Five Things We've Learned Since 9/11
No matter what you were doing five years ago today, it's likely you remember exactly where you were when you saw those first horrifying images of planes slamming into the World Trade Center towers on September 11, 2001.
As the unimaginable images played over and over on every news channel, and the severity of the attacks became clear, a sickening feeling emerged: that our entire world had changed in mere minutes.
Speculation quickly emerged that the attacks were carried out by al Qaeda mastermind Osama bin Laden, a shadowy figure all but unknown to the average American before that day. Our country has been irrevocably changed since that fall morning, which brought the worst terrorist strike on American soil in history and took the lives of nearly 3,000 people.
There are still many things we may never know about 9/11. But we also have learned many things, several of which we've compiled below.
- Safety is precious, and rarer than it used to be.
Despite efforts to tighten airport security -- including machines that sniff for explosives, mandatory shoe removal at security checkpoints and restrictions on nail files and scissors in carry-on luggage -- the threat of another attack from the air remains very real. Though most instances are false alarms, planes are diverted from their destinations almost weekly because of mysterious notes, strange powders and erratic behavior that would have raised few eyebrows before 9/11. And just last month, British intelligence agents staged a massive series of raids that resulted in the arrest of more than two dozen native Britons who were allegedly close to carrying out a plan to blow up several passenger planes over the Atlantic Ocean using liquid explosives. And, according to an at times vague report released by the Bush administration in 2005, more than 10 plots to attack the U.S. and its allies have been foiled since 9/11; these include plans to use shoe bombs to hijack planes and fly them into the tallest building in Los Angeles, another plot involving passenger planes on the East Coast, a plan to use a "dirty" nuclear bomb to blow up apartment buildings in the U.S. and more. What we don't know: how many of these thwarted attacks were imminent, or even likely. For many, the safety we felt back on September 10, 2001, is now inconceivable.
Shortly after the 9/11 attacks, President Bush asked for and received unprecedented -- and some say illegal -- leeway to have the National Security Administration eavesdrop on Americans in the name of national security. The domestic-spying program was revealed in late 2005 and, according to reports, includes everything from monitoring suspected terrorist calls from overseas into the U.S., mining domestic phone data for calling patterns suggesting illegal activity, and even some spying on e-mail. Also recently revealed was information that the CIA and the Treasury Department have been tracking suspected terrorist financing through a huge database of international financial records. Some of this information has reportedly thwarted planned terror attacks on U.S. soil. But despite the opening of the information floodgates, the precise whereabouts of Osama bin Laden remain a mystery. In the five years since the 9/11 attacks, he has successfully evaded the largest global manhunt in history.
And there's one more thing we've learned: We're stronger than we ever knew. As we fight an invisible enemy with no resolution in sight, we're concerned and we're frightened, and yet we carry on as a nation. We've been fed a steady diet of fear for five years, but we haven't panicked, we haven't fled, and we haven't faltered. Instead, we've re-examined the world around us -- and our place in it -- and we continue to live our lives. We've graduated, we've landed jobs, we've gotten married, we've danced and laughed and loved and done things that seemed as if they might be taken away forever on that tragic Tuesday morning. The human spirit has triumphed, and will continue to do so.