craig Whitlock writes in “ The Afghanistan Papers ,” a damning contrast of the war’s reality vs. its rhetoric. “Yet leaders at the White House, the Pentagon and the State Department soon began to make false assurances and to paper over setbacks on the battlefield.” As the years passed, the deceit became entrenched, what Whitlock calls “an unspoken conspiracy” to hide the truth.

Drawing from a “Lessons Learned” project that interviewed hundreds of military and civilian officials involved with Afghanistan, as well as from oral histories, government cables and reports, Whitlock finds commanding generals privately admitting that they long fought the war “without a functional strategy.” That, two years into the conflict, Rumsfeld complained that he had “no visibility into who the bad guys are.” That Army Lt. Gen. Douglas Lute, a former coordinator of Iraq and Afghanistan policy, acknowledged that “we didn’t have the foggiest idea of what we were undertaking.” That U.S. officials long wanted to withdraw American forces but feared — correctly so, it turns out — that the Afghan government might collapse. “Bin Laden had hoped for this exact scenario,” Whitlock observes. “To lure the U.S. superpower into an unwinnable guerrilla conflict that would deplete its national treasury and diminish its global influence.”

All along, top officials publicly contradicted these internal views, issuing favorable accounts of steady progress. Bad news was twisted into good: Rising suicide attacks in Kabul meant the Taliban was too weak for direct combat, for instance, while increased U.S. casualties meant America was taking the fight to the enemy. The skills and size of the Afghan security forces were frequently exaggerated; by the end of President Barack Obama’s second term, U.S. officials concluded that some 30,000 Afghan soldiers on the payroll didn’t actually exist; they were paper creations of local commanders who pocketed the fake soldiers’ salaries at U.S. taxpayer expense. American officials publicly lamented large-scale corruption in Afghanistan but enabled that corruption in practice, pouring massive contracts and projects into a country ill-equipped to absorb them. Such deceptions transpired across U.S. presidents, but the Obama administration, eager to show that its first-term troop surge was working, “took it to a new level, hyping figures that were misleading, spurious or downright false,” Whitlock writes. And then under President Donald Trump, he adds, the generals felt pressure to “speak more forcefully and boast that his war strategy was destined to succeed.”

Long before President Biden declared the end of the U.S. war in Afghanistan this summer, the United States twice made similar pronouncements, proclaiming the conclusion of combat operations in 2003 and again in 2014 — yet still the war endured. It did so in part because “in public, almost no senior government officials had the courage to admit that the United States was slowly losing,” Whitlock writes. “With their complicit silence, military and political leaders avoided accountability and dodged reappraisals that could have changed the outcome or shortened the conflict.”

It’s not like nobody warned them. In “Bush at War,” Woodward reports that CIA Counterterrorism Center Director Cofer Black and Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage traveled to Moscow shortly after 9/11 to give officials a heads up about the coming hostilities in Afghanistan. The Russians, recent visitors to the graveyard of empires, cautioned that Afghanistan was an “ambush heaven” and that, in the words of one of them, “you’re really going to get the hell kicked out of you.” Cofer responded confidently: “We’re going to kill them. . . . We’re going to rock their world.”

Now, with U.S. forces gone and the Taliban having reclaimed power in Afghanistan, Washington is wrestling with the legacy of the nation’s longest war. Why and how did America lose? Should we have stayed longer? Was it worth its price in blood and billions? How does the United States repay the courage of Afghans who worked alongside U.S. military and civilian authorities? What if Afghanistan again becomes a haven for terrorists attacking U.S. interests and allies, as the airport suicide bombing in Kabul that killed 13 U.S. service members last month may signal? Biden has asserted that “the war in Afghanistan is now over” but has also pledged to continue the fight against terrorists there — so what are the limits and the means of future U.S. military and intelligence action in the country?

These are essential debates, but a war should not be measured only by the timing and the competence of its end. We still face an equally consequential appraisal: How good was this good war if it could be sustained only by lies?

Image without caption

In the two decades since the 9/11 attacks, the United States has often attempted to reconsider its response. Take two documents from late 2006: the report from the Iraq Study Group, co-chaired by James A. Baker III and Lee H. Hamilton, which argued that Washington needed to radically rethink its diplomatic and political strategy for Iraq; and “ The U.S. Army/Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual ,” written by a team led by then-Army Lt. Gen. David H. Petraeus, which argued that U.S. officials needed to radically rethink military tactics for insurgency wars of the kind it faced in Iraq and Afghanistan.

They are written as though intending to solve problems. But they can be read as proof that the problems have no realistic solution, or that the only solution is to never have created them.

“There is no magic formula to solve the problems of Iraq,” the ISG report begins, yet its proposed fixes would have required plenty of fairy dust. The report calls for a “diplomatic offensive” to gain international support for Iraq, to persuade Iran and Syria to respect Iraq’s territory and sovereignty, and to commit to “a comprehensive Arab-Israeli peace on all fronts.” Simple! Iraq, meanwhile, needed to make progress on national reconciliation (in a country already awash in sectarian bloodletting), boost domestic security (even though the report deems the Iraqi army a mess and the Iraqi police worse) and deliver social services (even as the report concludes that the government was failing to adequately provide electricity, drinking water, sewage services and education).

The recommendations seem written in the knowledge that they will never happen. “Miracles cannot be expected,” the report states — twice. Absent divine intervention, the next step is obvious. If the Iraqi government can’t demonstrate “substantial progress” toward its goals, the report asserts, “the United States should reduce its political, military, or economic support” for Iraq. Indeed, the report sets the bar for staying so high that an exit strategy appears to be its primary purpose.

The counterinsurgency manual is an extraordinary document. Implicitly repudiating notions such as “shock and awe” and “overwhelming force,” it argues that the key to battling an insurgency in countries such as Iraq and Afghanistan is to provide security for the local population and to win its support through effective governance. It also attempts to grasp the nature of America’s foes. “Most enemies either do not try to defeat the United States with conventional operations or do not limit themselves to purely military means,” the manual states. “They know that they cannot compete with U.S. forces on those terms. Instead, they try to exhaust U.S. national will.” Exhausting America’s will is an objective that al-Qaeda understood well.

“Soldiers and Marines are expected to be nation builders as well as warriors,” the manual proclaims, but the arduous tasks involved — reestablishing government institutions, rebuilding infrastructure, strengthening local security forces, enforcing the rule of law — reveal the tension at the heart of the new doctrine. “Counterinsurgents should prepare for a long-term commitment,” the manual states. Yet, just a few pages later, it admits that “eventually all foreign armies are seen as interlopers or occupiers.” How to accomplish the former without descending into the latter? No wonder so many of the historical examples of counterinsurgency that the manual highlights, including accounts from the Vietnam War, are stories of failure.

Image without caption

The manual seems aware of its importance. The 2007 edition contains a foreword, followed by an introduction, then another foreword, a preface, then some brief acknowledgments and finally one more introduction. (Just reaching Chapter 1 feels like defeating an insurgency.) But the throat-clearing is clarifying. In his foreword, Army Lt. Col. John Nagl writes that the document’s most lasting impact may be as a catalyst not for remaking Iraq or Afghanistan, but for transforming the Army and Marine Corps into “more effective learning organizations,” better able to adapt to changing warfare. And in her introduction, Sarah Sewall, then director of Harvard’s Carr Center for Human Rights Policy, concludes that its “ultimate value” may be in warning civilian officials to think hard before engaging in a counterinsurgency campaign.

At best, then, the manual helps us rethink future conflicts — how we fight and whether we should. It’s no coincidence that Biden, in his Aug. 16 remarks defending the decision to withdraw American troops from Afghanistan, specifically repudiated counterinsurgency as an objective of U.S. policy. “I’ve argued for many years that our mission should be narrowly focused on counterterrorism, not counterinsurgency or nation-building,” the president affirmed. Even the longest war was not long enough for a counterinsurgency effort to succeed.

In his 2009 book, “ The Good Soldiers ,” David Finkel chronicles the experiences of an Army battalion deployed in Iraq during the U.S. troop surge in 2007 and 2008, a period of the war ostensibly informed by the new counterinsurgency doctrine. In his 2013 sequel, “ Thank You for Your Service ,” the author witnesses these men when they come home and try to make sense of their military experience and adapt to their new lives. “The thing that got to everyone,” Finkel explains in the latter book, “was not having a defined front line. It was a war in 360 degrees, no front to advance toward, no enemy in uniform, no predictable patterns, no relief.” It’s a powerful summation of battling an insurgency.

