September 11, 2001
September 11, 2001
On September 11, 2001, or “9/11,” a series of terrorist attacks on the United States killed approximately 3,000 people. On a sunny Tuesday morning four commercial airplanes were hijacked and used as flying bombs to destroy prominent symbols of American economic and political power. The plan, a coordinated attack conducted by four separate teams of hijackers with at least one in each team trained in the basics of airplane flight, commandeered American Airlines flight 11, United Airlines flight 175, American Airlines flight 77, and United Airlines flight 93. They flew two of the aircraft into the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in Manhattan, New York, and one into the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. The fourth plane, United flight 93, after a violent struggle between the passengers, crew, and hijackers, did not reach its intended target and crashed into a field in rural Pennsylvania.
Two of the early-morning flights, flights 11 and 175 from Logan Airport in Boston and bound for Los Angeles, were hijacked soon after takeoff at 8:00 and 8:15. Flight 77
from Dulles Airport in Washington, DC, also bound for Los Angeles, was hijacked soon after takeoff at 8:10. The fourth plane, flight 93 from Newark Airport in New Jersey, bound for San Francisco, was hijacked after takeoff at 8:40. The planes, loaded with fuel for lengthy cross-country flights, were selected to create maximum destruction on their targets. The hijackers, carrying mace or tear gas and box-cutter knives and claiming to have bombs, took control of the aircraft after killing or assaulting the pilots, flight attendants, and at least one passenger.
Flight 11, reported by morning commuters to be flying at a dangerously low altitude south along the Hudson River in New York, veered east over lower Manhattan before crashing into the North Tower of the World Trade Financial Center (WTC) at 8:46. At approximately 9:02 flight 175 crashed into the South Tower of the WTC. The crash of the second plane was seen live on television by many who were watching the news of the first crash, including the parents of one of the passengers on United 175, who were on the phone with their son, who was calling from aboard the doomed plane. Throughout the day television stations broadcast live images of the morning attacks and the human tragedy that ensued.
Many inside the WTC, believing they would quickly be rescued, were instructed not to evacuate the building. Soon hundreds of New York City firefighters and police and Port Authority Police officers descended on the scene to provide assistance, attempting to fight the fires that quickly engulfed the buildings and evacuate the surrounding area. While some in the office complex fled safely, thousands remained in the building, trapped by fire and smoke. Hundreds watched in shocked disbelief from the streets below as people jumped to their deaths from the burning buildings. Those trapped on the floors above the flames tried to make their way to the roofs of the towers in the vain hope they would be rescued, only to perish as the smoke and heat overcame them in locked stairwells.
At 10:05, the South Tower of the WTC, crippled by the intense jet-fuel-fed fire that destabilized the structure, collapsed. A massive cloud of debris and smoke surrounded the area. Less than thirty minutes later the North Tower collapsed, sending more debris and smoke into the air. Within minutes Lower Manhattan was enveloped in a dark plume of debris and smoke. Most of the rescuers who entered the building lost their lives, including 343 members of the New York City Fire Department, twenty-three New York City police officers, and thirty-seven Port Authority police. Additionally, over 2,000 people in the towers or on the ground were killed. Among those who evacuated the buildings immediately following the attacks, many expressed both sadness and admiration for the rescue personnel who had entered the burning buildings to battle the fires and assist the injured, many of whom had called emergency service operators to plead for assistance until the moment the buildings collapsed.
While these events unfolded in New York City, another hijacked plane, flight 77, crashed into the Pentagon at 9:37, killing all aboard and 125 civilian and military personnel on the ground. At 10:03, about the same time the South Tower of the WTC collapsed, the last of the four hijacked aircraft crashed into a field in rural Pennsylvania, killing all forty-four people aboard. Flight 93 crashed after numerous passengers learned from family and coworkers on the ground through cell phone calls that other planes had been hijacked earlier and flown into buildings. The passengers tried to overpower the hijackers and regain control of the plane to avoid further attacks. The crash was believed to have occurred as a result of the hijackers either deliberately crashing the plane or losing control of it. The National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, referred to as the 9/11 Commission, later issued a report determining that flight 93 was targeted to hit the U.S. Capitol.
