The site is now occupied by One World Trade Center at a symbolic 1,776 feet tall, New York’s tallest skyscraper. Three other towers, although not quite so grand, are planned for the site, which is now largely landscaped and adorned with ornamental pools on the footprints of the original buildings. A museum and memorial are nearing completion. The WTC website, onewtc.com, promises unsurpassed access to public transportation and “world-class shopping.”
Sadly, less well-remembered are the hijacked airliner that slammed into the Pentagon and a fourth, believed to have been headed toward the U.S. Capitol, that passengers forced to crash into a Pennsylvania field near Shanksville. No one aboard any of the airliners survived. The hijackers thought their names would live forever; it’s doubtful that any Americans stopped at random on the street could name even one of them. Shamefully, there probably are places in the Middle East where the opposite is true.
But the aftereffects of that day are with us still; in some ways, they are more influential now than in the immediate aftermath.
Take the revelation this year of the breathtaking extent of the U.S. government’s electronic spying on its own citizens. At one time, the loss of privacy and the breach of the implied constitutional right to be secure in one’s communications would have been public outrages. Instead, insofar as the public’s attitude can be characterized, it was, “We didn’t know it for a fact, but we suspected all along something like this was going on.” And then back to business as usual.
President George W. Bush used the 9/11 attacks and outdated intelligence about weapons of mass destruction to leverage us into a war with Iraq that dragged on for eight years. After winning that war, then losing it as Iraq spiraled into civil war, Bush regained his footing with the “surge” and finally won it. Yet President Barack Obama’s hasty pullout of nearly all U.S. troops has opened the door to resurgent violence and has left us on the verge of squandering the victory our troops won on the battlefield — although most Americans admittedly don’t seem to care.
Meanwhile, we remain bogged down in Afghanistan, where Obama first decided to ramp up our commitment, then announced plans to pull the plug. Again, most Americans are more than ready to see us depart that country, win or lose.
Now, Obama, with clear evidence of the existence and use of poison-gas weapons in Syria, faces an uphill battle to convince a skeptical Congress to approve even a limited strike to discourage Syria from their use.
Memories of 9/11 inevitably will fade, but it’s obvious now that that day’s impact on us will outlive most or all who now remember it.