How We've Changed Since 9/11

Updated August 31, 2022 | Infoplease Staff

Americans Are Still Feeling the Impact of the September 11 Terrorist Attacks 21 Years Later

New York City Twin Towers lights tribute
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September 11 attacks

The September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in New York City
Photo Credit: National Park Service

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In the decades since the September 11, 2001 attacks on New York City and Washington, D.C.—the deadliest terrorist attack on America—the country has been mired in protracted wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Department of Homeland Security was established, and Taliban official Osama bin Laden, the mastermind of the attacks, was killed.

The Patriot Act and other legislation expanded presidential authority, national security, and government intrusion into our personal lives while decreasing our civil liberties.

Here's a look at how the attacks and the country's reaction to them still affect American lives today, based on changes made by the U.S. government and its counterterrorism attempts.

The Practical Impact

The most obvious changes Americans have faced after September 11 have been at the airport.

Travelers must check in at least two hours before their flight takes off. There are restrictions on what travelers can bring. Liquids and toiletries have to be a certain size and placed in clear, sealed bags. No food or bottled water is allowed through security. Passengers are selected at random for more intense screenings. Over the decade, airport security has tried different types of searches and screenings, introducing new equipment and technological changes to keep people safe.

The extra security protocol means longer lines. Ten years later, the lines move a little faster, mostly because travelers have become accustomed to the post-9/11 restrictions. We've become so familiar with the new procedures that seeing a pre-2001 movie where someone waits for a loved one at an airport gate seems dated, even strange.

Airplanes are also more secure after 9/11. Every large U.S. passenger aircraft has been equipped with hardened cockpit doors. Thousands of federal air marshals are assigned to flights to guard against terrorist acts.

The No Fly List existed before 9/11, but the list has grown substantially since the attacks. We now have thousands—some claim millions—of names on the list. For almost nine years after September 11, a color-coded threat system informed travelers when the country was at risk of another terrorist attack. In April 2011, that color-coded advisory system was replaced by the National Terror Advisory System which focuses on specific threats in geographical areas.

Even with the beefed-up security, the U.S. has still experienced attempted terrorist attacks over the last decade. For example, on December 25, 2009, a Nigerian man on an international flight from Amsterdam to Detroit attempted to ignite an explosive device hidden in his underwear. The explosive device, a mixture of powder and liquid, got through airport security. The alleged bomber, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, told officials later that he was directed by Al Qaeda.

On December 22, 2001, Richard Reid boarded a flight from Paris to Miami wearing shoes packed with explosives. The explosive failed to detonate and Reid, a member of Al Qaeda, was apprehended. Because of the incident with Reid, who became known as the Shoe Bomber, travelers must remove their shoes when going through security at airports.

Public buildings have also tightened security since September 11, requiring most American workers with office jobs to enter a building with a security badge. Guests must sign in. Flower and food deliveries are left at a main desk. Television studios in New York, which once allowed fans access to the sets and offered tours, closed their doors to the public after September 11. Some travel insurance companies, such as CSA Travel Protection, now provide coverage for terrorist attacks committed in the United States. Before 9/11, travel insurance only covered terrorist attacks overseas.

The Psychological Impact

Some Americans responded to the September 11 terrorist attacks with fear, anger, as well as a growing intolerance for immigrants, especially against people who were—or appeared to be—from the Middle East.

In the days immediately following the attacks, while the government launched a war on terror and searched for suspects internationally, many Muslims and Asians in the U.S. reported that they were the victims of harassment and hate crimes. Sikhs, who follow Indian religions, were targeted because they wear turbans, which are stereotypically associated with Muslims. Balbir Singh Sodhi was fatally shot on September 15, 2001, in Mesa, Arizona. Like other Sikhs, Sodhi was mistaken for a Muslim. According to the FBI report, hate crime incidents targeting people and institutions that identified with the Islamic faith increased from 28 in 2000 to 481 in 2001. Mosques were attacked as well as other religious buildings, including a Hindu temple in St. Louis, Mo., which was hit twice with firebombs in early 2003.

The fall 2010 battle over what has been referred to as the "Ground Zero mosque" was a sign that opinions haven't changed and emotions haven't cooled much in the last ten years. In reality, the Ground Zero mosque, officially named Park51, is neither a mosque nor is it located at Ground Zero.

In fact, it isn't even visible from the World Trade Center site. Park51, a 13-story Muslim community center, will replace a Burlington Coat Factory building that was damaged in the 9/11 attacks. It will be open to the public and will contain a Muslim prayer space as well as a memorial for the victims of the attacks.

The planned center, located two blocks from the attacks, has sparked controversy and protests. Opponents of the community center have argued that a mosque so close to Ground Zero would be offensive since the men behind the September 11 attacks were Islamic terrorists.

However, supporters of Park51 point out that some of the victims of 9/11 were Muslim and that some of the victims' families are in favor of the project. Various polls show that the majority of Americans, even New York City residents oppose building Park51 near Ground Zero. However, residents of Manhattan support it.

According to the Quinnipiac University Poll in June 2010, New York City voters oppose the Park51 by a margin of 52% to 31%, but Manhattanites support it by a margin of 46% to 36%. A national Rasmussen Report found that 54% of American adults oppose a mosque being built near Ground Zero, while 20% favor it. There have also been recent protests over mosque projects in other states, showing that almost a decade after 9/11 distrust of Muslims in the U.S. still exists.

