Twenty Years Later: Who We Lost and What We’ve Become

Maya Washburn/PantherNow

Robert Crohan/Staff Writer

We often look back at prior decades as an ancient time. And rather interestingly, the 2000s feels older to our generation than the 1980s and 1990s.

The worst terrorist attack in human history is now twenty years old. It was an assault on America, on freedom, on humanity, one that has moved from personal memory to collective memory. It tested our resolve and strength, as 2,977 lives were ripped away from us without remorse and with no way to bring them back.

In the immediate aftermath, the much-mentioned rally around the flag effect came in full-force. George W. Bush, who was elected in 2000 by a sliced hair, received a thumbs-up from 90% of us. The inspiring footage of the President standing on the Twin Towers’ rubble, warning the attackers that justice was coming, rang in our hearts and rage.

As we paid our respects to the lives lost, troops were sent overseas to stop the coming reign of terror in its tracks. Majorities were in support, and the following year, Bush’s party was awarded with majorities in Congress. But today, we vote solely based on the letter by the candidate’s name.

As much as it pains me to admit it, I doubt that we would see such morale and resolve if another 9/11 arrived tomorrow.

It didn’t happen after Pulse. It didn’t happen after the Capitol Riot. It didn’t happen after the Kabul airport bombing.

The fast-paced digital age of social media, conspiracy theories, political hyper-partisanship and seeming American decline would not permit such. Our adversaries are playing along, too, even after anti-US demonstrations overseas were halted out of respect following 9/11. And this illustrates another tragedy on the twentieth anniversary.

In his visits to all three memorial sites, President Biden reaffirmed his commitment to American unity: restoring “the Soul of America,” words that inspired me to vote for him with enthusiasm. But I see the cancerous effect 9/11 had on the American image and system, its prolonged incubation terrorizing us to this day and paralyzing the promises we hold dear.

The Iraq War bred ISIL and a wave of pro-Iranian militarism. After a twenty-year partnership, we abandoned the Afghans when they needed us most. Arab, Muslim and South Asian Americans were treated like dirt, and Islam demonized. Around as many US troops died in these conflicts as Americans died on 9/11. Above all, hundreds of thousands of innocents were senselessly killed in our War on Terror, with few to no consequences to hold America accountable for such tragedy.

Our accomplishment of weakening Al-Qaeda is noteworthy, but thousands more lives lost has many in contemporary times reflecting on these past two decades in shame. Likewise, the war between left and right could not even stop for a moment on this anniversary. President Trump stayed away from the memorials and remained hooked on the Big Lie. A memorial in New York was vandalized.

The result of all this? Many have lost faith in America, in its promise, in its values. Many on the right have chosen conspiracy over democracy. Many on the left wish that the Soviet Union had triumphed in the Cold War. We lost our battles with the Taliban, with Assad, with COVID-19, with racism, with mass surveillance, with cyber criminals and our prospects against adversarial states aren’t looking especially promising.

So many are asking: is unity even worth it anymore?

Of course, we should commemorate the lives lost on 9/11. But when so much change in so many different areas is needed to keep the people afloat, when so many in our country are ignoring or embracing injustice, framing this in a national context is distasteful to some. And the political battles turn into wars.

I understand these views, and it breaks my heart. 9/11 will forever leave a scar on our collective human consciousness, and the fathers, the mothers, the sons, daughters, wives, husbands, cousins, uncles, aunts, grandparents, brothers, sisters and friends murdered will live on in our hearts.

And the bravery and spirit of all involved, of the first responders and firefighters, of the passengers on flight 93, of the soldiers who braved landmines and snipers, of the everyday people who face the empty chairs every single day inspire me to keep going in my ongoing family tragedy. This inspires me to keep fighting for justice for all, to pursue a career with impact and hold this nation accountable for its failures. This inspires me to uplift those fighting for change while honoring these brave souls.

This inspires me to fight for America, the United, not divided, States. We have challenges ahead, and I have not lost hope in our ability to solve them. May God bless the victims of 9/11, and all good people on this earth and may God bless America. May whatever works best for humanity greet us in the next twenty years.


The opinions presented within this page do not represent the views of PantherNOW Editorial Board. These views are separate from editorials and reflect individual perspectives of contributing writers and/or members of the University community

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