9/11/01, Eighteen Years Later

Eighteen years after the September 11th attacks, it's becoming harder to remember what the world used to be like.

Ordinarily, the eighteenth anniversary of a particular historic event such as the September 11th attacks in New York City, Virginia, and Pennsylvania is not an especially noteworthy one. Unlike the early years, it has become increasingly less likely that we’ll see the kind of wall-to-wall anniversary coverage that we did in the first year after the attacks, and slowly coming to the point where the anniversaries that will be marked are the numerically significant ones, particularly those ending in a zero or a five. For several reasons, though, this year’s anniversary is a noteworthy one because of what it means for the nation going forward, and what it tells us about the impact the event has had on our foreign and domestic policies in areas ranging from what wars we’re as criminal law and procedure.

It’s also the case that, after eighteen years, it’s hard to know what to say about the anniversary that I haven’t already said repeatedly before, On previous anniversaries, I’ve made note of the impact that the attacks and our response to them have had on our foreign policy, on civil liberties, and on the general culture. I’ve talked several times about where I was when I learned about the first airplane striking the World Trade Center, what I did for the rest of the day, what it felt like to drive home that afternoon on normally crowded roads that were as empty as they would normally be in the middle of the night, and what it felt like to hear an airplane above your head in the days afterward and realize that it wasn’t a commercial airliner and was instead a combat aircraft flying over the nation’s capital and the surrounding area. It’s at the point now where there isn’t much that can be added to that, and after eighteen years a post detailing everything that has changed since that crisp fall Tuesday morning in September would result in a post far too long for blogging purposes. Indeed, as I thought about what I might write this year I wasn’t sure I’d be able to come up with a fresh enough angle to make it worth the time.

One notable thing about today, of course, is that it is hard to remember what the world was like before September 11th, 2001. Hard to remember what it was like to be able to get on an airplane without having to go through seemingly ridiculous things such as taking off one’s shoes. Hard to remember what it was like to live in a world where we weren’t at war. And, for those such as myself who grew up in the New York City area, harder to remember what the skyline looked like before it was so radically altered in a matter of hours.

The most significant thing to note about today, of course, is that it officially means that people who were born today and every day that follows from now going forward has no living memory of either the attacks themselves or the world that existed before they occurred. For them, America has been “at war” for their entire lives not only in Afghanistan but also in other theaters around the world that have become part of the “War on Terror” that Congress authorized when it overwhelmingly passed the Authorization for Use of Military Force in October 2001. As of today, the children born on September 11th and the days that will be follow will be eligible themselves to enlist in the U.S. military and potentially be sent to one of those battlefields, whether it be Afghanistan which looks as though it will continue to be the forever war it has been for some time now or battlefields in other parts of the world that have come under the “War on Terror” rubric. If they were to ask why we are fighting these wars, I suppose we can point them to the events of this day eighteen years ago. However, if they were to ask whether we’re “winning” that war, I can’t really come up with a “yes” or “no” answer, especially since it seems clear that this is a “war” with no foreseeable end and no foreseeable victory that would lead to such an end.

As I write this, cable news networks are beginning the tradition of marking the times at which the planes struck the north and south towers of the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and the time that United Flight 93 was brought down over rural Pennsylvania by a group of brave Americans who likely prevented an attack on Washington, D.C. itself. Later this morning, they’ll mark the times at which first the south tower and then the north collapsed, trapping thousands of people, including hundreds of members of New York’s Finest and New York’s Bravest. Next month, we’ll mark the eighteenth anniversary of the beginning of the “War On Terror.”

So as we reach an anniversary that reminds us of the fact that there is nobody in grades K through 12, and few people in college, who have a living memory of what happened on September 11, 2001, what do we have? For the most part, al Qaeda lies in ruins and has been largely replaced in terms of the international terrorist threat by ISIS and the growing problem of self-radicalized terrorists that are far harder to detect beforehand. Afghanistan remains Afghanistan. It’s been a mess in that country since at least 1979 when the Soviet invaded in what was ultimately a failed effort to prop up the puppet state it had installed there, and it will be a mess long after we leave, whenever that might happen. In the meantime, we’ve gotten ourselves involved in a seemingly endless, borderless “War On Terror” that has stretched Constitutional norms, consolidated yet more power in the hands of the Executive Branch, and damaged civil liberties of ordinary Americans in ways big and small.

Remind me again what “winning” is supposed to look like?