Adam Schumann returns from war because of post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury, “the result of a mortar round that dropped without warning out of a blue sky,” Finkel explains. Schumann suffers from nightmares, headaches and guilt; he wishes he needed bandages or crutches, anything to visibly justify his absence from the front. His wife endures his treatments, his anger, his ambivalence toward life. “He’s still a good guy,” she decides. “He’s just a broken good guy.” Another returning soldier, Nic DeNinno, struggles to tell his wife about the time he and his fellow soldiers burst into an Iraqi home in search of a high-value target. He threw a man down the stairs and held another by the throat. After they left, the lieutenant told him it was the wrong house. “The wrong f---ing house,” Nic says to his wife. “One of the things I want to remember is how many times we hit the wrong house.”

Hitting the wrong house is what counterinsurgency doctrine is supposed to avoid. Even successfully capturing or killing a high-value target can be counterproductive if in the process you terrorize a community and create more enemies. In Iraq, the whole country was the wrong house. America’s leaders knew it was the wrong house. They hit it anyway.

Image without caption

In the 11th chapter of the 9/11 Commission report, just before all the recommendations for reforms in domestic and foreign policy, the authors get philosophical, pondering how hindsight had affected their views of Sept. 11, 2001. “As time passes, more documents become available, and the bare facts of what happened become still clearer,” the report states. “Yet the picture of how those things happened becomes harder to reimagine, as that past world, with its preoccupations and uncertainty, recedes.” Before making definitive judgments, then, they ask themselves “whether the insights that seem apparent now would really have been meaningful at the time.”

It’s a commendable attitude, one that helps readers understand what the attacks felt like in real time and why authorities responded as they did. But that approach also keeps the day trapped in the past, safely distant. Two of the latest additions to the canon, “ Reign of Terror ” by Spencer Ackerman and “ Subtle Tools ” by Karen Greenberg, draw straight, stark lines between the earliest days of the war on terror and its mutations in our current time, between conflicts abroad and divisions at home. These works show how 9/11 remains with us, and how we are still living in the ruins.

When Trump declared that “we don’t have victories anymore” in his 2015 speech announcing his presidential candidacy, he was both belittling the legacy of 9/11 and harnessing it to his ends. “His great insight was that the jingoistic politics of the War on Terror did not have to be tied to the War on Terror itself,” Ackerman writes. “That enabled him to tell a tale of lost greatness.” And if greatness is lost, someone must have taken it. The backlash against Muslims, against immigrants crossing the southern border and against protesters rallying for racial justice was strengthened by the open-ended nature of the global war on terror. In Ackerman’s vivid telling — his prose can be hyperbolic, even if his arguments are not — the war is not just far away in Iraq or Afghanistan, in Yemen or Syria, but it’s happening here, with mass surveillance, militarized law enforcement and the rebranding of immigration as a threat to the nation’s security rather than a cornerstone of its identity. “Trump had learned the foremost lesson of 9/11,” Ackerman writes, “that the terrorists were whomever you said they were.”

Both Ackerman and Greenberg point to the Authorization for Use of Military Force , drafted by administration lawyers and approved by Congress just days after the attacks, as the moment when America’s response began to go awry. The brief joint resolution allowed the president to use “all necessary and appropriate force” against any nation, organization or person who committed the attacks, and to prevent any future ones. It was the “Ur document in the war on terror and its legacy,” Greenberg writes. “Riddled with imprecision, its terminology was geared to codify expansive powers.” Where the battlefield, the enemy and the definition of victory all remain vague, war becomes endlessly expansive, “with neither temporal nor geographical boundaries.”

This was the moment the war on terror was “conceptually doomed,” Ackerman concludes. This is how you get a forever war.

There were moments when an off-ramp was visible. The killing of bin Laden in 2011 was one such instance, Ackerman argues, but “Obama squandered the best chance anyone could ever have to end the 9/11 era.” The author assails Obama for making the war on terror more “sustainable” through a veneer of legality — banning torture yet failing to close the detention camp at Guantánamo Bay and relying on drone strikes that “perversely incentivized the military and the CIA to kill instead of capture.” There would always be more targets, more battlefields, regardless of president or party. Failures became the reason to double down, never wind down.

The longer the war went on, the more that what Ackerman calls its “grotesque subtext” of nativism and racism would move to the foreground of American politics. Absent the war on terror, it is harder to imagine a presidential candidate decrying a sitting commander in chief as foreign, Muslim, illegitimate — and using that lie as a successful political platform. Absent the war on terror, it is harder to imagine a travel ban against people from Muslim-majority countries. Absent the war on terror, it is harder to imagine American protesters labeled terrorists, or a secretary of defense describing the nation’s urban streets as a “battle space” to be dominated. Trump was a disruptive force in American life, but there was much continuity there, too. “A vastly different America has taken root” in the two decades since 9/11, Greenberg writes. “In the name of retaliation, ‘justice,’ and prevention, fundamental values have been cast aside.”

In his latest book on bin Laden, Bergen argues that 9/11 was a major tactical success but a long-term strategic failure for the terrorist leader. Yes, he struck a vicious blow against “the head of the snake,” as he called the United States, but “rather than ending American influence in the Muslim world, the 9/11 attacks greatly amplified it,” with two lengthy, large-scale invasions and new bases established throughout the region.

Yet the legacy of the 9/11 era is found not just in Afghanistan or Iraq, but also in an America that drew out and heightened some of its ugliest impulses — a nation that is deeply divided (like those “separated states” bin Laden imagined); that bypasses inconvenient facts and embraces conspiracy theories; that demonizes outsiders; and that, after failing to spread freedom and democracy around the world, seems less inclined to uphold them here. More Americans today are concerned about domestic extremism than foreign terrorism, and on Jan. 6, 2021, our own citizens assaulted the Capitol building that al-Qaeda hoped to strike on Sept. 11, 2001. Seventeen years after the 9/11 Commission called on the United States to offer moral leadership to the world and to be generous and caring to our neighbors, our moral leadership is in question, and we can barely be generous and caring to ourselves.

In “The Forever War,” Dexter Filkins describes a nation in which “something had broken fundamentally after so many years of war . . . there had been some kind of primal dislocation between cause and effect, a numbness wholly understandable, necessary even, given the pain.” He was writing of Afghanistan, but his words could double as an interpretation of the United States over the past two decades. Still reeling from an attack that dropped out of a blue sky, America is suffering from a sort of post-traumatic stress democracy. It remains in recovery, still a good country, even if a broken good country.

About this story

Copy editing by Jennifer Morehead. Design and development by Andrew Braford.

Twenty years later, how Americans assess the effects of the 9/11 attacks

Subscribe to governance weekly, william a. galston william a. galston ezra k. zilkha chair and senior fellow - governance studies.

September 9, 2021

20th anniversary 9_11 graphic (1)

There is no evidence that this sentiment has faded during the past five years. A survey released earlier this month found 64% of Americans—the highest share ever—said that 9/11 has permanently changed the way we live our lives. Significant minorities are less willing to take flights, go into skyscrapers, attend mass events, or travel overseas than they were before 9/11.

Many Americans’ views of Islam have also undergone long-term change. In March of 2002, 25% of Americans, including 23% of Democrats and 32% of Republicans, believed that Islam is more likely to encourage violence among its followers than are other religions. Today, the share of Americans endorsing this view has doubled to 50%, but unlike two decades ago, it has divided the parties. Seventy-two percent of Republicans (up 40 points since 2002) now see an intense link between Islam and violence, compared with 32% of Democrats. These sentiments go a long way toward explaining why Donald Trump’s mistrust of Muslims played so well among his supporters—and why so many Democrats reacted with fury to Mr. Trump’s restrictions on travel from Muslim countries early in his administration.

Under George W. Bush’s leadership, the United States responded to the 9/11 attacks by launching a “war on terror,” beginning in Afghanistan, where al-Qaeda’s plot was conceived and organized. While this military venture and the subsequent invasion of Afghanistan initially enjoyed strong public backing, support eroded as the wars on the ground went on longer than expected. After the killing of Osama bin Laden in 2011, 56% of Americans said they now supported withdrawing our troops from Afghanistan.

It took another decade, spanning three presidents, to honor their wishes. No wonder the phrase “endless wars” became commonplace across party lines. And the way the war in Afghanistan finally ended intensified public discontent. Seven in ten Americans believe that we failed to achieve our goals in Afghanistan—a somewhat smaller majority says the same about the invasion of Iraq. Only 8% of Americans say that the withdrawal from Afghanistan has made us safer from terrorism, compared to 44% who say that it has made us less safe. We will never know whether Americans would have a more optimistic assessment if the withdrawal had been less abrupt and better organized.