The events of September 11 were marked by confusion and error at the highest levels of government and in the media. Conflicting and erroneous reports about additional hijackings or explosions were rife on the morning of September 11. The 9/11 Commission later outlined the national government’s breakdown in general command, communication, and control. At the time of the attacks in New York City, Mayor Rudy Giuliani emerged as a symbol of grace under pressure as he appeared throughout the day and into the night on television and radio from the devastated site to reassure New Yorkers that the city would endure. In the days and months to follow New York City was overwhelmed with support and assistance from construction, health care, police, fire, and rescue personnel from governments and individuals around the world, many of whom came to Manhattan with no intention but to selflessly assist in the recovery effort. For months after the attacks, many people sought out assistance from mental health professionals to cope with the events and the impact it had on their lives. New York City residents often refer to their life experiences as either pre- or post-9/11.
The September 11 attack was not the first terrorist attack against the WTC. In 1993 an explosives-laden truck detonated in the center’s underground parking garage, killing six and injuring hundreds. In the aftermath ten men were arrested, tried, and sentenced to life in prison. Investigation revealed that the terrorists intended to damage the WTC enough so that it would collapse. The terrorist organization that funded the attack, Al-Qaeda, initially a collection of loosely aligned Islamic paramilitary organizations, had formed in the 1980s in response to the Soviet Union’s occupation of Afghanistan, later broadening its activities to include the United States for its support of Israel and for having troops stationed in Saudi Arabia. Osama Bin Laden emerged as the leader of this group in 1988.
Al-Qaeda had carried out numerous attacks against the United States dating back to 1992. It bombed hotels in Yemen where U.S. troops routinely stopped; it supported groups battling U.S. forces in Somalia in 1993; it carried out car bombings in Saudi Arabia outside a joint Saudi-U.S. facility in 1995; it detonated a truck bomb outside a residential complex that housed U.S. soldiers in Saudi Arabia, killing nineteen, in 1996; it bombed U.S. embassies in Tanzania and Kenya in 1998; it conducted the attack on the USS Cole, a destroyer docked in Yemen, killing seventeen and wounding forty, in 2000. In a 2004 statement, Bin Laden acknowledged Al-Qaeda’s involvement in many of these earlier attacks, including the attacks of September 11.
In the aftermath of the September 11 attacks, President George W. Bush’s approval ratings soared. Some criticized the president for not being decisive on the morning of the attacks after he was seen on television visiting with grade school children in Florida and later in the day flew from Florida to Louisiana and then Nebraska before returning to Washington, D.C., in the evening. On October 7, 2001, after the United States declared a war on terrorism, a U.S.-led coalition launched an invasion of Afghanistan called Operation Enduring Freedom in an effort to capture Bin Laden and eliminate his base of support. The invasion failed to capture Bin Laden but did topple Afghanistan’s Taliban government, which was believed to have supported Bin Laden and Al-Qaeda. Later, in March 2003, another U.S.-led coalition initiated Operation Iraqi Freedom, an attack on Iraq in an effort to eliminate alleged weapons of mass destruction and Iraq’s alleged support for international terrorism. No weapons of mass destruction or evidence of Iraq’s cooperation with international terrorist organizations were proven, but Iraq’s government under Saddam Hussein collapsed. A French citizen, Zacarias Moussaoui, arrested in August 2001 on an immigration violation after trying to enroll in flight training courses, was convicted of conspiring to kill Americans as part of the September 11 terror attacks. He is now serving a life sentence in a federal prison in Colorado as the only person convicted of the crimes that occurred on September 11.
In the aftermath of the attacks the U.S. Congress passed the USA Patriot Act, increasing the power of the federal government, particularly the executive branch. Congress also created the Department of Homeland Security and facilitated a greater role for the National Security Agency, the nation’s leading eavesdropping organization, in the pursuit of terrorism both within the United States and abroad. Some of the president’s aggressive assertions in the war on terror, including the establishment of military commissions to try suspected terrorists, were later determined by the U.S. Supreme Court to be unconstitutional violations of executive authority.
SEE ALSO Al-Qaeda; bin Laden, Osama; Guantánamo Bay; Hussein, Saddam; Iraq-U.S. War; Jingoism; Nationalism and Nationality; Patriotism; Supreme Court, U.S.; Terrorism; Terrorists
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National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States. 2004. The 9–11 Commission Report. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.
Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. 2002. Intelligence Activities Before and After the Terrorist Attacks of September 11. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.
"September 11, 2001." International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences. . Encyclopedia.com. (May 22, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/social-sciences/applied-and-social-sciences-magazines/september-11-2001
"September 11, 2001." International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences. . Retrieved May 22, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/social-sciences/applied-and-social-sciences-magazines/september-11-2001
9/11, the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, in the United States, and the associated events and impact of those attacks.
The attacks, which were carried out by agents of Al Qaeda (a militant Islamic terrorist group led by Osama bin Laden) used three hijacked commercial jet aircraft to destroy the World Trade Center in New York City and severely damage the Pentagon in Arlington, Va. A fourth hijacked plane crashed in Shanksville, Pa., when its passengers attempted to seize the plane from the hijackers. Some 3,000 persons died or were missing as a result of the most devastating terrorist episode in U.S. history.
9/11 was a turning point in the presidency of George W. Bush and U.S. foreign policy, leading directly to U.S. support for the overthrow of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, where Al Qaeda was based. The attacks were also used to justify in part the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq (see also Persian Gulf Wars) despite the lack of any clear evidence linking the Iraqi government to Al Qaeda, but the impact of 9/11 contributed to strong American public support for the invasion. The Bush administration, which had already insisted on strong presidential powers, asserted that the United States was at war (a response not echoed by the Spanish and British government in the wake of subsequent significant terror attacks in Madrid and London) and that legal restrictions did not exist on the president's powers to defend the country, a position subsequently questioned in part by the Supreme Court.
As a result of the attacks and of the subsequent reports issued by a joint Congressional investigation and by the 9/11 Commission (see below), a number of significant changes to the federal government were made, including the establishment of the Dept. of Homeland Security, which consolidated 22 nonmilitary government security agencies and assumed responsiblity for U.S. air travel security through its Transportation Security Administration, and the establishment of the cabinet-level post of director of national intelligence, who became responsible for overseeing and coordinating all U.S. intelligence agencies. Other far-reaching effects include the passage of the USA PATRIOT Act in 2001 and building-code changes proposed by the National Institute of Standards and Technology in 2005.
The 9/11 Commission, officially known as the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks upon the United States, was established by law in 2002 to prepare a full account of the attacks and make recommendations on how to guard against future attacks. Headed by Thomas H. Kean, the former Republican governor of New Jersey, and consisting of a panel of a five Democrats and five Republicans, it first convened in 2003, interviewed more than 1,000 persons in 10 countries, and issued its report the following year. The commission faced resistance from the White House and the House Intelligence Committee over access to documents and individuals (including the president and vice president), but access to those improved mainly through public pressure brought by the families of the victims of the attacks; the group was not permitted, however, to question directly the detainees at Guantánamo.
The commission held both public and private hearings and issued a report with both public and classified sections. With the benefit of insights dependent on hindsight, it detailed the terror plot's origins, which dated to 1996, and its development, and also identified failures of various U.S. agencies that might have alerted officials to the impending attack or could have led to actions that might have prevented it. Its work revealed problems with U.S. intelligence gathering and interpretation and with law enforcement concerning terrorist threats against the United States, especially with regard to the work of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and to cooperation between the FBI and the Central Intelligence Agency. (It also found no evidence of collaboration between Al Qaeda and the Iraqi government.) Many of its recommendations, which focused on preventing another similar attack against the United States, were subsequently adopted, but thoughtful critics have pointed out that its proposals were limited both by its focus on the hijackings and by an emphasis on centralization of responsibility and control as a solution to overcoming the failures of 9/11.
See the 9/11 Commission's report (2004), the commission staff reports and other materials, ed. by S. Strasser (2004), and the account of the commission's work by T. H. Kean and L. H. Hamilton (2006); P. Shenon, The Commission: The Uncensored History of the 9/11 Commission (2008); studies of the events of 9/11 by L. Wright (2006) and J. Farmer (2009); C. B. Strozier, Until the Fires Stopped Burning: 9/11 and New York City in the Words and Experiences of Survivors and Witnesses (2011); J. Margulies, What Changed When Everything Changed (2013).
"9/11." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. (May 22, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/911
"9/11." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Retrieved May 22, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/911