Previous posts on the anniversary of the September 11th attacks:

2018 — 9/11 And America’s Forever War
2017 —Remembering 9/11 Without Obsessing Over it
2016 — The Lost National ‘Unity’ Of September 11th
2012 — 9/11’s Legacy Of Fear
2011 —  A Decade Of Lost FreedomNo Football On 9/11?December 7, 1951 v. September 11, 2011Paul Krugman: 9/11 Has Become ‘An Occasion For Shame’
2010 — Instapundit’s Initial Take On 9/11

FILED UNDER: National Security, Terrorism
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook


  1. Kit says:

    Remind me again what “winning” is supposed to look like?

    Well, it looks pretty much as you just described: we’ve gotten ourselves involved in a seemingly endless, borderless “War On Terror” that has stretched Constitutional norms, consolidated yet more power in the hands of the Executive Branch, and damaged civil liberties of ordinary Americans in ways big and small. I mean, that’s winning from the point of view of al Qaeda.

  2. Slugger says:

    Let’s stop these commemorations. They are simply opportunities for demogogueic posturing. Let’s sober up in general. We have national interests in that region and need to have a clear-eyed and calm approach. America has been in a couple of wars since WW II, and our scoreboard doesn’t look that good. If we want to be the world’s leader, we need to demonstrate the qualifications that make us worth following. Being in cahoots with a regime that oppresses its people blew up in our face in Iran. The House of Saud will not stand. Let’s put away our bombers and put on our thinking caps. Enough Bin Laden Triumph Days.

  3. Fortunato says:

    Being in cahoots with a regime that oppresses its people blew up in our face in Iran.

    Are we talking 1979?

  4. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    I suppose I’ll get hammered for this; whatever. Have at it.
    I need to say that we are all just incredibly lucky that anything remotely like 9.11 has not happened since 9.11 – but that is especially true of the last 2-1/2 years.
    The POTUS currently in office is manifestly incapable of dealing with anything of the sort.
    He has no one in his Cabinet of Toadies capable of handling anything of the sort.
    Everyone is fond of saying “We Will Never Forget” – but apparently we have, or we never would have elected this fool.
    In 2001 Bush and Cheney were played by OBL and manipulated into over-reacting; the exact response Bin Laden wanted. Today, as Doug points out, we are still in the never-ending war that they started, with no plan for ending.
    The current occupant of the Oval Office is quite possibly the easiest person in the world to manipulate. Putin and Kim have played him like a piano and shown the world what a patsy he is. Who knows what the fuq he what do if put in such an impossible position, by anyone with even an ounce of capacity for strategic thinking.
    Let’s all hope that it doesn’t happen in the next year and a half.
    And, oh, BTW…9.11 is all about his fat orange ass.

  5. An Interested Party says:

    I mean, that’s winning from the point of view of al Qaeda.

    It would be nice if the people of this country, particularly the politicians, would stop doing things (or not doing things) that benefit al Qaeda, Russian hackers, and Brazilian soybean farmers, among so many others, and started doing things (or not doing things) that benefited Americans…

  6. Jax says:

    I stumbled upon this last night, it’s FAA and NORAD transcripts from Air Traffic Control centers on 9/11. It’s worth the 2 hours, despite it only being audio and text.


  7. OzarkHillbilly says:

    I was laid off on 9/11 but I had a couple side jobs lined up for that day. I watched the towers come down and then I went to work. That evening I had to drive over half of south STL before I found a gas station that still had the gas I needed to get home and I cursed the panic stricken sky is falling chicken little Americans all the way home to Bourbon.

    And I have been cursing them everyday since.

  8. DrDaveT says:


    We have national interests in that region

    I’m not sure what region you’re talking about. All of the most important (to Americans) fallout from 9-11 has been here in this country, as we have relentlessly abandoned our alleged principles, institutions, and moral high ground in an unparalleled ongoing display of national cowardice and international ineptitude.

  9. Stormy Dragon says:

    The NC GOP decided to honor the day by calling a surprise vote while their Democratic colleagues were at a 9/11 memorial ceremony to push through a budget that otherwise would not have passed.

  10. Teve says:

    @Stormy Dragon: holy shit a remote acquaintance on Facebook just posted this:

    Things got exciting in Raleigh today. The R speaker said there would be no votes, waited until the Dems left the chamber, then decided to vote on overriding the governor’s veto of the budget.

  11. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    @Stormy Dragon:
    Yeah…the crooked Republicans seem to have stepped in it. IIRC. a judge has already said they were elected by illegal gerrymandering. So they are illegitimate and unethical.


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