The negative judgments about the invasion of Afghanistan are part of a broader reevaluation of the impact of 9/11 over the past two decades. On the one-year anniversary of the terrorist attacks, Americans thought, by a margin of two to one, that these events had changed the United States for the better. On the 10th anniversary, the evaluation had turned negative, and on the 20th anniversary, even more so.

Table 1: Percentage of Americans who say that 9/11 has changed America…

Similarly, earlier judgments that our response to 9/11 had made us safer against future terrorist attacks have become more ambivalent.

Table 2: Compared to the situation before September 11, 2001, do you think the country today is safer or less safe from terrorism?

Another recent survey found even more negative results, with just 30% believing that we are now safer than before 9/11, compared to 44% who think we are less safe.

For now, at least, the 9/11 attacks and their aftermath have left Americans more fearful at home, more negative about the impact of leaders’ decisions over the past two decades, and less willing to deploy American ground forces in lengthy combat abroad. The next few years will reveal whether these sentiments will exacerbate public discontent at home and trigger a broader American retreat from the world or crystallize Americans’ determination to regain lost ground, as happened in the years after our ignominious retreat from Vietnam.

Related Content

Sarah A. Binder, Molly E. Reynolds

August 27, 2021

Joseph I. Lieberman

September 8, 2021

Darrell M. West, Nicol Turner Lee

Governance Studies


Center for Effective Public Management

Elaine Kamarck

February 29, 2024

Steven Pifer

January 30, 2024

Eric Urby, Claire Tempelman

December 12, 2023

Smart News | September 9, 2021

Free Online Resources About 9/11

Browse 12 archives, databases and portals that help users deepen their understanding of the attacks

Flight 93 fuselage and call button, now housed in the collections of the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History (mobile)

Nora McGreevy


Twenty years after September 11, 2001, the first generation that grew up in a world profoundly altered by the attacks is coming of age.

Many of these young adults have little or no memory of the day itself. As the Pew Research Center reports, just 42 percent of 25-year-old Americans clearly remember where they were when they learned of the attacks. But for those who do remember, the horror of 9/11 remains fresh.

On that day, more than 2,977 people were killed in New York, Arlington and Pennsylvania. Thousands sustained physical injuries, and thousands more continue to reckon with trauma inflicted by the tragedy. Post- 9/11 wars , including those in Afghanistan and Iraq, have killed hundreds of thousands and displaced millions more. The profound changes wrought by September 11, including the U.S. military response and the attacks’ impact on American art and culture , continue to be felt to this day.

Individuals hoping to learn more about this multifaceted history may find it difficult to know where to start. To support this search, Smithsonian has compiled a list of 12 free resources that deepen readers’ understanding of the September 11 attacks and their complicated, painful legacy. From the Library of Congress to the National September 11 Memorial and Museum, these archives, databases and web platforms help researchers and members of the public alike make sense of one of the most defining events of the 21st century.

National September 11 Memorial and Museum

View of 9/11 memorial reflecting pool

Every year, millions of people visit Ground Zero to see the two square reflecting pools installed where the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center (WTC) once stood. The museum affiliated with this memorial offers a bevy of digital resources , including explanatory exhibitions about the history of the WTC and the search for al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden . Librarians and educators can register to download a free poster exhibition about the attacks for classroom use.

Online viewers can also peruse the museum’s collection of more than 70,000 artifacts, including material evidence such as a pair of shoes worn by a survivor of the towers’ collapse. Those interested in hearing firsthand accounts of the day can listen to an edited selection from the museum’s ever-expanding collection of more than 1,000 oral histories.

September 11 Digital Archive

Screenshot of the September 11 Digital Archive homepage

A project of the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media at George Mason University, this free online archive holds more than 150,000 files related to 9/11. Users can browse over 40,000 first-person accounts; scroll through some 15,000 images; or peruse emails, documents, sound clips, videos and other digital ephemera.

The Library of Congress

A memorial website preserved by the Library of Congress

Within hours of the attacks, Library of Congress (LOC) staff began collecting original materials linked to the day. Online users can search the library’s digital collections to find photographs, poetry, art, maps and eyewitness accounts of 9/11, many of which were featured in a 2002 exhibition at the Washington, D.C. institution.

The library’s 9/11 web archive preserves slices of the early internet as it appeared in the weeks and months following the attacks. Offerings include memorial websites, the front pages of major magazines like the New Yorker , political and religious websites, and the home page of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee .

On the day after the attacks, the LOC’s American Folklife Center started collecting oral history interviews with survivors and people across the country. “This collection captures the voices of a diverse ethnic, socioeconomic, and political cross-section of America during trying times and serves as a historical and cultural resource for future generations,” the library notes. Listeners can hear more than 150 of the audio recordings here .

National Museum of American History

This clock was hanging on the wall of a Pentagon helipad when the impact of the crash knocked it to the floor, freezing it in time.

Shortly after September 11, Congress designated the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History (NMAH) as the official repository for all objects related to the attacks. Curators cast a wide net, searching for items that explained the immediate impact of the violence and illuminated rescue and recovery efforts.

Today, viewers can explore the collection online. Items of note include the cellphone that then-Mayor Rudy Giuliani used to coordinate emergency efforts on the day of the attacks and a clock from the Pentagon whose hands froze when the plane hit the building.

NMAH also holds a turban that once belonged to Balbir Singh Sodhi , an Indian immigrant who owned a gas station in Mesa, Arizona. Four days after the attacks, a gunman killed Sodhi in a drive-by shooting. The killer had assumed that Sodhi was Muslim because of his turban; in reality, he was a follower of the Sikh faith. His murder marked the first in a wave of post-9/11 hate crimes against Muslim, South Asian, Arab and Middle Eastern communities in the U.S.

Brooklyn-based nonprofit StoryCorps preserves short oral histories—some accompanied by animations—from September 11 survivors and victims’ families. Viewers can peruse the multimedia stories and read transcripts of interviews on the organization’s website. Listings include an interview with Sodhi’s brothers, Rana and Harjit Sodhi .

American Archive of Public Broadcasting

The September 11 attacks consumed news cycles across the country on the day of the event and for weeks afterward. Through the 9/11 Special Coverage Collection at the American Archive of Public Broadcasting , members of the public can comb through hours of footage from 68 local and national television and radio stations.

Featured clips include a “PBS NewsHour” segment that aired on the evening of 9/11 and a September 12 “ New York Voices ” episode that found hosts Bill Moyer and Bill Baker interviewing religious leaders, callers and frontline workers as they began to process the attacks.

The Costs of War Project

American Marines walk to their helicopters as they deploy to Afghanistan in 2002.

More than 50 scholars, human rights practitioners and other experts contribute to Brown University’s Costs of War project, which documents the enormous human and monetary cost of the U.S.-led, post-9/11 military interventions in Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as related violence in Pakistan and Syria. Readers can explore academic papers, data and classroom resources for free on the program’s website . All told, the team estimates that these conflicts have killed more than 929,000 people and displaced more than 38 million across the world.

Pew Research Center

Plume of smoke seen rising above Manhattan on 9/11, as photographed by a crew member at the International Space Station

To mark the 20th anniversary of the September 11 attacks, Hannah Hartig and Carroll Doherty of the nonpartisan Pew Research Center compiled a comprehensive, user-friendly overview of data about 9/11. Readers can access the resource here . Topics covered include trends in public opinion over the past two decades: For instance, though Americans overwhelmingly supported the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan at their outset, 69 percent now say that the U.S. mostly failed to achieve its goals in Afghanistan.

Othering and Belonging Institute’s Islamophobia Project

Map of states that have appMap of all anti-Sharia legislation introduced in the 50 U.S. state legislatures since 2010roved anti-Muslim legislation

Researchers with UC Berkeley’s Othering and Belonging Institute maintain a searchable database of anti-Muslim legislation introduced and enacted in the past decade, as well as major shifts in anti-Muslim sentiment that took place in the U.S. in the wake of 9/11. Online users can use the site more broadly to learn about the history of Islamophobia and find additional reading resources on the subject.

National Archives and Records Administration

A steel beam recovered from the wreckage of the World Trade Center

In late 2002, Congress and President George W. Bush created the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, otherwise known as the 9/11 Commission , to research the events of September 11. Investigators conducted more than 1,200 fact-finding interviews. Executive summaries of some of these interviews have been declassified and can be located in the National Archives and Records Administration’s (NARA) digital catalog .

