Today is the 20th anniversary of the terrorist attacks on the United States spearheaded by Osama bin Laden and carried out by 19 of his al-Qaida followers flying four hijacked airliners.
The attacks — on the World Trade Center in New York, the Pentagon, and an airplane that crashed outside of Shanksville, Pa. — left 2,996 dead. In New York, the victims included 343 New York City firefighters, 23 New York police officers and 37 Port Authority officers.
According to CNN.com, the attack planners spent $500,000; the U.S. economy took a $123 billion loss in the first two to four weeks after 9/11.
The damage and losses continue. The New York Daily News reported that approximately three-quarters of New York Fire Department workers who responded to the 9/11 attacks now have some type of long-term illness linked to their service.
“Of more than 15,200 firefighters, paramedics and other FDNY workers, more than 11,300 had an illness certified under the guidelines of the federally backed program (World Trade Center Health Program),” the newspaper reported Aug. 31.
The story notes that as of the end of March, 3,097 FDNY members of the health program had at least one cancer linked to 9/11; hundreds of them have multiple cancers.
These brave first responders’ health issues are just one reminder of the attacks that so deeply shook our nation. Associated Press stories The Columbian has been publishing over the past week illustrate not just the profound loss individuals and our country suffered that day, but also highlight the courage, resilience and ingenuity of those who had a direct role in that tragic day or were specifically impacted by its aftermath.
And as with other monumental events, time is creating a memory gap related to 9/11. As the New Yorker wrote Sept. 1: “But as we approach the 20th anniversary of 9/11, it has never been more apparent that a growing number of people do not remember it at all. Of the 13 American service members who were killed in an attack during the United States’ chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan in August, a full five were only 20 years old themselves. Seven of the service members were toddlers or infants in 2001, and the oldest was 11.”
This is why the attention now being paid to the 20th anniversary of the attacks is so important. As painful as that day was, and as disquieting as some of the actions taken in its aftermath — think waterboarding and Abu Ghraib — Sept. 11, 2001, was a turning point in U.S. history.
We learned that as mighty as our country is, it’s also vulnerable to terrorism, both foreign and domestic. It permanently changed air travel and how we define “security” — and what we are willing to accept in its name.
During this time, it’s vital that we remember those who were lost, mourn their senseless deaths but celebrate the lives they lived. The survivors and families inextricably tied to that dark day still deserve our support and admiration; 20 years can’t erase their loss.
Given the starkly partisan and divisive times we find ourselves living in, it can be easy to forget how Americans pulled together in the wake of the attacks. But we must never forget. Not just the pain and horror, but how the tragedy reminded us that we are — or should be — Americans first.