A generation of young adults has a hazy understanding of Sept. 11, 2001. In the service of national memory, this is our attempt to set down what happened on that day and in its aftermath.
A small band of fanatical terrorists dealt this, the nation’s largest city, a stiff punch to the gut, murdering almost 3,000 people almost instantly.
The attacks throttled our economy. They rattled our sense of safety. They bruised this city’s soul.
The United States was forced to reckon with the sudden realization that people crazed by Islamic radicalism, by a cold and backward vision for the planet, marked this messy and pluralistic republic for death simply because of what we represent.
From throughout five boroughs and 50 states, samaritans descended on the place, now called Ground Zero, where physical wreckage and human remains commingled.
On that smoldering pile, in that solemn resting place, those firefighters and police officers and iron workers and volunteers labored tirelessly, rescuing who they could, recovering what could be recovered.
They walked into the rubble to help and emerged as heroes. They also emerged with afflictions that would plague their lives. The totals killed slowly by these ailments may soon outnumber those lives violently ended on that day of chaos and carnage.
In the wake of the mass murders, the country looked as if for the first time at shoring up every vulnerability to stop radical jihadists from harming us again.
Young men and women went overseas, on orders of presidents, to try to cripple and kill the enemy in foreign lands. They went to Afghanistan, now America’s longest war, where 2,437 U.S. service men and women have died. They went to Iraq to fight a war barely connected to that terror threat but sold as an essential extension of it. There, 4,574 countrymen and women have died.
It was only yesterday. It was so long ago.