The commission’s full report, which is preserved by NARA and can be read in full here , chronicled the events of the day as accurately as possible and provided recommendations to prevent future attacks.

U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence

Opening page of the report

Within three years of the attacks, the United States had launched wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. The military also opened Guantanamo Bay detention camp, a U.S. military prison in Cuba, as part of a series of aggressive anti-terrorism military operations.

In 2014, the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence released an investigative report detailing the CIA’s use of torture and other human rights abuses inflicted on prisoners at Guantanamo and elsewhere during the so-called “War on Terror.” Though the full document remains classified, members of the public can read the committee’s executive summary, findings and conclusions online .

The New York Times

The front page of the <em>New York Times</em> on  September 12, 2001

On the tenth anniversary of the attacks, the New York Times created an expansive hub for educators seeking to explain 9/11 and its impact on the world to students. Free resources include lesson plans, activities and readings that address complex subjects such as the war in Afghanistan and racism against Muslim Americans.

A separate anniversary collection designed for adult readers is available online, too. Highlights include more than 2,500 “ impressionistic sketches ” of lives lost, an interactive reconstruction of the World Trade Center as it stood prior to the attacks and a feature article on Muslim Americans who came of age in the decade following 9/11.

The Washington Post

In 2019, a protracted legal battle mounted by the Washington Post successfully secured the release of a series of interviews with high-ranking officials about the war in Afghanistan. Reporter Craig Whitlock published the Post ’s first survey of the papers in an article titled “ At War With the Truth ”; the story was later turned into a book .

YouTube Logo

As Whitlock reported, the documents “reveal[ed] that senior U.S. officials failed to tell the truth about the war in Afghanistan throughout the 18-year campaign, making rosy pronouncements they knew to be false and hiding unmistakable evidence the war had become unwinnable.” Readers can explore the Post ’s reporting, feedback from the public and interviewees, timelines of the war, and more than 2,000 pages of documents online.

Get the latest stories in your inbox every weekday.

Nora McGreevy

Nora McGreevy | | READ MORE

Nora McGreevy is a former daily correspondent for Smithsonian . She is also a freelance journalist based in Chicago whose work has appeared in Wired , Washingtonian , the Boston Globe , South Bend Tribune , the New York Times and more.

Teaching American History

9/11 — Twenty Years Later, Conclusion

By January, 2002, the US was settling into a conventional approach to the unconventional attack mounted against the US on 9/11. In Afghanistan, where the Taliban routed in eight weeks had not disappeared, in Iraq after Baghdad fell, and around the world, the US military set about finding and killing terrorists. Together with the intelligence community, the military developed an unprecedented degree of proficiency at targeting and eliminating individuals thought to be threats. On the ground, they raided and exploited intelligence very efficiently, and at an extraordinary pace. From the sky, drone tracking and targeting systems stalked and killed our enemies. Together, as we know from captured documents, these hunting and killing systems brought the fear of sudden, violent, unexpected death into the lives of every one of our Islamist enemies.

This killing represented an unconventional tactic put at the service of a conventional strategy. It aimed to destroy the networks of people killing Americans and our soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq, as if they were the military arm of a nation-state. Briefing slides showed the network with the most recently eliminated targets crossed out. The Washington Post featured on its front page a picture of President Obama going over paperwork, deciding who would live and who would die. On rare occasions, we killed U.S. citizens.

But the network on the briefing slides, in truth, depicted not the network, but merely the limits of our knowledge. Every person in the schematic had connections to tens or hundreds of others outside our network diagrams. Killing someone we knew about inside the network affected all of those connections to the network we did not know about. Of course, this is also true in conventional warfare: soldiers have parents, siblings, cousins, and friends. But the logic of conventional warfare puts soldiers at risk so as to protect civilians. When the military is defeated, the war is over. Despite its brutality, conventional warfare is a way of limiting war and the damage of war. Although these conventions tended to break down in the 20 th century, they still distinguished conventional from unconventional war. In unconventional warfare, the “network” is not a static military establishment separate from the larger population; it is embedded in that population and part of it. Destroying the part of the network we can see will not necessarily end the war.

Many of those who carried out the in-person raids, as well as some of their political superiors, argued that our network targeting was so efficient and relentless that we would win by attrition: we could kill people faster than they could be replaced, and the network would collapse. This was a version of the conventional attrition warfare that the U.S. military had traditionally carried on. Chris and I had implicitly objected to this view from the first, by presenting an alternative approach. As the war on terror went on, academic and policy debates developed over these different ways to carry on the fight against terrorism.

When I returned to NPS after my temporary work in the Pentagon, I engaged in these and other debates about the war on terror in academic writing, but also in discussions inside and outside class with our students, more and more of whom had tours, sometimes multiple tours, in Afghanistan and Iraq. The special forces officers—who now included officers from our NATO allies, as well as from countries in South and Central America, Africa, the Middle East, and Asia—were inclined to accept the arguments in favor of unconventional warfare, just as their colleagues in the conventional forces were inclined to discount them. A few years later, the new Homeland Security Department started a Master’s degree program in homeland security at NPS. I taught in that for several years, learning a good deal from the law enforcement, firefighting, health, cyber security personnel and others I worked with. The early classes especially had numerous representatives from the New York City fire and police departments. Every day, I came to work by driving around obstacles in the approaches to the new gates at NPS. To the armed guards at the gate, I presented my new Department of Defense photo ID card that now carried a chip with additional identifying information.

In all the work I did, I presented the same overarching argument Chris and I had made in the immediate aftermath of 9/11. It was directed at two dominant, but (I thought) wrong-headed claims about 9/11 and our response. Some claimed that al Qaeda represented something new and almost impossible to contend with. Information technology, for one thing, enhanced the power of non-state groups like al Qaeda (through online recruiting and propaganda, for example) to a degree that allowed them to threaten the existence of nation-states. Others claimed that we could win the war on terrorism with military force, by identifying and killing terrorists. In contrast to these claims, I argued that in launching the 9/11 attacks, al Qaeda and the Taliban had made a grave strategic blunder. They had raised the conflict to a level at which they could not compete. But this was in the short term. In the longer term—it was a multigenerational conflict after all—this blunder would be fatal only if the United States took advantage of it. Would the US focus on public opinion, intelligence, and politics, rationing its use of force, or make the use of force the leading edge of its response and thereby restore and even strengthen the Taliban and its allies?

Because of or despite what we have done—Afghanistan, Iraq, the Patriot Act, increased security at airports, etc.—we are most concerned today not with Islamist terrorism, but with the political violence and terrorism of the extreme left and right. Still, I find myself thinking back to an earlier time, decades ago when Ellen and I were in the diplomatic service in West Africa. I found myself then on a soccer team composed largely of North African diplomats, with a few others, including a Soviet Uzbek diplomat, thrown in. At some point, three younger, somewhat rougher men became part of the team. They were from somewhere in the Middle East. I assumed Lebanon, since we were posted in a country with a large Lebanese population. What they were doing in West Africa was not clear, although over time I gathered that they were on a sort of R&R tour, staying with cousins, perhaps, resting or hiding out, waiting for the call to go back to whatever they had come from. At first, they didn’t talk to me or even take notice of me. Over time, that changed. I supposed it was because they saw that the diplomats, all Muslims, some from countries with touchy relationships with the United States, seemed to have no problem with the American. Even the Soviet, with whom I was regularly paired at center back, was apparently friendly with me. The younger men never became friendly, only less wary.

I noticed after a while, however, that the member of the trio who seemed to be the leader—a skilled player—was insulting me (I assumed; he spoke in Arabic) for my mistakes as he did all the others on the team. Before one particularly challenging game, he stood poised over the ball at mid-field as we all met there to encourage one another. He turned toward me, grinned and said in an English I did not know until then he possessed, “We are all Muslims today.” I laughed and said “Sure.” He said even louder, almost shouting, “All good Shia!” and we all laughed. We went to our positions, and he put the ball in play.

Not long after that game, the trio stopped showing up. Called back to duty, I assumed. I thought of them occasionally after that, wondering what happened to them. More recently, I have wondered what became of their children, and grandchildren.

David Tucker is the general editor of Teaching American History’s core document volumes. He is the author most recently of United States Special Operations Forces (2020) and Revolution and Resistance: Moral Revolution, Military Might, and the End of Empire (2016).  This post draws on arguments in both books.

9/11 — Twenty Years Later, Pt. 1

Why students should read all of washington’s farewell address, join your fellow teachers in exploring america’s history..

9/11 facts for essay

Essays revisited: Reflecting on 9/11

  • Show more sharing options
  • Copy Link URL Copied!

