On 11 September 2001, the world watched in horror and disbelief as first one plane and then a second crashed into the Twin Towers of the NYC’s World Trade Center. Then news spread of a third hijacked plane heading to the Pentagon and a fourth that crashed en route to Washington, D.C., thanks to the actions of the passengers and crew. Twenty years on, Americans remember the victims, and the heroes who helped save many other lives that day.
The two deliberate crashes into the World Trade Center caused flaming infernos and eventually the collapse of the buildings. Many WTC workers died, some leaping from windows, as well as over 400 police and firefighters trying to help them. The third plane crashed into the Pentagon, U.S. military headquarters near Washington, D.C. Passengers and crew on the fourth plane found out about the other attacks through onboard phones when their craft was hijacked. They decided to attack the hijackers and the plane ultimately crashed in Pennsylvania. Its target was believed to be the White House or the Capitol.
It was the most deadly foreign attack on American soil. The actions of 19 terrorists caused the deaths of 2,750 people in New York, 184 at the Pentagon, and 40 in Pennsylvania. The victims came from more than 90 nations and ranged in age from two to 85.
The perpetrators were all affiliated with Al-Qaeda, a militant Islamist group led by a Saudi, Osama Bin Laden.
War on Terror
President George W. Bush immediately reacted by declaring a “war on terror”. A U.S.-led coalition launched an invasion of Afghanistan in October 2001, to challenge the Islamic Taliban regime. Although the regime officially fell in December, the U.S. and its allies became mired in a long military presence that lasted till this year.
In 2003, the Bush administration led an attack on Iraq, arguing it harboured and financed terrorists and posed a threat to other countries in the region. Again, there was a quick victory, with the U.S. taking Bagdad and toppling Saddam Hussein’s government in weeks. And again they then became embroiled in a protracted security campaign until their withdrawal in 2014, leaving a country still rife with conflict.
U.S. forces finally located and killed Bin Laden in 2011 but the repercussions of 9/11 are still felt today. After the recent withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan, the Taliban regained ground and another group, ISIS, controls large parts of Iraq and Syria and there continue to be ISIS attacks in western countries.
Remembering the Attacks
From the first anniversary, each year the families of those who died have gathered at the sites of the attacks to read out the names of the victims and observe minutes of silence at the time of each of the attacks.
The site of the World Trade Center, baptised “Ground Zero”, has been turned into a memorial and museum, completed in 2011 and 2014. The Memorial takes the form of two reflecting pools, each in the space once of the towers occupied, and edged with the names of the 2,977 victims of the 2001 attacks and six victims of a previous attack on the World Trade Center in 1993.
In this video, the memorial architect talks about the design and a 9/11 victim's daughter discusses what the memorial means to her.
The museum contains remnants of the buildings and planes but more importantly the portraits and stories of the victims as well as evocative objects which belonged to them. There is a powerful Public Service Announcement video on the museum site for the 20th anniversary.
On the evening of September 11 each year, the New York skyline lights up in “memorial blue” called a Tribute in Lights.
Families of victims also initiated a Day of Service on 9/11, as there is on Martin Luther King Day. Anyone who wishes to in the U.S. can participate in voluntary work that day in honour of all those who helped around the attacks, both professionals and volunteers.
For more on 9/11, look out for this National Geographic 6-part documentary series. Here’s the trailer.
Teach your pupils about 9/11 with our Ready to Use Resource.
Andrea Booher, FEMA
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