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The World 9/11 Made

In hindsight, we can now see that 9/11 was a harbinger of what was to come: not the globalization of terrorism but the terrors of globalization. The attacks conveyed the message that distance and borders count for little in a global age.

NEW YORK – This week marks the 20th anniversary of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States. On that day, 19 terrorists took control of four civilian aircraft, flew two into the towers of New York’s World Trade Center, struck the Pentagon with a third, and crashed the fourth in a Pennsylvania field after passengers physically prevented the terrorists from reaching their target, often thought to be the White House or another US government building in Washington, DC.

All the hijackers were from the Middle East, 15 from Saudi Arabia alone. All were trained in Afghanistan, and four at US flight schools, as part of an operation planned, organized, and carried out by al-Qaeda (the “base”), the terrorist group headed by Osama bin Laden. By the day’s end, 2,977 innocent men, women, and children had been killed, and more than 6,000 injured. Most were American, although citizens of more than a hundred other countries also lost their lives as well.

Many at the time feared that 9/11 had ushered in an era defined by global terrorism. And, to be sure, other al-Qaeda attacks followed, including the train bombings in Madrid in March 2004 and the attack on London’s transit system in July 2005. Moreover, terrorists claiming allegiance to the Islamic State (ISIS) killed 32 people at Brussels Airport in March 2016, and staged a series of smaller attacks (often using vehicles to mow down pedestrians). But neither the US nor any of its allies has experienced another attack on the scale of 9/11 – or one even close to it. It is therefore necessary to ask: Beyond the immediate costs, what difference did 9/11 make? How did history change, if at all, as a result?

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