Critical Analysis of the Historical Lessons of 9/11

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On September 11th, in 2001, one of the most heart-breaking terrorist attacks in America occurred, four coordinated terrorist attacks aimed for several U.S government buildings in New York City. The attacks were unexpected, as it was a normal day in the busy New York City. Many people were on their way to work, walking swiftly as one in NYC does. No one expected or was prepared for such loss and ruin, until it happened. The first plane hit the North Tower at approximately 8:46am, while the last plane hit its target- the Pentagon, around 9:37am. Through the devastating tragedies that occurred on September 11th, many important and necessary lessons were learned such as terrorism exists everywhere, and despite the hard times, we will band together and unite to stand strong.

It was 8:45 am on Tuesday, September 11th, a transition day between summer and fall. One New Yorker recalls the cool crisp air, and the perfect clear blue sky on his way to work, he came off the train to experience masses of people crowding the streets. He worked across the street from the World Trade Center and at first, he simply thought he was so late it was lunch time, until he looked up. He noticed the two holes up in the buildings right across from him, he still didn’t know what had happened until a nearby police officer told him. He couldn’t believe it. It looked as if paper was falling from the top floors of the building, but the sounds of when they hit the roads changed his mind. Bodies. Those were the bodies of people committing suicide because they thought their death would be quicker and less painful that way. Then, he knew that this wasn’t an accident (). This isn’t a rare story, many New Yorkers who experienced the attacks will tell you a similar one. One of the most important lessons learned from the 9/11 attacks, is that terrorism exists everywhere and in the least expected places. Before September 11th airports had minimal security features or safety precautions to prevent terrorist attacks. For example, the cockpits where pilots and co-pilots were located were not as secure. Generally, the doors separating the passengers and pilot were not locked and had easy access from passengers, this was also if the air craft had this feature. This contributed to how the terrorists gained control and hijacked the aircrafts. This is one of the features that changed in the wake of the aircraft hijacking on 9/11. “Sealing off the cockpit; since 9/11, pilots remain locked behind impregnable doors for the duration of the flight (with obvious exceptions for restroom breaks, but flight attendants are trained to protect the cockpit during those intervals)” (Peterson, Barbara. “How Airport Security Has Changed Since 9/11.” Condé Nast Traveler, Condé Nast Traveler, 5 Oct. 2016, This is one of the most noticed features changed to airport security after 9/11, this is also a component of TSA.

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Another example of how terrorism can’t be fully predicted and can be totally unexpected is the fact that some of terrorists applied for visas legally in the country and were accepted. “All of them entered the country legally on a temporary visa, mostly tourist visas with entry permits for six months” (“Identity and Immigration Status of 9/11 Terrorists.” Federation for American Immigration Reform, Jan. 2011, Only one applied and was accepted for the student visa. The rest applied for business or tourist visas. While some did get pilot and flight certified in the U.S., only the one who got accepted for the student visa was qualified to participate in this. By September 11th, three of the terrorist's tourist visas had expired and therefore, were in the country illegally. Also, between the 19 terrorists involved, they had 63 driver’s license cards between them, from Florida, New Jersey, California, and Virginia. It would’ve been very hard to accurately predict the malicious intent of these terrorists. One of the terrorists involved in the crashes, Mohammed Atta, communicated with a more radical terrorist, Binalshibh, who helped plan the attacks, through a series of inconspicuous messages addressed to his girlfriend “Jenny”. An example of this is featured in a message written that they were almost done with training and ready to complete the mission. “The first semester commences in three weeks…Nineteen certificates for private education and four exams” (Bergen, Peter L. “September 11 Attacks.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 15 Nov. 2018, This shows him telling Binalshibh, that there were 19 terrorists, and 4 targets. There was evidence and suspicion that some of the men were in the U.S. on orders from Osama bin Laden to attack important government buildings. Even though there were these rumors, they couldn’t be proved in time. The FBI also lacked probable cause to warrant the search of their laptops. Up until those rumors circulated a few months before the attacks, they passed as students or tourists in the country to learn. This was one of the reasons for the strengthening of airport security. More rigorous background checks and screenings became the regular process when traveling/immigrating to a new country.

