I’ll never forget that morning. I doubt anyone who was old enough to have memories at the time ever will. It has been eleven years since the terrorist attacks of September 11th, 2001, and the ramifications continue to be felt. There’s still grieving families not just in the United States, but around the world. The events of that day lead to massive changes in daily activities, civil rights, and geopolitics. The wars that followed have claimed the lives of thousands of Western soldiers, and at minimum hundreds of thousands of civilians. There are only a handful of events that can accurately be described as world-changing. 9/11 is certainly part of that group.
I was awoken that Tuesday morning – which happened to be my tenth birthday – that a plane had struck the World Trade Center in New York City. I had only really learned of the towers’ existence the night before, while reading an illustrated encyclopedia that I had received for my birthday. One of the pages described the tallest buildings in the world, with the Twin Towers featured prominently on the page.
As I got ready for school, my eyes were glued to the television. By the time I started watching the South Tower had already collapsed, and the North Tower stood with smoke billowing from its upper floors. Moments before I left for school, the North Tower disappeared – falling into a giant cloud of dust and debris that covered Lower Manhattan. I could not comprehend what I had just witnessed, and neither could the anchors on CNN – they were speechless.
The days and weeks that followed 9/11 were a scary time. Americans and people around the world lived in fear; their sense of security that had built up over the relative peace time that followed the collapse of the Soviet Union was violently shattered. War was certain, that much I knew. At the time I had never heard of Afghanistan, but in no time at all that small undeveloped country in the Middle East would be known by everyone.
9/11 brought tumultuous political change as well. The United States government enacted the USAPATRIOT Act, which has accurately been described as one of the largest infringements upon American civil liberties in US history. Guantanamo Bay became a prison camp for so-called ‘enemy combatants’ where the Geneva Convention was conveniently ignored. The U.S. government also launched a highly controversial invasion into Iraq on a false pretense. It ushered in a global political climate that pitted nation against nation despite the attacks being perpetrated by non-state actors. And the U.S. domestic political climate slowly became more polarized than any time since the Civil War.
I still struggle with what happened that day. It’s still hard for me to watch 9/11 documentaries without starting to feel physically sick. While I was in New York City this summer for an internship, I visited the national memorial that now occupies Ground Zero. It’s very well done, with two waterfalls in the footprints of where the towers once stood. Above them, the new 1 World Trade Center rises into the sky with its shining glass exterior. With the death of Osama bin Laden last year and the redevelopment of Ground Zero, progress has certainly been made to move on from that day.
The political ramifications remain, and 9/11 will forever be a highly political event. It was, after all, the event that pushed me into politics in the first place. In the immediate aftermath, I feared that the event would not only start a war, but a world war (which, under some definitions of the term, it has). It was then I realized just how much political issues can affect everyone, even those who have nothing to do with them in the first place.
More important than any of the politics, however, is remembering that this was first and foremost a tragedy of nearly unrivalled proportions in the Western world. Unlike the attacks on Pearl Harbor, the attacks of 9/11 had the express intent of killing and maiming as many innocent civilians as possible, rather than soldiers and sailors. 9/11 was more than an attack on the United States, it was an attack on anyone who has principles, anyone who believes in peace, justice, and civility.
So take a moment to remember today the 2,977 innocent victims who died on 9/11, who hailed from over 90 countries. While 9/11 was truly horrific, it is vital that we not live in fear of terrorism – that is exactly what the people who committed these acts would have wanted. Stick it to the terrorists by enjoying life to the fullest every day.
Graeme Archibald is a fourth-year Political Science Honors student. You can follow him on Twitter at @gajarchibald.