Charles Lindbergh was the American aviator who rose to international fame in 1927 by making the first nonstop flight from New York City to Paris. Lindbergh later drew widespread criticism after his speech on September 11, 1941, blaming “the British, pro-Jewish groups, and the Roosevelt administration” for trying to draw America into World War II. Then Pearl Harbor happened. Exactly 70 years later America was drawn into a different kind of war…
“2001: A Space Odyssey” was a 1968 epic science-fiction film produced and directed by Stanley Kubrick 54 years ago. Time had finally caught up with the futuristic fictional period. 2001 had arrived and we were witnessing the beginning of the 21st century and the first year of the 3rd millennium.
On January 20th, George W. Bush was sworn in as the 43rd President of the United States. He was the second president in US history to have been a son of a former president, the first having been John Quincy Adams.
In the summer of 2001, the militant Sunni Islamist organization al-Qaeda, founded by Osama bin Laden, released a recruiting videotape that was widely circulated throughout the Middle East. This fueled speculation that al-Qaeda might be on the verge of striking again after the USS Cole bombing on October 12th of 2000.
The USS Cole was the target of an attack while it was being refueled in Yemen’s Aden Harbor. The guided missile destroyer was struck when two suicide bombers detonated explosives carried in a small boat near the warship. The explosion killed 17 sailors and injured 39 others. The terrorist organization al-Qaeda claimed responsibility for the attack while Osama bin Laden praised the operation.
Al-Qaeda had acted in so many different places, using so many different techniques, and in connection with so many different Arab and Muslim causes it was difficult to predict how they would strike next. On September 11, 2001, we had our painful answer.
At 8:45 a.m. on a brilliant, clear Tuesday morning, an American Airlines Boeing 767 loaded with 20,000 gallons of jet fuel crashed into the north tower of the World Trade Center in New York City. The impact left a gaping, burning hole near the 80th floor of the 110-story skyscraper, instantly killing hundreds of people and trapping hundreds more in higher floors. Eighteen minutes later, a second Boeing 767, United Airlines flight 175, appeared out of the sky, turned sharply toward the World Trade Center and sliced into the south tower near the 60th floor.
As millions watched the events unfolding in New York, American Airlines flight 77 circled over downtown Washington, D.C., and slammed into the west side of the Pentagon military headquarters at 9:45 a.m. Meanwhile, a fourth California-bound plane, United flight 93, was hijacked about 40 minutes after leaving Newark International Airport in New Jersey. The flight crashed into a field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania at 10:03 a.m. after several brave passengers fought the hijackers.
America was under attack.
The terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 were a profoundly shocking event to the U.S. government and public. The attacks killed 2,996 people, injured over 6,000 others, and caused at least $10 billion in property and infrastructure damage and $3 trillion in total costs. Not since the British had burned down the White House in 1814, almost two centuries earlier, had America’s enemies succeeded in attacking the continental United States.
Civilian aircraft traffic in the U.S. did not resume flights until September 13th and the New York Stock Exchange remained closed for trading until September 17th, the longest closure since the Great Depression.
On September 20th, in an address to a joint session of Congress and the American people, U.S. President George W. Bush declared a “War on Terror,” not simply going after the immediate sponsors of the attacks, but also holding accountable those nations that harbored terrorist groups. This position became known as the “Bush Doctrine.”
Two new actions were taken in response to the September 11th attacks. On October 8th, President Bush announced the establishment of the Office of Homeland Security followed by the signing of the Patriot Act into law on October 26th.
The September 11th attack on the United States galvanized American and international resolve as never before to fight terror. The president warned the Taliban rulers in Afghanistan, where al-Qaeda was based, to hand over Osama bin Laden or risk a massive assault. The Taliban refused to comply.
In November and December 2001, the Taliban and al-Qaeda were ousted from their major strongholds in Afghanistan. A pro-U.S. Afghan government, led by Hamid Karzai, was established in Kabul. The Bush administration failed to capture or kill Osama bin Laden, who appeared to have slipped over the border from Afghanistan into western Pakistan.
The stage was set for remarkable transformations in America’s entire foreign policy posture. The war on terror was just beginning.