For many, September 11th was one of the hardest days, but the day after was one of the greatest. An entire city banded together after the hardships it endured only a day earlier. In more ways than one, people united together despite the attacks on the September 11th. It wasn’t just in New York City either, this occurred all over. People lit candles in memory of those who were lost or missing. People of every color, creed, religion, race, sexual orientation, and political party united, at that point nothing else matter, you were an American, and that was enough. Many showed their patriotism, grief, and support in different ways than others. Some hung American flags from porches, car antennas, or even put a pin on their shirts. Lines to donate blood were sometimes a days-worth long. “Nearly 36,000 units of blood were donated to the New York Blood Center after the September 11 attacks” (Editors, “Reaction to 9/11.”, A&E Television Networks, 13 Aug. 2010, This wasn’t just in New York City; the pain was felt everywhere. Across America and even internationally everyone felt unprecedented the expression of shock, horror, solidarity and sympathy for the victims and their families that were affected on 9/11. Citizens helped the most they possibly could during and after the attacks. They made heroic efforts to contribute for their city and stand strong united together. Everyday citizens put their lives on the line to save the lives of others. Their heroism isn’t forgotten, even today. Welles Crowther was a 24-year-old equites trader, he went into one of the burning towers to bring out as many people as he could. While directing many others out of the building, he carried an injured woman down 15 flights of stairs. Even after this he went back in to help, the structural safety of the building was compromised at this point and the building collapsed. His body was recovered next to the firefighters who were on their way up to rescue more people. He saved up to eighteen people that day and is labeled their hero. Stories like this aren’t uncommon, regular people all over the city showed heroism and patriotism for their city and community.

One of the four planes, flight 93, left from a Newark airport headed towards San Francisco California. The terrorists attempted to hijack this plane, and it’s thought that they were going to aim for the White House or another important government building in Washington D.C. They never made it there. This is because of the civilian heroism the passengers displayed on the plane. When it was realized what was happening, they attempted to enter the cockpit, but it was locked from the inside. Over three of the passengers on the plane attempted a counterattack. Then a vote was taken by the passengers, whether they would attempt to take the plane back or wait to die. They voted to fight back. “Worried that the passengers would soon break through to the cockpit, the hijackers made the decision to crash the plane before reaching their final destination.” (Editors, “Flight 93.”, A&E Television Networks, 9 Nov. 2010, The plane hit a field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania going 580 miles per hour. Without the heroic efforts made by the passengers on flight 93, there could’ve been a lot more tragedy. This is just another example of civilians showing heroism and patriotism. There is also a memorial at the crash site dedicated to the passengers on the plane.

The effects of these two lessons are still felt today, some of the most important being, the increase in airport security, and memorials to remember what we have lost and evolved from. Uniting together against and despite terrorism is one of the reasons for this. If we would've had stricter, more restrictive airport security, 9/11 could’ve been prevented. Airport security has changed for the better, as it only benefits everyone to be safer. Some of the changes to airport security included TSA, which is the Transportation Security Administration, and the Patriot Act, but there were many more legislative acts passed as well. “We also tightened the rules of our country dramatically. Soon after, Congress introduced strict measures and initiated monitoring as a means of protection. Officials passed 48 pieces of legislation, created over 260 new government organizations and spent over $600 billion on homeland security from 2001 to 2011 (Gelfand, Michele. “After 9/11, Americans United. Today, Fake Threats Divide Us.” Time, Time, 11 Sept. 2018,” These sentences from a TIME article published last year shows what great lengths that we went to feel “tightness” or closeness within the country. The terrorist attacks made us feel vulnerable as a country, and to feel the “closeness” again, people were willingly to give up a bit of personal freedom. The Patriot Act is a three hundred-page document which was passed by George Bush and Congress, just a few weeks after 9/11. It had many intentions and some of the actions of the legislation is controversial. The aim of the act was to “detect and deter terrorism” Some of the improvements the act intended to make include: “allowing law enforcement to use surveillance and wiretapping to investigate terror-related crimes, allowing federal agents to seek federal court permission to obtain bank records and business records to aid in national security terror investigations and prevent money laundering for terrorism financing, improving information and intelligence sharing between government agencies” (Editors, “Patriot Act.”, A&E Television Networks, 19 Dec. 2017, Although providing a sense of security in the moment, the FBI can’t prove that the Patriot Act lead to the detection of any terrorist threats or possibilities. Another way airport security was strengthened was the establishment of TSA. TSA, or Transportation Security Administration was established November 19th, 2001, only a little over two months after the 9/11 attacks. Some of the things to be placed in airport security because of TSA is: hardened locked cockpit doors, one hundred percent screening, whether that be body, baggage or background, and more experienced, specialized workers. Besides these, TSA plays an important role in protecting the country from unexpected and unparalleled threats. Threats evolve along with the country, and alongside the protection must evolve as well. TSA may be a tedious bother while rushing to catch a flight, but its protection for the country is inherent.