In the days and weeks after Sept. 11, 2001, the Times ran dozens of analysis and opinion pieces examining how the events of that day might change the United States and the world. We asked some of the writers who contributed their thoughts after the tragedy to look back at what they wrote then and reflect on it from the vantage point of today.

Richard Rodriguez works at New America Media. His book on the influence of the desert on the Abrahmic religions will be published next year.

On the Sunday after 9/11, Rodriguez wrote eloquently that “it was a week when words failed us. We sensed ourselves entering some terrible epoch, but we did not have sufficient nouns and verbs.” Ten years later, the words are clearer, as is the extent of what was lost.

I believe the time has come to put away the ceremonies of 9/11—the politicians’ speeches at Ground Zero, the parade of children holding the photos of their dead fathers and mothers, the bag-pipes, the tolling bell, the roll call of the dead.

Those of us who were alive that day will always dread the annual alignment of those two numbers — nine, eleven -- the blue September sky; our thoughts will return to the ashes. Let that be the way of it. There is no moratorium on grief.

The dreadful mnemonic date has formed a seal over our minds. Something is wrong. It will not be fixed.

In generations past, America used wounds to form armies. Remember the Alamo! Remember the Maine! After the attack on Pearl Harbor, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt bore witness to December 7, “a date which will live in infamy.”

In the decade since the attacks of September 11th, Americans have turned inward. We have become a nation obsessed with guarding our borders, particularly the Mexican border, even as ghostly TSA images of our naked bodies reach upward, as though under arrest.

We eschew the international, except for the deserts from which the terrorists came. Under the banner of 9/11, President George W. Bush sent Americans to war against Iraq. We were crazed. Osama bin Laden was the leering genie within the explosions. We toppled Saddam Hussein. We ended up fighting Taliban tribesmen in Kandahar.

When American special forces killed Osama bin Laden in May (we do not remember the date), there was no pervading sense in America that the era of 9/11 was finished. Some Americans danced in the street, waved flags, honked their horns. The fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan went on.

What is maddening us is that the wars of 9/11 can have no ending, because we have no clear purpose, because they have no clear adversary. We are not fighting nations; we are fighting peasants and mercenaries and religious ideologues and millionaires. In the war against terrorism, there will never be an “eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month”; it will always be 9/11.

But an America that only guards against a dangerous world diminishes its power in the world. In the last ten years, China has usurped the noun Americans thought we held the patent to—the “future.”

While we have deployed troops backward, into the Bible, China has built dams in Africa and made trade agreements with South America. The Chinese have welcomed young men and women from the Third World to Chinese universities. While U.S. troops are killed building roads between tribal villages in Afghanistan, the Chinese sign mineral contracts in Kabul.

The “Arab spring” that began in Tunisia and spread throughout the Middle East has toppled dictators with whom our government maintained “relationships.” We want to feel encouraged by the youthful rebellions. We want to conflate rebellion with American democracy in the designs of the crowd. All the while, we worry the stage is being set for a coming Islamist revival.

Some in our national media have advanced the hope that American technology is liberating the young of the Middle East. Are Apple, Facebook and Twitter democratizing the region? My suspicion is that Americans are confusing conveyance with content. We credit the iPhone with ideological apps that the rest of the world does not necessarily buy.

Hemmed in by an adversarial world, we turn on each other: President Bush was, in the eyes of his critics on the left, a fool wound up by big business. President Barack Obama, according to his critics on the right, is a socialist and a Muslim. Our Congress has become an international scandal. Conservatives versus progressives.

About the only thing that Washington and the nation can seem to manage these days are monuments—we are monument mad, anniversary obsessed. Which leads us to Ground Zero, the tenth anniversary.

This year, put your hand on your heart for all who were lost, for all we have lost, then turn from this place and look at it no more, and see what our nation has become.

Geraldine Brooks, former Mideast correspondent and author, most recently, of the novel Caleb’s Crossing.

In a December 2001 essay titled “ Iraqi people deserve to be liberated ,” Brooks wrote: “Iraq is a far richer country than Afghanistan, gifted with oil, water, good farmland, scenic beauty, rare antiquities. Were it were not for the bleak and terrible regime of Hussein, it could be the showplace of the region. Now is the time to make some belated amends for a tragic mistake. Some in the Bush Cabinet want to strike Iraq to safeguard the West from future terrorism. That is a reason. But there is an even better one. It should be done for the sake of the Iraqis.”

When I wrote those words, I thought I knew Iraq pretty much as well as any non-Iraqi at that time could know it. I’d traveled there many times, in war and peace, visited its cities under oppression and during their brief liberation, in 1980s prosperity and 1990s decline. I’d met with dissidents and torture victims in Europe, Australia and the Mideast. I had seen the effects of Saddam’s brutal terror, but I hadn’t understood that it also acted as a vise, holding that nation together.

It might be possible to plead that in the run up to the war none of us could foresee the depth of fecklessness of the Bush/Cheney administration, or know just how profoundly the plan for the peace had been neglected. So ideological blindness begat the grim fiesta of lawlessness and looting, squandered Iraqi trust, inspired and enabled insurgency.

But the truth and the lessons of Iraq are more compelling and far simpler. Augustine knew them when he set out the basis of just war theory in the fourth century: One should never resort to war unless the threat is existential and there is no other way to answer it; success should be likely and the suffering created less than the suffering averted. Neither of the first two criteria applied to the Iraq war, and the others remain debatable.

Iraqis have had to endure a decade of fear and continue to live with a ravaged infrastructure. The birth pains of their freedom have been unnecessarily agonizing and their future remains uncertain. For us, meanwhile, the costs of war are everywhere apparent: in the shattered bodies of soldiers, in a glinting prosperity dulled by crushing debt, and in a national psyche coarsened by a war whose unequal sacrifice has demanded so much from a few and little more than jingoistic platitudes from the rest.

Peter Tomsen, U.S. special envoy and ambassador on Afghanistan from 1989 to 1992 and author of the just-published “The Wars of Afghanistan.”

In his October 2001 essay “ Past Provides Lessons for Afghanistan’s Future ,” Tomsen warned that: “If the U.S. military offensive is drawn out, and Washington lacks an overarching strategic vision for the region, Pakistan could unravel. Islamic militants would take to the streets, the already wobbly economy could fall and the army splinter into rival factions.” Today Tomsen is still worried.

We entered Afghanistan with the best of intentions, but 10 years later, it is clear that American policy toward Afghanistan and Pakistan has not succeeded.

There are those who will say we should have pressed the war harder, that we should have committed more forces. That was not the problem. Even 500,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan could not bring peace as long as Pakistan’s army and military intelligence service, the ISI, continue to foster sanctuaries for international terrorist groups inside Pakistan.

Today, American and Afghan troops are under constant attack from a variety of Pakistan-supported organizations, including the Afghan Taliban, the Afghan Haqqani and Gulbuddin Hekmatyar networks, and three ISI-created Pakistani religio-terrorist organizations. Since 9/11, numerous international terrorists, including Faizal Shahzad, the would-be Times Square bomber, have been trained in Pakistani sanctuaries for extremists.

It is clear that Pakistan’s generals have no more intention of dismantling these safe havens now than they had before 9/11. If Washington does not finally deal with Pakistan’s duplicity, our stabilization efforts in Afghanistan will fail and the country will slip into yet another cycle of warfare.

American policy-makers must realize that the risk of taking a tougher approach to Pakistan is less, in the long run, than the risk of continuing the status quo. Ten years of inaction have not paid off. More troops and money are not the answer; nor is continuing to hope that Islamabad’s episodic cooperation with the CIA in eliminating specific terrorists will blossom into a productive working relationship. The United States needs an overarching, long-term policy toward Pakistan that would focus geo-strategic and bilateral pressure on Pakistan’s military leaders to end the Afghan war and stop international terrorism emanating from Pakistan. America and the international community could then focus on helping Afghanistan to once again become a neutral crossroads for Eurasian commerce rather than a proxy battlefield for predatory neighbors.

Naomi Klein, author most recently of “The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism”

In a September 2001 essay titled “ Game Over: The End of Warfare as Play ,” Klein noted that the United States had fought a series of wars in which it had experienced few casualties. “This is a country that has come to believe in the ultimate oxymoron: a safe war,” she wrote. The attacks of 9/11 would change that, she believed. “The illusion of war without casualties has been forever shattered.” Today, she’s not so sure.

I suppose it was wishful thinking. As I watched footage of New Yorkers fleeing from the attacks, their terrified faces covered in dust from the collapsing towers, I was overwhelmed by how different these images were from the people-free videogame wars that my friends and I had grown up watching on CNN. Now that we were finally getting an unsanitized look at what it meant to be attacked from the air, I was sure it would change our hearts forever.

