Americans of a certain age can tell you exactly where they were and what they were doing when the Twin Towers succumbed to terrorism.
The Sept. 1, 2001, attacks began at 8:46 a.m. east coast time, when American Airlines Flight 11’s journey from Boston to Los Angeles was interrupted as terrorists hijacked the airliner and flew it into the North Tower of the World Trade Center in New York City. United Airlines Flight 175 struck the South Tower a few minutes later.
Both towers collapsed in less than two hours. The official death toll was 2,977 — a minor miracle considering there were more than 15,000 people in those buildings. The onsite toll included 343 firefighters, and 60 police officers from various departments.
Americans watched the horror unfold on live TV. When the first plane hit, many thought it was a small general-aviation aircraft, because the jetliner buried itself so deep into the North Tower’s side.
But then, the live feed of the second jetliner slammed into the other tower. It was clear America was suffering another Pearl Harbor.
In between those attacks on the WTC, American Airlines Flight 77’s trip from Virginia to the West Coast ended abruptly as it smashed into the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. A few minutes after that, United Flight 93, on its way to San Francisco, slammed into a vacant field in Pennsylvania after passengers rose up against the hijackers, an act of heroism showing extremists they weren’t the only ones willing to die for a cause. Documents later suggest Flight 93 might have been aimed at the White House.
The 19 men who hijacked the jetliners were associated with al-Qaedal, whose leader, Osama bin Laden, claimed responsibility for the attacks as part of bin Laden and al-Qaeda’s so-called holy war against the United States and its citizens.
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Bin-Laden was tracked down a decade later by U.S. intelligence agencies, and shot to death by a Navy Seal team in May 2011, as America’s political leaders looked on via a live video feed from bin laden’s hideout in Pakistan, thus removing the head of the al-Qaeda snake in dramatic fashion.
Earlier, we compared the 911 attack with the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941. Actually, the al-Qaeda attack was deadlier in terms of American lives lost at the point of attack. The toll in Pearl Harbor was 2,403 American lives lost. But it’s what came in the years that immediately followed Pearl Harbor that demonstrates the true cost of such violent events.
Yes, we remember watching the 911 attacks on TV. It was the worst kind of horror imaginable, and once others watching the events unfold fully understood what was taking place, entire rooms fell silent.
Some viewers were crying, others were just angry. You could feel and see the blood lust rising to the surface as TV announcers made it clear that foreign terrorists were behind the hijackings and attacks, just as Americans reacted when radio announcers described the sneak attack on Pearl Harbor. They understood war was coming.
It has been 18 years since the 911 tragedies, and the images are just as soul-wrenching and indelible today as they were then, and for some maybe even more so as the fallout from that day continues to take American lives.
Writing about this, and remembering that day makes it easy to understand why so many Americans, of every political inclination, consider inviting terrorists to a meeting in this country a dreadful idea.