Anger and fear aren't the only lingering psychological repercussions of the September 11 attacks. According to figures from three New York City 9/11 health programs, at least 10,000 police officers, firefighters and civilians directly exposed to the World Trade Center attacks have been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. Ten years later these people are still having trouble sleeping and concentrating, among other symptoms.

The Impact on the Physical Health of U.S. Citizens

When the Twin Towers collapsed, thousands of tons of toxic debris containing known carcinogens were released. Exposure to the chemicals led to illnesses among rescue and recovery workers. A study of nearly 13,000 rescue workers published in the April 2010 New England Journal of Medicine found that 30%-40% of the workers who suffered impaired lung functions still show little or no improvement in symptoms.

Not until June 2002 did the air quality near the site return to the level it was at prior to the attacks. Residents, students, and office workers in Lower Manhattan and nearby Chinatown have experienced health problems since the attacks. Several deaths have been linked to the toxic dust. In 2011, scientists are still speculating that exposure to the dust may have negatively effected fetal development.

The Global War on Terror's Impact on U.S. Citizens and the Economy

According to the Center for Defense Information, the estimated cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan will reach $1.29 trillion by the end of the 2011 fiscal year.

The Pentagon's base budget increased from $307 billion in 2001 to $529 billion in 2011, a 72% increase. Of course, these figures don't include the human cost of war, the lives lost or forever altered. As of May 12, 2011, more than 6,000 soldiers have been killed in the Global War on Terror, according the Department of Defense, and 43,399 service members have been wounded, according to the Department of Defense.

How the costs of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have affected the U.S.'s economic recession is a source of an ongoing debate. Economists disagree about whether war hurts or helps the nation's economy. Defense spending during World War II helped to rejuvenate the U.S. economy in the years following the Great Depression. Unemployment rates were also reduced during World War II.

However, since the beginning of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the U.S. has hit an economic recession unlike any it has seen since the Great Depression. In August 2011, there were signs that the recovery from the 2008 recession has been stalled with unemployment rates rising, the government coming close to a default, and Standard & Poor's downgrading the nation's credit rating for the first time in history.

How the World Views the United States Post-9/11

Worldwide sympathy has faded in the ten years since the 9/11 attacks. Much of the Arab world resented the U.S. occupation of Iraq. In May 2011, the hunt for, capture, and killing of Osama bin Laden, strained relations further with Pakistan. Throughout the Middle East and Pakistan protests against the United States have continued over the decade since the attacks.

A decade is a long time, but perhaps not long enough for a country to recover from the biggest terrorist attack on its soil. Security measures have been put in place, but Americans are still feeling the impact of those measures and of what happened on that early fall day.

Moving Forward, Over Two Decades Later

After the President George W. Bush administration, the US government made many changes and surmounted several subsequent situations that have sparked panic and chaos of a different kind to that of an Al Qaeda terrorist threat, including policymakers’ alterations to keep the American people safe.

The Obama administration did recognize the threat of the self-proclaimed Islamic State and the extremism bred within it, and did impose much stricter margins on the treatment of any suspected members of terrorist organizations. One of the best examples of this lies in President Obama attempting to close the infamous Guantanamo Bay prison in Cuba, where several suspected terrorists were incarcerated, being prosecuted by US military commissions instead of the Department of Justice.

As such, the treatment of these individuals could be seen to exist under a so-called “legal black hole”, with their criminal status wavering in a hazy state that was unlikely to be protected under either counterterrorism policy or civil detention procedures.

However, the US Congress essentially blocked President Obama’s attempts at removing these terrorist suspects to a more judicial holding location and shutting down the offshore prison that has been the site of so many contentions and so much suffering.

And apart from hijackers and the involvement of intelligence agencies, under President Donald Trump, the Covid-19 pandemic of 2020 and the riots sparked by the treatment of African American persons and other minorities by law enforcement were major issues for not only the US, but the entire world.

Additionally, following the decades-long presence of the U.S. military force in the Middle East, the White House of President Joe Biden claimed that American military action would cease in Iraq by the end of 2021. Any remaining U.S. troops would only remain in an advisory capacity to help local forces deal with any terrorist groups persisting there.

On January 6, 2021, the US Capitol riots were one of the most recent and disturbing home-soil attacks on democracy, with legal and socio-political implications continuing to this day.

Finally, with the invasion of Russia onto Ukrainian soil beginning on February 24, 2022, the foreign policy of countries around the world has had to expand its boundaries past the threat of terrorist players to include military action that might not be a sign of extremism, but certainly impacts populations far beyond the initial incursion.

In conclusion, it’s still important to acknowledge the effects of 9/11, extremists, and US foreign policy changes that were spurred by the attacks. However, it’s also crucial to remember the balance of national security with civil justice— something that civilized countries have been dealing with for centuries upon end, and will only continue to be challenged with.

—Jennie Wood

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Sources: Quinnipiac University, New England Journal of Medicine, Rasmussen, Federal Bureau of Investigation, The New York Times, U.S. Center for Defense, St. Louis Post

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