But the Bush Administration was determined to tightly police what we saw of the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, introducing “embedded” reporting, and banning photographs of returning caskets. They also let it be known that reporters who embedded themselves with local populations instead of with allied troops were acceptable military targets -- as attacks on Al Jazeera reporters in Afghanistan and Iraq made clear.

The wars being waged by our governments in our names are today more distant to us than ever before. . Some of the fighting is carried out by mercenaries, who die without so much as a mention in the papers. And drone attacks have ushered in something even more dangerous than the “safe war” -- the idea of “no touch” warfare. This sends a clear message to the civilians on the other side of our weapons that we consider our lives so much more valuable than theirs that we will no longer even bother showing up to kill them in person.

As we should have learned ten years ago, this is an extraordinarily dangerous message to send.

Doyle McManus, op-ed columnist

In March 2002, in a front page analysis piece titled “ U.S. Gets Back to Normal ,” McManus, then the paper’s Washington bureau chief, concluded that the news wasn’t how much the attacks had changed America, but how little.

“Six months after Sept. 11,” he wrote, “here’s what’s changed:

“The federal government, its budget and its public image. The focus of American foreign policy. Security measures at airports, seaports and border crossings. The nation’s sense of patriotism, cohesion and vulnerability. The lives of almost 1.4 million people in the armed services…. [and] the victims, their families and friends.

“Here’s what hasn’t changed much: Everything else.” Today, he says, that’s still mostly true.

Since Sept. 11, the federal government has continued to grow. Spending has mushroomed on war-fighting, intelligence-gathering and homeland security. Security measures at airports and seaports are even tighter than before – although the government promises we’ll be allowed to keep our shoes on some day.

But that hasn’t made us love the federal government more. In the frightened months after Sept. 11, polls found that Americans’ trust in the government’s ability to do the right thing soared; in the years since, that same measure has plummeted.

That’s largely because the issue that concerns Americans most is no longer terrorism, but economic stagnation – and the federal government hasn’t succeeded in overcoming that threat.

As for “the nation’s sense of patriotism [and] cohesion,” the patriotism is still there, but the cohesion we discovered in 2001 was evanescent. A divisive war in Iraq and a virtual civil war over fiscal policy quickly turned politics nasty again.

In 2002, I asked Harvard social scientist Robert D. Putnam if 9/11 could have a lasting positive effect on our sense of community, and he was skeptical – appropriately, as it turned out.

“After almost any crisis, calamity or natural disaster, there’s a sudden spike in community-mindedness, whether it’s an earthquake, a flood or a snowstorm in Buffalo,” he said. “But these spikes don’t last. Over time, the community feeling dissipates.”

The only exception, Putnam noted, was Pearl Harbor – because World War II called on every citizen to sacrifice. This time, only a few were called on; the rest of us were encouraged to go shopping.

The focus of American policy has shifted, too. Immediately after 9/11, it was stopping further terrorism; then it was managing the consequences of our Global War on Terror, especially in Iraq and Afghanistan. But now the focus is broader – and, increasingly, economic. As the just-retired chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, Adm. Mike Mullen, often said, “The single biggest threat to our national security is our debt.”

The war on terror isn’t over, even though it’s no longer called by that name. There are still almost 100,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan, almost 50,000 in Iraq. The real cost of those wars – more than 5000 killed in action, more than 45,000 injured – changed many lives irrevocably.

But for most Americans, the most striking fact remains not how much 9/11 changed, but how little.

Graham Allison is director of the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government and a former assistant secretary of Defense.

In November 2001, Allison wrote that “After Sept. 11, a nuclear terrorist attack can no longer be dismissed as an analyst’s fantasy. … As the international noose tightens around Al Qaeda’s neck, the group will become more desperate and audacious.” Ten years later, he says we have made some progress in keeping nuclear weapons out of terrorist groups’ hands.

On 9/11, 19 terrorists killed more Americans than the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. If the terrorists had been in possession of a nuclear weapon, the attack might have killed 300,000.

Post 9/11, President Bush, and now President Obama, have declared nuclear terrorism the biggest threat to American national security.

The United States has taken the lead in investing more than $10 billion and countless hours in securing and eliminating nuclear weapons and material worldwide. President Obama’s Nuclear Security Summit in 2010 focused exclusively on the threat. As a result of these efforts, thousands of weapons and material that could have produced thousands more weapons are better secured today than they were a decade ago. In Russia, which has the world’s largest stockpile of nuclear weapons and material, hundreds of sensitive sites have been secured; 17 countries have eliminated their weapons-usable material stockpiles entirely.

But to prevent a nuclear 9/11, all nuclear weapons and weapons-usable material everywhere must be secured to a “gold standard” — beyond the reach of terrorists or thieves.

On that agenda, much remains to be done. The ever-more fragile state of Pakistan has the world’s most rapidly expanding nuclear arsenal. North Korea today has enough material for about 10 nuclear bombs. And Iran now has enough low enriched uranium, if further processed, for four nuclear weapons. One of these weapons in the hands of terrorists could mean an “American Hiroshima”

The price of success in preventing a nuclear 9/11 remains eternal vigilance.

James Fallows is a national correspondent for the Atlantic and an author.

In September 2001, Fallows wrote in his essay “ Step One: Station a Marshal Outside Every Cockpit Door ” that: “There may not be a next time, as everything involving air travel becomes more constrained. The tightening of security, while necessary, almost certainly will have aspects of fighting the last war. We may spend years refining passenger-screening processes, only to have the next terrorist explosive arrive by barge.

… Any system careful enough to eliminate sophisticated terrorists also would be cumbersome enough to negate the speed advantage of traveling by air.”

I wish my fears had had turned out to be wholly unfounded. And when it comes to the specific scenario of bombs aboard barges, I’m glad to say that they have been, at least so far.

Unfortunately, there was a much broader challenge that many people, including me, foresaw from the very beginning of the push toward a sweeping emphasis on “homeland security” and the “global war on terror.” This was the risk that, in the name of “protecting” ourselves against future threats, we might ultimately give up, distort or sacrifice the values that made a free society most worth defending. I am sorry to say that this fear has largely been realized.

We can’t be sure of much when it comes to future acts of terrorism, but one certainty is that there will never be “another 9/11.” That attack depended for its shocking success on people not imagining that airliners would be used as large-scale urban bombs. Everyone in the world now understands that possibility, which is why a “9/11-style” attack simply cannot be pulled off again. If the passengers and crew on a plane did not stop future hijackers from flying a fuel-laden plane into a city, the Air Force would.

We also know that our reflexive response to threats has given tremendous leverage to any handful of people who conceive of a new means of attack. Because of one foiled shoe-bombing attempt, hundreds of millions of air passengers worldwide continue removing their shoes before boarding planes. Osama bin Laden’s associates spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on their attacks. America’s chosen response has cost the nation trillions of dollars in direct military and security expenditures, not to mention the other costs.

The long-standing truth about terrorism is that the worst damage it inflicts is not through the initial attack but rather through the self-defeating and extreme response it often evokes. It is past time for America to consider a security response that does more damage to potential attackers and less to ourselves.

Shireen T. Hunter is a visiting professor at Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service .

In her September 2001 OpEd (“ Wake-Up Call for the Islamic World ”), Hunter argued that Muslims themselves have been the ones most adversely affected by the extremist ideas and groups that have sprung up amid them, “giving credence to the worst perceptions of Islam as a rigid, aggressive, reactionary and xenophobic creed.” She recommended that Muslim nations “stop using Islam as an instrument of foreign policy” and to “abandon outdated utopian and expansionist schemes.”

Unfortunately, in the intervening years, Muslim nations have continued this behavior. Thus, in their bids to expand their regional influence, countries such as Saudi Arabia, Iran and Pakistan have stoked the fires of sectarianism in Iraq, Bahrain, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Yemen. Saudi Arabia has even resorted to manipulating sectarian divisions in Lebanon and Syria in its attempt to eliminate the Iranian influence. Meanwhile, Iran has continued to support its Shiite co-religionists in Lebanon.

The upshot of this situation is that in the Muslim world today, sectarian divisions and hatreds are even deeper. This seriously hampers the establishment of peace and even a modicum of stability, and dims the prospect of consensual politics. Instead, the manipulation of sectarian divides and rivalries for power and influence, notably between Iran and Saudi Arabia, has led to new tragedies such as that in Bahrain where the Shiite majority is being brutally repressed by the Sunni rulership.

