Nigeria: 21 Years Later, Americans Still Haunted By ‘Legacy’ of 9/11

In 2001, Americans watched in horror as the terrorist attacks of September 11, of that year, left nearly 3,000 people dead in New York City, Washington, D.C., and Shanksville, Pennsylvania.

Twenty years later, precisely last year, they watched in sorrow as the nation’s military mission in Afghanistan – which began less than a month after 9/11 – came to a bloody and chaotic conclusion.

The enduring power of the September 11 attacks is clear: An overwhelming share of Americans who are old enough to recall the day remember where they were and what they were doing when they heard the news.

Yet an ever-growing number of Americans have no personal memory of that day, either because they were too young or not yet born, a Pew Research Centre Report , noted.

A review of US public opinion in the two decades since 9/11 reveals how a badly shaken nation came together, briefly, in a spirit of sadness and patriotism; how the public initially rallied behind the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, though support waned over time; and how Americans viewed the threat of terrorism at home and the steps the government took to combat it.

As the country came to grips with the tumultuous exit of United States military forces from Afghanistan, the departure has raised long-term questions about the country’s foreign policy and America’s place in the world.

Yet the public’s initial judgments on that mission were clear: A majority endorsed the decision to withdraw from Afghanistan, even as it criticised the Joe Biden administration’s handling of the situation.

And after a war that cost thousands of lives – including more than 2,000 American service members – and trillions of dollars in military spending, a new Pew Research Centre survey found that 69 per cent of United States adults said the country had mostly failed to achieve its goals in Afghanistan.

Indeed, the 9/11 attacks inflicted a devastating emotional toll on Americans. But as horrible as the events of that day were, a 63 per cent majority of Americans said last year that they couldn’t stop watching news coverage of the attacks.

Americans were enraged by the attacks. Three weeks after 9/11, even as the psychological stress began to ease somewhat, 87 per cent said they felt angry about the attacks on the World Trade Centre (WTC) and Pentagon.

Fear was widespread, not just in the days immediately after the attacks, but throughout 2001. The importance of 9/11 transcended age, gender, geographic and even political differences. A 2016 study noted that while partisans agreed on little else that election cycle, more than seven-in-ten Republicans and Democrats named the attacks as one of their top 10 historic events.

It is difficult to think of an event that so profoundly transformed the United States’ public opinion across so many dimensions as the 9/11 attacks. While Americans had a shared sense of anguish after September 11, the months that followed also were marked by rare spirit of public unity.

George Bush, who had become president nine months earlier after a fiercely contested election, saw his job approval rise 35 percentage points in the space of three weeks.

In late September 2001, 86 per cent of adults – including nearly all Republicans (96 per cent) and a sizable majority of Democrats (78 per cent) – approved of the way Bush was handling his job as president.

Americans also turned to religion and faith in large numbers. In the days and weeks after 9/11, most Americans said they were praying more often.

With the US now formally out of Afghanistan – and with the Taliban firmly in control of the country – most Americans (69 per cent) said the United States failed in achieving its goals in Afghanistan.

In May 2011, the US Navy Seal launched a risky operation against Osama bin Laden’s compound in Pakistan and killed the al-Qaida leader.The public reacted to bin Laden’s death with more of a sense of relief than jubilation.

In recent years, the share of Americans who point to terrorism as a major national problem has declined sharply as issues such as the economy, the COVID-19 pandemic and racism have emerged as more pressing problems in the public’s eyes.

It has now been 21 years since the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Centre and Pentagon and the crash of Flight 93 – where only the courage of passengers and crew possibly prevented an even deadlier terror attack.

For most who are old enough to remember, it is a day that is impossible to forget. In many ways, 9/11 reshaped how Americans think of war and peace, their own personal safety and their fellow citizens. And today, the violence and chaos in a country half a world away brings with it the opening of an uncertain new chapter in the post-9/11 era.

But yesterday, Americans remembered the 9/11 with moments of silence, readings of victims’ names, volunteer work and other tributes 21 years after the deadliest terror attack on US soil.

Other communities around the country made candlelight vigils, interfaith services and other commemorations. Some Americans joined in volunteer projects on a day that is federally recognised as both Patriot Day and a National Day of Service and Remembrance.

The observances followed a fraught milestone anniversary last year. It came weeks after the chaotic and humbling end of the Afghanistan war that the US launched in response to the attacks.

But the event may be less of an inflection point as it remains a point for reflection on the attack that killed nearly 3,000 people, spurred a US “war on terror” worldwide and reconfigured national security policy.

It also stirred — for a time — a sense of national pride and unity for many, while subjecting Muslim Americans to years of suspicion and bigotry and engendering debate over the balance between safety and civil liberties. In ways both subtle and plain, the aftermath of 9/11 ripples through American politics and public life to this day.

