On September 11, 2001, four aeroplanes, hijacked by terrorists, rammed into buildings in the U.S. — one crashed into a field in rural Pennsylvania — and left a trail of death and devastation, whose effects are felt to this day. The date in American terms (month/day) is symbolic; for 911 is the number dialled for emergency. The targets too reflected American prestige and power. The twin World Trade Center Towers constructed in 1973, were a New York landmark. The Pentagon in Arlington is where the country’s military and intelligence wings are headquartered.
The attacks were coordinated and planned by terrorists belonging to the Al-Qaeda group then based in Afghanistan and the horrific events claimed over 3000 lives. This included passengers and crew of the ill-fated planes, those who perished in the buildings that were attacked, police officers and firefighters. Many others died of injuries, and from long-term health effects from the toxic fumes and gases.
What happened next?
Airspace over the U.S. was immediately blocked, and several hundred flights were diverted to Canada and Mexico. The Department of Homeland Security was constituted, and the ‘Patriot Act’ gave the FBI greater powers in monitoring intelligence.
There were also attacks on innocent minorities across the country. A Sikh gas attendant, Balbir Singh Sodhi, was killed in Arizona. The then President, George W. Bush visited an Islamic centre in Washington D.C. in a welcome gesture of assurance. In October 2001, the U.S. led several other nations in an invasion of Afghanistan, targeting the Al-Qaeda, its leader Osama bin Laden, and the Taliban. Several hundred terrorists and sympathisers were detained in the US. In 2011, Osama bin Laden was killed in Pakistan, in a targeted operation led by American Navy Seals.
In the U.S., a competition was held to build a memorial in honour of those who had perished. It was won by Michael Arad of Handel architects whose design was called ‘Reflecting Absence’ and inaugurated in 2011. It has two square recessed pools, representing the “footprints” of the World Trade Centers, overlooked by man-made waterfalls bordered by parapets inscribed with the names of those who died. Deciduous swamp oak trees stand in neat rows and clusters and exude an atmosphere of serenity and remembrance. Nearly 2700 such trees that grow up to 60-80 feet and live for nearly 300 years have been planted.
The 9/11 museum was dedicated in May 2014. One of its first artefacts is the ‘survivors’ staircase’, made of stone that led out from the towers to a street outside. A ‘calley pear’ tree, or the ‘survivor tree’, which was found badly burnt after the attacks also stands in the grounds. The new One World Trade Center, constructed in 2014, is today the tallest building in the US.
The attacks changed how we fly. Today, there are more protocols and safeguards in place. War too became sophisticated, with drones being used in carefully orchestrated attacks.