There are days throughout our lifetimes that stick in our minds with memories that are so vivid and so stark it’s as though the events happened only yesterday.
On a personal and more intimate level these events usually revolve around marriage, births, deaths, graduations, retirements and other such family-oriented milestones involving loved ones.
On a much grander scale, there are events that are so profound that we never forget what we were doing when they occurred. The news was likely so shocking that it is forever ingrained in our consciousness and whenever we hear of those momentous events we immediately recall what we were doing on the day we first heard it.
For instance, most people recall the day President John F. Kennedy was assassinated, the day Martin Luther King died, the day the first man walked on the moon, the day Elvis Presley died, the day the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded on take off or the day Princess Diana was killed. They remember where they were, what they were doing and whom they were with. They remember these events in such vivid detail that it’s like a virtual moment frozen in time.
For each era, these milestones may be different. Earlier generations will have vivid memories of the day Pearl Harbor was attacked, or when Canadian troops were first deployed in combat in each world war, or when the atomic bombs were dropped on Japan, and the day the war ended. Depending upon one’s age, such events will hold different meaning, but even with the passing of time they continue to shape our collective psyches and impact society years after they occurred.
In recent history, nothing has had a more profound impact on our daily lives than the terrorist attacks on the United States on September 11, 2001, when four planes were hijacked and turned into missiles of mass destruction and death. Surely, no one who was alive that day and able to form memories will ever forget the horrific sights and sounds of those jetliners ramming into the two towers of the World Trade Center, the impacts of which reverberated around the globe and which, in fact, are still being felt today.
A total of 2,977 civilians in the World Trade Center died, as did 87 passengers and crew members aboard American Airlines Flight 11 that hit the North Tower. Another 60 passengers and crew aboard United Flight 175, which hit the South Tower, also died that day.
Of the brave men and women who rushed to the scene of mayhem, 343 New York City firefighters and rescue workers, 23 New York City law enforcement officers, 47 Port Authority workers and 37 Port Authority police officers lost their lives when they responded to save the victims in the World Trade Center.
The attacks didn’t stop in New York. In fact, the terrorist plot extended to Washington where 59 passengers and crew aboard American Airlines Flight 77 were killed when the plane was crashed into the Pentagon and another 125 people died in the building. A fourth plane, also aimed at a Washington target, never made it but a total of 40 passengers and crew aboard United Flight 93 gave their lives stopping four hijackers over Pennsylvania.
More than 6,000 others were injured in the attacks.
The audacity and ultimate carnage of these attacks was so profound that the horror of it all literally caused — without exaggeration — the world to stand still. Nothing in modern times could compare to the tragedy of that day and even 18 years later it takes our breath away just to recall the death and destruction of September 11, 2001. In truth, it’s still difficult to calculate the total impacts of these attacks.
In the days, weeks, months and years that followed the events now known collectively as 9-11, our society has undergone a major transformation and we saw a seismic shift in how North Americans view the world.
While we were once secure in our beliefs that North America was immune to the horrors of such senseless violence, in one day the terrorists brought it home to our backyard and now we live in a different world. It’s a place where increased security measures, mass paranoia (and sometimes hysteria), invasion of privacy and government intrusion have become the order of the day. We are constantly reminded never to drop our guard and that the world will never be a safe place again.
Following the horrendous attacks, we witnessed much of the world go to war in Afghanistan as the U.S. and its allies launched an offensive designed to wipe out the terrorist threat that led to the attack on U.S. soil. Canadians were touched by the events, many of them close to home and many of whom continue to suffer the impacts of the war.
While the physical dust has cleared and the actual rubble has long been removed from the attack sites, the fallout from 9-11 is still being felt and the images of that day are forever ingrained in our collective memories. To witness such an event and to try to put it into perspective is not an easy thing to do, but somehow we have to find a way to move beyond these events and to end the hatred that these attacks represent.
Society still has a lot of work to do in that regard.
Today, as we mark the 18th anniversary of 9-11, we wonder if the world will ever recover and we like to think that yes, yes we will. However, the stark reality is that there has been such a shift in public policy and thinking over the past 18 years that it’s impossible to imagine a world free of fear if the next big attack is just around the corner.
Above everything else that has transpired in the nearly two decades since 2001, that is the true legacy of 9-11 and in that sense, the terrorists keep on winning long after the smoke has cleared, and that’s the view from here.
Vernon Oickle writes The View From Here column, which appears weekly in the South Shore Breaker. He can be reached at vernon.l.oickle@Eastlink.ca