September 11, 2021
At 12:30 pm on December 8, 1941, President Franklin D. Roosevelt stood before Congress and gave what is now known as his “Day of Infamy” speech. This was given a day after Japan’s attack on the US naval base at Pearl Harbor, and the Japanese declaration of war on the US and the British Empire. Sixty years later another infamy happened when hijackers took control of four jet liners, smashing into the North and South Towers of the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and a field in western Pennsylvania, all within just over one hour. President George W. Bush was informed of the attack while reading a book to 2nd graders to promote his education program. Bush remained calm and waited until after the reading was over to explain the nation was under attack. That night, Bush gave a speech to explain what happened, and what was going to happen. The primary goal was to express comfort that we would recover and resolve that the acts would not go unpunished. The attack on September 11, 2001, was the most devastating surprise attack on America since Pearl Harbor.
Those who lived during the attack on Pearl Harbor can tell you what they were doing when they first heard the news about the infamy. Those who lived through the attack on the Twin Towers can tell you what they were doing when they first heard of this infamy. At 8:46:40 EDT, Flight 11 crashed into the north face of the North Tower (1 WTC) of the World Trade Center and at 9:03:02 EDT, Flight 175 crashed into the south face of the South Tower (2 WTC). The South Tower collapsed 56 minutes after impact and the North Tower collapsed 1 hour and 42 minutes after the impact. I lived on the west coast, and it was not until 7:08 PDT (10:08 EDT) that I woke to a call asking me to turn on the TV. The scenes around all four crashes continued to reply for days, until it was finally considered too violent to replay.
Twenty years later to the day we are being asked to remember the events of what is known as 9/11. The immediate response to the infamy was four-fold. The aftermath sent the US into two wars in Iraq and the longest war ever for the US forces in Afghanistan, known as the “forever wars.” The Bush Administration created the Department of Homeland Security by merging 22 government agencies and the US Customs Service and Immigration and Naturalization Service were consolidated into the new US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), resulting in deportations doubling since 9/11. Airport security underwent a series of overhauls and is overseen by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). The US intelligence state boomed, resulting in a marked increase in government oversight, primarily through a network of phone and web surveillance. In short, government control got tighter without much improved safety in our daily life.
Thoughts: My NY Times feed reported how the events of infamy have inspired great accomplishments. The Civil War led to the emancipation of Blacks and a sprawling program of domestic investment in railroads and colleges. World War II spark the creation of the middle class and cemented the “American Century.” The Cold War caused investment in the space program, computer technology, and science education. After the attacks on 9/11 we chose to pursue a “freedom agenda.” By toppling the Taliban in Afghanistan and Saddam Hussein in Iraq we sought to inspire people to rise for democracy and defeat autocracy around the world. Twenty years later we found this did not work any better than in Korea or Viet Nam. We must never forget 9/11 and the immediate and long-term sacrifices of the fallen. We also need to remember and learn from our responses. Do the work. Change is coming and it starts with you.