And the attacks have cast a long shadow into the personal lives of thousands of people who survived, responded or lost loved ones, friends and colleagues.

On Sunday, President Joe Biden laid a wreath at the Pentagon; while first lady Jill Biden was scheduled to speak in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, where one of the hijacked planes went down after passengers and crew members tried to storm the cockpit as the hijackers headed for Washington.

Vice President Kamala Harris and husband Doug Emhoff were also due at the National September 11 Memorial in New York, but by tradition, no political figures speak at the ground zero ceremony. It centres instead on victims’ relatives reading aloud the names of the dead.

Americans remembered 9/11 with tear-choked tributes and pleas to “never forget,” 21 years after the deadliest terror attack on US soil.

“For us, it was being around people who kind of experienced the same type of grief and the same feelings after 9/11,” said Nikita Shah, who was 10 when her father was killed at the World Trade Centre.

Other communities around the country marked the day with candlelight vigils, interfaith services and other commemorations. Some Americans joined in volunteer projects on a day that is federally recognised.

Yesterday’s event came a little more than a month after a US drone strike killed a key al-Qaida figure who helped plot the 9/11 attacks, Ayman al-Zawahri.

It also stirred — for a time — a sense of national pride and unity for many, while subjecting Muslim Americans to years of suspicion and bigotry and engendering debate over the balance between safety and civil liberties. In ways both subtle and plain, the aftermath of 9/11 ripples through American politics and public life to this day.

And the attacks have cast a long shadow into the personal lives of thousands of people who survived, responded or lost loved ones, friends and colleagues.

On the day, Biden marked the 21st anniversary of the attacks, taking part in a sombre wreath-laying ceremony at the Pentagon held under a steady rain and paying tribute to “extraordinary Americans” who gave their lives on one of the nation’s darkest days.

Sunday’s ceremony occurred a little more than a year after Biden ended the long and costly war in Afghanistan that the US and allies launched in response to the terror attacks.

Biden noted that even after the United States left Afghanistan that his administration continues to pursue those responsible for the 9/11 attacks. Last month, Biden announced the US had killed al-Zawahri, the Al-Qaida leader who helped plot the attacks, in a clandestine operation.

“We will never forget, we will never give up,” Biden said. “Our commitment to preventing another attack on the United States is without end,” he added.

The president was joined by family members of the fallen, first responders who had been at the Pentagon on the day of the attack, as well as Defence Department leadership for the annual moment of tribute carried out in New York City, the Pentagon and Somerset County, Pennsylvania.

“We owe you an incredible, incredible debt,” Biden noted.

In ending the Afghanistan war, the Democratic president followed through on a campaign pledge to bring home US troops from the country’s longest conflict.

Biden marked the one-year anniversary of the US withdrawal from Afghanistan late last month in low-key fashion. He issued a statement in honour of the 13 US troops killed in the bombing at the Kabul airport and spoke by phone with US veterans assisting ongoing efforts to resettle in the United States Afghans who helped the war effort.

But Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell had on Thursday criticised Biden’s handling of the end of the war and noted that the country had spiralled downward under renewed Taliban rule since the US withdrawal.

“Now, one year on from last August’s disaster, the devastating scale of the fallout from President Biden’s decision has come into sharper focus,” McConnell said.

“Afghanistan has become a global pariah. Its economy has shrunk by nearly a third. Half of its population is now suffering critical levels of food insecurity,” he added.

But the president also remembered the words of comfort Queen Elizabeth II, who died last week, sent to the American people soon after the 2001 attacks: “Grief is the price we pay for love.” Biden said those words remain as poignant as they did 21 years ago but the weight of loss also remains heavy. “On this day, the price feels so great,” Biden said.

Biden has recently dialled up warnings about what he calls the “extreme ideology” of former President Donald Trump and his “MAGA Republican” adherents as a threat to American democracy. Without naming Trump, Biden again on Sunday raised a call for Americans to safeguard democracy.

“It’s not enough to stand up for democracy once a year or every now and then,” Biden said. “It’s something we have to do every single day. So this is a day not only to remember, but also is a day for renewal and resolve for each and every American in our devotion to this country, to the principles it embodies, to our democracy,” he stated.

Also, First lady Jill Biden spoke to a crowd at the Flight 93 National Memorial Observance in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, where she recalled the concern she had about her sister Bonny Jacobs, a United Airlines flight attendant.

She said the attacks showed that “with courage and kindness we can be a light in that darkness,” according to the Associated Press (AP).

“It showed us that we are all connected to one another,” said Biden, who was joined by her sister in Shanksville for Sunday’s commemoration.

“So as we stand on this sacred and scarred earth, a record of our collective grief and a monument to the memories that live on each day, this is the legacy we much carry forward: Hope that defies hate,” she stressed.

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