September 11, 2001

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Many of us grew up recognizing there was a tension. There was a strain that existed between the countries of the Western Bloc, which included the United States, NATO and countries that were in alliance; and the Eastern Bloc, comprised primarily of the Soviet Union. For those who lived in America, the Soviet Union, or the Communists were viewed with suspicion, distrust and acrimony ("Cold War History"). The Soviets resented the United States because they did not receive the treatment that they felt they were due as a legitimate player in the international arena. In addition, the Communists begrudged the fact that the United States failed to enter World War II, in what they felt was a timely manner, leaving the Russians with millions of lives lost. After the war, the Russians began engaging in expansionism within Eastern Europe. The Americans wondered if the Communists were trying to take over the world. The Soviet Union disliked the United States constant preparations for arms buildup, hostile stance against them, and busy body approach to international relations. The United States Cold War foreign policy was essentially that of containment – do not let the Soviet Union take over and help those countries who were victimized by their expansionist policies. In support of the policy of containment came increased defense spending and the development of nuclear power. Hydrogen bomb, or superbomb testing began and obliterated the areas where tests were conducted, the Soviets followed suit. Radioactive waste was spewed into the atmosphere ("Cold War History"). 

The Soviets developed the Soviet R-7 intercontinental ballistic missile called the Sputnik. It was a satellite launched into the Earth’s orbit in 1958, and the Americans were both surprised and unhappy. A year later the United States launched its own satellite, called Explorer I – and the Space Race had begun. The same year, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) was born. NASA is a federal agency whose purpose it was to engage in space exploration and to investigate the military possibilities of space. The Cold War became an ever present danger that was a part of everyone’s lives. Bomb shelters existed, students had practice drills where you had to avoid the classroom windows, “duck and cover” under your school desk, or sit together in the safest areas in the school building, like the long hallway, or auditorium. In the movies, the Communists were always the bad guys. You grew up knowing who the enemy was, prepared for the idea that something bad might happen, but were hopeful that intelligence and clear minds would prevail.

Then came September 11, 2001 – “a date which will live in infamy” (“A Date”). The expression originated with President Franklin Delano Roosevelt who uttered the phrase in response to the surprise Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on December 7, 1947. Yet it is also quite suitable to describe the feelings and sentiments of United States citizens when al-Qaeda, the Islamic militant extremist group, launched simultaneous suicide attacks on four U. S. targets ("9/11 Attacks"). The first plane, American Airline Flight 11, hijacked and piloted by Mohamed Atta, was flown into One World Trade Center in New York; the second plane, United Airlines Flight 175, hijacked and piloted by Marwan al-Shehhi, was flown into Two World Trade Center; the third plane, American Airlines Flight 77, hijacked and piloted by Hani Hanjour, was flown into the Pentagon, just outside of Washington, D. C.; while the fourth plane, United Airlines Flight 93, hijacked and piloted by Ziad Jarrah, crashed in a rural field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, as a result of a passenger attempt to regain control, missing its original intended target – arguably, the Capitol ("9/11 Attacks").

Many, including myself, were in shock as they watched the images of the planes crashing into their respective targets. Having been to One World Trade Center numerous times, and dining at Windows on the World, the restaurant on the 106th floor, located above the crash zone, between the 94th and 98th floors, it broke my heart to imagine what those people felt like that day once they realized that there was no way out. For those who experience vertigo when they are up higher than normal, when you went near the restaurant windows, you had no choice than to begin having that sensation. At the time of the tragedy, the restaurant was hosting regular breakfast patrons and the Risk Waters Group Ltd, who were holding a conference (Field). In addition to the patrons, there were 72 restaurant staff members on site that day. Several of those in the restaurant that day were able to make calls. They initially said that they were waiting to be evacuated. Others called later and said that it was getting smoky and hard to breathe so they were moving up to the 107th floor. Those who spoke to anyone who was holed up on the 106th floor thought that they had to have been evacuated by this point, since it had been over an hour and a half since the plane initially hit. Everyone in the restaurant died either of smoke inhalation, due to falling to their deaths, or died when the building imploded (Dwyer, Lipton, Flynn, Glanz and Fessenden). One of the more familiar images of people jumping from the building included a man facing head down first, wearing an all white outfit, suggesting that he may have been an employee of the restaurant ("Photographer Behind 9/11”).

On September 11, 2001, 2,753 people were killed (“September 11”). Of those who died, 343 were New York City firefighters, 23 were New York City police officers, and 37 Port Authority officers. Several persons who died a year or years after the incident were also declared victims of the attack, since some died of complications brought on by the toxic dust cloud. The Pentagon suffered 184 casualties. The Shanksville, Pennsylvania plane caused the death of 40 people. Only 1,640 of the 2,753 World Trade Center victims were positively identified. On December 13, 2001, a video shows Osama bin Laden taking responsibility for the attacks (“September 11”).

The economic impact of the 9/11 attack is estimated to be $123 billion which includes losses associated with the first one month after the attack in New York, including the reduction in airline travel for several years (“September 11”). An additional $60 billion is estimated for the cost the damage to the World Trade Center, nearby buildings and underground infrastructures. Congress approved $40 billion in anti-terrorism emergency funding on the 14th of September, 2001. The airlines, who suffered a reduction in air travel received a $15 billion bailout. There were over $9.3 billion in insurance claims made as a result of the attacks. The total cost of the cleanup was $750 million (“September 11”).