Meanwhile, Al Qaeda Inc. branches have sprung up in Iraq, Yemen and elsewhere, and remain strong, despite the deaths of Osama bin Laden and other top leaders; the Taliban are resurgent in Afghanistan; and the ultra-conservative Salafists have developed strong footholds in Egypt, Tunisia and Jordan.

All this time, the needs and aspirations of the people have been ignored, leading them to revolt as we have seen during the “Arab spring.” Yet revolts and revolutions seldom lead to democracy. Generally they result in politics of revenge, chaos and eventually another form of dictatorship. Muslim countries have missed an opportunity.

Alexander Cockburn coedits the CounterPunch website and writes for the Nation and other publications.

“The lust for retaliation traditionally outstrips precision in identifying the actual assailant,” Cockburn wrote in September 2001 (“ The Next Casualty: Bill of Rights? ”). “The targets abroad will be all the usual suspects -- the Taliban or Saddam Hussein, who started off as creatures of U.S. intelligence. The target at home will be the Bill of Rights.”

It was maybe an hour after the north tower of the World Trade Center collapsed that I heard the first of a thousand pundits that day saying that America might soon have to sacrifice “some of those freedoms we have taken for granted.” They said this with grave relish, as though the Bill of Rights – the first 10 amendments to the U.S. Constitution — was somehow responsible for the onslaught, and should join the rubble of the towers, carted off to New Jersey and exported to China for recycling into abutments for the Three Gorges Dam.

Of course it didn’t take 9/11 to give the Bill of Rights a battering. It is always under duress and erosion. Where there’s emergency, there’s opportunity for the enemies of freedom. The Patriot Act, passed in October 2001 and periodically renewed in most of its essentials in the Bush and Obama years, kicked new holes in at least six of our Bill of Rights protections.

The government can search and seize citizens’ papers and effects without probable cause, spy on their electronic communications, and has, amid ongoing court battles on the issue, eavesdropped on their conversations without a warrant. Goodbye to the right to a speedy public trial with assistance of counsel. Welcome indefinite incarceration without charges, denial of the assistance of legal counsel and of the right to confront witnesses or even have a trial. Until beaten back by the courts, the Patriot Act gave a sound whack at the 1st Amendment, too, since the government could now prosecute librarians or keepers of any records if they told anyone the government had subpoenaed information related to a terror investigation.

Let’s not forget that a suspect may be in no position to do any confronting or waiting for trial since American citizens deemed a threat to their country can be extrajudicially and summarily executed by order of the president, with the reasons for the order shielded from the light of day as “state secrets”. That takes us back to the bills of attainder the Framers expressly banned in Article One of the U.S. Constitution, about as far from the Bill of Rights as you can get. We can thank the War on Terror, launched after 9/11, for it.

Jonathan Turley is a law professor at George Washington University.

In his September 13 Op Ed (“ Cries of “war” stumble over the law ”), Turley warned against the government seeking “greater flexibility” in responding to terrorists by treating criminal attacks “as a matter of war.” “Our system,” he wrote, “requires that legal means be used to achieve legal ends. We decide those means and ends within the general confines of the Constitution.” How has the founding document fared?

As the smoke was still rising from the Pentagon and World Trade Center, it became quickly evident that some of the greatest damage from the September 11th attacks would not come from without but from within our nation.

There was an almost immediate effort by Bush officials to change the definition of war. Rather than declare war on Afghanistan (where Bin Laden was sheltered), President George W. Bush wanted to declare war on terrorism. It was no rhetorical triviality. Bush decided to invoke the heightened constitutional powers of a wartime president by declaring war on what was a category of crime. Because there could never be a total, final defeat of terrorism, this “war” would become permanent – as would the heightened powers of the president.

Ten years later, the country remains “at war,” with President Barack Obama expanding many of the national security powers of his predecessor and, in the Libyan war, claiming his own re-definition of war: “a time-limited, scope-limited military action.”

Of course, the ominous signs in 2001 were realized in a myriad of other ways, from the establishment of the first American torture program to the widespread use of targeted assassinations, including operations killing American citizens. Ironically, I wrote then of the possibility of a new law that could govern the use of assassination, one that would deny a president unilateral authority to kill individuals and would reduce the need to invoke war powers. Instead, the Bush administration claimed full wartime authority as well as radically expanding the use of assassination as an unchecked presidential power. The claim of unilateral presidential authority to kill even United States citizens has been embraced by Obama.

What ultimately fell on that terrible day proved to be some of our most important constitutional structures. Tragically, it is a degree of damage that cannot be claimed by Al Qaeda alone.

Laila Al-Marayati, Los Angeles physician

In a January 2002 essay titled “ An Identity Reduced to a Burka ,” Al-Marayati wrote: “It should be obvious that the critical element Muslim women need is freedom, especially the freedom to make choices that enable them to be independent agents of positive change.”

After the tragic events of 9/11, there were some genuine attempts to improve understanding and awareness between peoples. But that good will has given way in recent years to increased anti-Muslim sentiment in the U.S. and around the world, prejudices that were reflected in a recent Gallup poll. Muslim women who choose to wear hijab take the brunt of the hostility. They are subject to verbal assault and to misdirected legal actions such as in the ban on the headscarf imposed in France. For centuries, Muslim women have been in the crosshairs of the supposed conflict between Islam and the West. Shortly before the invasion of Afghanistan, we saw images, almost daily, of burqa-clad women who had been suffering under the Taliban. But what most people forget is that they were suffering long before 9/11 and that they continue to experience hardship today in most parts of the country. In 2001, their plight was exploited for political expediency, to help drum up support among freedom-loving Americans for a war that has yet to make life better for the common Afghan woman. Over the past decade, Muslim women around the world have continued to demand their rights and claim their position alongside their Muslim brothers by advocating for changes in legal systems that discriminate against them, by educating their daughters, and by challenging harmful traditions that have no basis in Islam. Many of them are now engaged in the struggle of their lives to achieve the kind of freedom that Muslims living in the U.S. appreciate. It is too soon to predict the outcome, but we should have no doubt that women will be at the forefront of positive change. We should support their efforts, not for political expediency, but because it is the right thing to do.

More to Read

FILE - An Israeli flag hangs between destroyed houses in the kibbutz Kfar Azza, Israel, near the Gaza Strip, Monday, Nov. 13, 2023. It has become an Israeli mantra throughout the latest war in Gaza: Hamas is ISIS. Since the bloody Hamas attack on Oct. 7 that triggered the war, Israeli leaders and commanders have likened the Palestinian militant group to the Islamic State group. They point to Hamas’ brutal slaughter of hundreds of civilians and compare their Gaza war to the U.S.-led campaign to defeat IS in Iraq and Syria. (AP Photo/Leo Correa, File)

Opinion: Why did Israel miss so many warnings of the Hamas attack? Here’s one answer

Dec. 11, 2023

FILE - In this Nov. 25, 1963 file photo, the caisson bearing the flag-draped coffin of President John F. Kennedy moves in procession down Pennsylvania Avenue, in Washington, en route to Arlington National Cemetery. Kennedy's funeral was attended by “28 presidents, prime ministers and kings.” As the horse-drawn coffin moved through Washington, “streets were lined by hundreds of thousands of people, many of them weeping.” (AP File Photo)

Opinion: We were one nation, united in mourning, when President Kennedy died. Not anymore

Nov. 25, 2023

An injured Palestinian man is carried on a stretcher into the al-Shifa Hospital, following Israeli airstrikes on Gaza City, central Gaza Strip, Monday, Oct. 16, 2023. (AP Photo/Abed Khaled)

Opinion: 9/11 offers awful lessons for what could happen with a Gaza ground invasion

Oct. 16, 2023

A cure for the common opinion

Get thought-provoking perspectives with our weekly newsletter.

You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Los Angeles Times.

More From the Los Angeles Times

PRODUCTION - 17 January 2024, Berlin: In the cell laboratory at the Fertility Center Berlin, an electron microscope is used to fertilize an egg cell. Photo: Jens Kalaene/dpa (Photo by Jens Kalaene/picture alliance via Getty Images)

Commentary: My wife and I navigated IVF just fine without the Alabama Supreme Court

Gov. Gavin Newsom reads the book "Rosie Revere, Engineer by Andrea Beaty and David Roberts to kindergarteners at the Washington Elementary School in Sacramento, Calif., Friday, March 1, 2019. Newsom, accompanied by his wife, Jennifer Siebel Newsom, left, visited the school to celebrate Read Across America Day. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)

Letters to the Editor

Letters to the Editor: No, the ‘science of reading’ isn’t just about teaching phonics

Los Angeles, CA - October 08: Rep. Katie Porter and Rep. Adam Schiff, left, and right participate in a debate on stage with other democrats who are running to succeed Sen. Feinstein at Westing Bonaventure Hotel on Sunday, Oct. 8, 2023 in Los Angeles, CA. (Dania Maxwell / Los Angeles Times)

Letters to the Editor: Katie Porter is a treasure. Shame on Adam Schiff for elevating Steve Garvey

The Diego Rivera mural "The Allegory of California," in

Opinion: How did a Moroccan pirate queen become the ‘Spirit of California’?

