• Out of the ashes of terrorism, the new One World Trade Center building rises 1776 feet above Lower Manhattan as a symbol of national resilience. Spinel/Shutterstock
     Out of the ashes of terrorism, the new One World Trade Center building rises 1776 feet above Lower Manhattan as a symbol of national resilience. Spinel/Shutterstock

After 9/11 Came Two Decades of Change and Resiliency

September 1, 2021
By Robert K. Ackerman
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A date the United States will never forget redirected the country.

Twenty years have passed since a group of suicidal fanatics highjacked several aircraft and committed horrific acts of mass murder in New York, Pennsylvania and Virginia. The 9/11 terror attacks stunned a nation that thought itself relatively invulnerable to large-scale attack and shocked the world with the audacity and global reach of the zealots who committed the crime. The world changed that day, and few could have imagined all that would follow.

The military response was immediate and, to some, surprising. For the first time, NATO invoked its Article 5, which declared that an attack on one member is an attack on all. That the United States was the first victim of that scenario was unexpected. NATO early warning aircraft flew patrols over the United States to secure the homeland and free their U.S. equivalents to fly missions over Afghanistan. NATO allies joined U.S. forces in Afghanistan operations, and the Taliban government that sheltered al-Qaida was routed. And, after years of determined discovery and pursuit, the so-called mastermind of that terrible event, Osama bin Laden, had the ultimate justice brought to him.

At home, the Department of Homeland Security was created to protect the nation from external threats and coordinate responses to disasters, both natural and artificial. New protocols of communication and information sharing were formalized among U.S. intelligence agencies. A neighborhood horribly scarred was rebuilt with a new World Trade Center rising to dominate the lower Manhattan skyline.

But much remains to be determined. The pullout of U.S. troops from Afghanistan left a void that the Taliban already has filled, and the remnants of al-Qaida may join them and rebuild. Different fanatics in the form of ISIS have emerged to wage global terrorism. The Homeland Security Department still wrestles with roles and responsibilities amid changing threats. And the U.S. military finds itself undergoing a massive modernization after nearly 20 years of an emphasis on counterterrorism.

For the Baby Boomers, the Gen Xers, the Millennials and any other generation so labeled, the 9/11 attacks were their Pearl Harbor. Out of Pearl Harbor came victory in World War II, postwar posterity and greater involvement in international geopolitics, for better or worse. Out of 9/11 came varying results in different forms, but the final verdict on the changes wrought in the United States and abroad remains to be issued. History is still being written, but those who lived through the disaster will never forget, and their descendants should never overlook what they’re taught about that day. It is our task to never forget 9/11 and those we lost.

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