In response to the 9/11 attacks the Department of Homeland Security was created, rolling 22 federal agencies into one. Among those agencies were Federal Emergency Management Agency, the U. S. Customs Service, the U.S. Coast Guard, and the U. S. Immigration and Naturalization Service. Homeland Security installed over 130 inspectors at various ports throughout Muslim, Asian, and European nations to inspect imports for biological, chemical or nuclear weapons smuggling.

It is not clear that anyone who saw the planes hit the World Trade Center, the Pentagon or the Pennsylvania crash in Shanksville, will ever get over the effect of the hours of footage of death and destruction, the fear and then realization that many victims must have experienced, and the shock, bewilderment and pain experienced by those who lost loved ones, or who were still searching for loved ones.

Osama bin Laden claimed responsibility for organizing the 9/11 attacks ("Osama bin Laden"). Osama was born in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. His father, a wealthy owner of the biggest construction companies, had 52 children of which bin Laden was the 17th. He was born into a world of privilege. Bin Laden found Islam to be both a religion and his politics. He was a follower of the pan-Islamic ideology that believers should become jihadi, and engage in holy wars to unite all Muslims into one single Islamic state. Early on he resented the influence that the Western world had on the lives of those in the Middle East. He became a follower of pan-Islamist scholar Abdullah Azzam, and when the Soviets invaded Afghanistan, bin Laden went with Azzam to Peshawar, a city in Pakistan located not too far from the border of Afghanistan, and joined the resistance. The pair did not fight, but used their money and connections to aid the mujahideen, or Afghan rebels. The pair spread the word that Islamic men from all over should come and participate in the Afghan jihad. They created an organization called Maktab al-Khidamat, to recruit participants and provided training and supplies to the new “soldiers” ("Osama bin Laden").

When the Soviets withdrew from Afghanistan, bin Laden was in the process of establishing his new group called al-Qaeda, so that he could focus on terrorism ("Osama bin Laden"). He then went back to Saudi Arabia with the goal of fundraising to support his new mission. The Saudi royal family, Western allies, did not like bin Laden’s political leanings and his pan-Islmanic rhetoric, so they tried to bury his fervor by taking away his passport, and disregarding his efforts to create an Islamic state. In addition, the royals sought help from the U. S. Feeling snubbed, bin Laden vowed to show everyone who was who, he would prove exactly who was “master of this world” ("Osama bin Laden").

Osama bin Laden was on the U. S. radar longer than most Americans were aware (Glain). The question of why 9/11 happened was on the minds and lips of many U. S. citizens who were used to the Soviets being the enemy from the Cold War, but did not see bin Laden coming. Michael Scheurer, the CIA’s top Middle East specialist saw it coming, though. He knew what motivated bin Laden were U. S. policies and actions taken against those in the Muslim world. Peter Bergen, author of The Osama bin Laden I Know, wrote that bin Laden “has been pretty consistent about why he’s attacking the United States. It’s because of America’s foreign policies. ... It’s about what America has been doing in his backyard, as he sees it” (Glain). In fact, bin Laden issue two fatwas, one in 1996 and one in 1998 ("Al-Qaeda: Declarations”). A fatwa is essentially a declaration, ruling on Islamic law, or decree. The first fatwa was pretty clear in its point of view, entitled Declaration of War Against the Americans Occupying the Land of the Two Holy Places. The targets of its angst were the United States and Israel. He said, "the people of Islam had suffered from aggression, iniquity, and injustice imposed on them by the Zionist-Crusaders alliance and their collaborators" he further declared "It is no longer possible to be quiet. It is not acceptable to give a blind eye to this matter" ("Al-Qaeda: Declarations”). His second fatwa, signed by himself and other Islamic group leaders said a bit more, but essentially said the same thing. 

Although it is all a bit confusing, bin Laden’s directives seem to be at the helm of many terrorist catastrophes that are still happening today. In fact recently, the Orlando shooter, Omar Mateen, expressed his support for Al Qaeda, despite the fact that he also affiliated himself with Hezbollah and ISIS, all enemies of one another. This fact brings up another issue, the appeal of terrorist groups to those who are uneducated, disillusioned or mentally ill. In any event, it seems that the Cold War has cooled and the new threat comes in many shades of gray.

Works Cited

"9/11 Attacks." A&E Television Networks, LLC. n. d. Web. 26 June 2016. <>.

"A date which will live in infamy." A&E Television Networks, LLC. n. d. Web. 26 June 2016. <>.

"Al-Qaeda: Declarations & Acts of War." The Heritage Foundation. n. d. Web. 26 June 2016. <>.

"Cold War History." A&E Television Networks, LLC. n. d. Web. 26 June 2016. <>.

Dwyer, Jim, Lipton, Eric , Flynn, Kevin, Glanz, James and Fessenden,  Ford. "Fighting to Live as the Towers Died." The New York Times. The New York Times Company.  26 May 2002. Web. 26 June 2016. <>.

Field, Peter. "Remebering September 11 The Day I’ll Never Forget." Risk Magazine. 1 September 2002. Web. 26 June 2016. <>.

Glain, Stephen. "What Actually Motivated Osama bin Laden?" US News and World Report. US News and World Report LP. 3 May 2011. Web. 26 June 2016. <>.

"Osama bin Laden." A&E Television Networks, LLC. n. d. Web. 26 June 2016. <>.

"Photographer behind 9/11 "Falling Man" retraces steps, recalls "unknown soldier"." Yahoo. 29 August 2011. Web. 26 June 2016. <>.

“September 11 Fast Facts” CNN. Turner Broadcasting System, Inc. 7 September 2015. Web. 26 June 2016. <>.