March 2, 2024

  • Research & Innovation
  • Arts & Creativity
  • Teaching & Learning
  • Life at Ohio State
  • In the Community

9/11: causes and lingering consequences

  • Facebook profile — external
  • Twitter profile — external
  • Email — external
  • LinkedIn profile — external

The images from that day still haunt us.

The Twin Towers plummeting to the ground, one following the other, smoke snaking through streets, billowing for blocks, fear and confusion spreading like ashes across the country.

We know now what we didn’t know that day: that the terrorist attack had been building for more than a decade. And that it would change our country, irreparably, forever.

Here,  Peter Hahn , a professor of history and dean of arts and humanities at Ohio State, discusses the causes — and lingering consequences — of 9/11.

Our research community

You also might like.

Jose Castro.


  1. 9/11 attacks: Timeline, facts; What happened on Sept. 11? How many

    9/11 facts for essay

  2. Facts about 9/11 attacks: A look at September 11, 2001 by the numbers

    9/11 facts for essay

  3. Breaking News

    9/11 facts for essay

  4. 9/11 Essay Questions Lesson Plan for 8th

    9/11 facts for essay

  5. What 9/11 Changed: Reflecting on the Cultural Legacy of the Attacks, 20

    9/11 facts for essay

  6. How Students in 12 Countries Are Taught About 9/11

    9/11 facts for essay


  1. চম্পাকে বোকা বানিয়ে লটারি জিতে নিলাম 😂// #facts #amazingfacts

  2. 11 Facts About You

  3. Pakistan Navy Save 9 Indians #youtubeshorts #pakistan #india #facts #maps

  4. 9/11 20 years later

  5. 11 Facts About Singapore

  6. Fact-11 #space #facts #viral #shorts


  1. Two Decades Later, the Enduring Legacy of 9/11

    A devastating emotional toll, a lasting historical legacy 9/11 transformed U.S. public opinion, but many of its impacts were short-lived U.S. military response: Afghanistan and Iraq The 'new normal': The threat of terrorism after 9/11 Addressing the threat of terrorism at home and abroad Views of Muslims, Islam grew more partisan in years after 9/11

  2. How the September 11 attacks unfolded

    The routes of the four U.S. planes hijacked during the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. September 11 attacks, Series of airline hijackings and suicide bombings against U.S. targets perpetrated by 19 militants associated with the Islamic extremist group al-Qaeda. The attacks were planned well in advance; the militants—most of whom were ...

  3. Shock, insecurity and endless war: How 9/11 changed America and the

    That sort of presumption was effectively destroyed by 9/11 — and it hasn't come back.". Even as Americans grappled with trauma and anger at home, the attacks cleared the way for a foreign policy based on the belief that the United States can "transform foreign societies in its own self-image," said UC Berkeley historian Daniel Sargent.

  4. 10 Ways to Teach About 9/11 With The New York Times

    6. Consider the Importance of Memory. The World Trade Center wreckage once smoldered here. Now visitors come from around the world to learn, remember and grieve the loss of 9/11. Sara Newens. To ...

  5. How 9/11 Changed the World

    Saturday, September 11, 2021, marks the 20th anniversary of 9/11, the largest terrorist attack in history. On that Tuesday morning, 19 al-Qaeda terrorists hijacked four American commercial flights destined for the West Coast and intentionally crashed them. Two planes—American Airlines Flight 11 and United Airlines Flight 175—departed from ...

  6. September 11 attacks: What happened on 9/11?

    A collection of photos of the victims of 11 September 2001, in the 9/11 museum in New York. The legacy of 9/11. Flight safety was tightened around the world in the years following 9/11.

  7. Seven Reflections Worth Reading About 9/11

    With the twentieth anniversary of the September 11, 2001, attacks on Saturday, we recommend sources for better understanding 9/11 and its aftermath. Today: seven reflections about 9/11.

  8. PDF An Introduction to '9/11: Ten Years Later'

    A decade has passed since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Most of us remember where we were when we learned of the attacks, although our memories of the event and of our feelings that day may not be as accurate as we suspect (Hirst et al., 2009). The attacks of 9/11 did far more than destroy buildings and kill thousands of innocent ...

  9. 9/11 Primer

    Modules. The 9/11 Primer is divided into six thematic modules, each with a range of educational resources that help learners understand the events of 9/11, the antecedents of the attacks, and the ongoing repercussions of that day. These modules can be used in preparation for a visit to the Museum or as a guide for in-classroom teaching.

  10. After 9/11, The World Changed. The Fight Against Terrorism Has Too

    An American flag at ground zero on the evening of Sept. 11, 2001, after the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City. In the fall of 2001, Aaron Zebley was a 31-year-old FBI ...

  11. Remembering September 11

    Remembering September 11. Learn how this historic day in 2001 changed the lives of those living in the United States—and around the world. On September 11, 2001, people in New York City woke up to a beautiful late summer day. It was a Tuesday, and people were preparing for another day at work and school. Thousands of people headed for the ...

  12. 9/11 Commission Report

    The 9/11 Commission began its first hearings in New York City in the spring of 2003 and presented its findings in a public report released on July 22, 2004. Read a PDF of the report here.

  13. On the 19th anniversary of 9/11, ask your students: How has the ...

    9/11 Fast Facts Sept. 11th marks the anniversary of the attacks when terrorist-piloted planes hit the World Trade Center and the Pentagon and crashed into a field in Somerset County, Penn. Each ...

  14. The 9/11 Terrorist Attacks

    Introduction. On the morning of 11 September 2001, 19 terrorists from the Islamist extreme group al Qaeda hijacked four commercial aircraft and crashed two of them into the North and South Towers of the World Trade Center complex in New York City. A third plane crashed into the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia.

  15. How 9/11 changed us

    It happened fast. By 2004, when the 9/11 Commission urged America to "engage the struggle of ideas," it was already too late; the Justice Department's initial torture memos were already ...

  16. Twenty years later, how Americans assess the effects of the 9/11

    Under George W. Bush's leadership, the United States responded to the 9/11 attacks by launching a "war on terror," beginning in Afghanistan, where al-Qaeda's plot was conceived and organized.

  17. Free Online Resources About 9/11

    In late 2002, Congress and President George W. Bush created the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, otherwise known as the 9/11 Commission, to research the events of ...

  18. 9/11

    9/11 — Twenty Years Later, Conclusion. By David Tucker. On September 9, 2021. By January, 2002, the US was settling into a conventional approach to the unconventional attack mounted against the US on 9/11. In Afghanistan, where the Taliban routed in eight weeks had not disappeared, in Iraq after Baghdad fell, and around the world, the US ...

  19. 9/11 Facts To Remember the World Trade Center Attacks

    A total of 2,996 were killed on 9/11 and more than 6,000 were injured, according to The Washington Post. The total dead include the hijackers; the plane passengers, pilots and crew; 2,606 people ...

  20. Essays revisited: Reflecting on 9/11

    Essays revisited: Reflecting on 9/11. L.A. Times Archives. Sept. 11, 2011 12 AM PT. In the days and weeks after Sept. 11, 2001, the Times ran dozens of analysis and opinion pieces examining how ...

  21. The Causes and Consequences of 9/11

    What caused 9/11? 9/11 resulted from the confluence of multiple factors. Islamic extremism was stirred by the Iranian Revolution, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and the assassination of the Egyptian president. That extremism turned anti-American because of U.S. support for Israel and repressive and secular Arab regimes.

  22. PDF The 9/11 Commission Report

    7.2 The 9/11 Pilots in the United States 223 7.3 Assembling the Teams 231 7.4 Final Strategies and Tactics 241 8. "THE SYSTEM WAS BLINKING RED" 254 8.1 The Summer of Threat 254 8.2 Late Leads—Mihdhar,Moussaoui,and KSM 266 9. HEROISM AND HORROR 278 9.1 Preparedness as of September 11 278 9.2 September 11,2001 285