Airport security isn’t the only thing that changed to help us realize the effects that terrorism has on a county. One way that we united together after the horrors of 9/11, was by commemorating and remembering the tragedy by making a beautiful memorial in honor of the victims. This tribute was to show that “closeness” as a city, country, and nation. The memorial features two big reflection pools where the twin towers used to stand. The edges of the pools feature the names of the victims etched into the bronze panels. “This is a powerful reminder of the largest loss of life resulting from a foreign attack on American soil and the greatest single loss of rescue personnel in American history” (“About the Memorial.” National September 11 Memorial & Museum, The memorial has a profound effect on visitors. Even as someone who wasn’t alive when the attacks occurred, when you visit the site, you can feel the loss and tragedy that happened. All the memorials have a similar effect. Another feature of the memorial is a Callery Pear tree. It was discovered at Ground Zero, or the wreckage of the World Trade Center site. This is also called The Pile. The tree was severely damaged, but endured the attacks, and thus being labeled the Survivors Tree. Today, the tree stands as a living reminder and symbol for rebirth, resilience, and survival. It’s deformed stump and trunk grew into smooth limbs, a reminder that something beautiful can grow from something so horrible. The memorials aren’t just limited to NYC though, many other states feature memorials dedicated to the remembrance of the attacks. For example, in Bayonne Harbor, New Jersey, there is a memorial called To Struggle Against the World Terrorism, is to honor the victims killed. The Pentagon also features a memorial. “The National 9/11 Pentagon Memorial has 184 illuminated benches made of stainless steel inlaid with granite, one bench for each innocent person who died on September 11, 2001 when terrorists hijacked American Airlines Flight 77 and crashed the plane into the Pentagon building” (Craven, Jackie. “How Have Architects Honored 9/11 Victims?” ThoughtCo, ThoughtCo, 2 Sept. 2018, The Pentagon was also targeted on the 9/11 attacks. These memorials all over the country show the unity and solidarity our country had.

While this is a more recent historical event, it still carries weight, and shows some of the important lessons that we had to learn as a country. The attacks that targeted four U.S. government buildings, on September 11th was one of the worst terrorist attacks in Americas history. Through the devastating tragedies, many important and necessary lessons were learned such as terrorism exists everywhere, and despite the hard times, we will band together and unite to stand strong. The attacks, like most other terrorist attacks were unexpected and very surprising. Many people couldn’t believe that their city was being targeted. The terrorists entered the country legally, which is a surprising factor about the attacks. Although the tragedy was deeply upsetting, many people bonded and united as a city, country, and nation. Some of the effects of the attacks include increased airport security and memorials in honor of the victims. TSA and the Patriot Act are results of better travel and airport protection. Memorials show tribute to the remembrance of that day. There are memorials located all over and many produce similar feelings to the one located at Ground Zero. September 11th was a tragedy, one that needs to be remembered. The lessons learned are important to us as a country, we are safer because of it. If you are ever in New York City, take the time to go visit the memorial and pay your respects, it’s important.

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Critical Analysis of the Historical Lessons of 9/11. (2022, August 12). Edubirdie. Retrieved July 19, 2024, from
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