Tim Tan Huynh

9/11, 20 years later

  • 11 Sep 2021
  • Today marks the 20th anniversary of the Al Qaeda attacks in New York, Pennsylvania, and DC.

I remember that day well (at least, parts of it). I actually didn’t learn about the morning attacks until the afternoon. I was driving to class when I heard a vague reference on the radio. On campus, I overheard two guys who were talking about military intervention. I finally saw a news report later that afternoon, while waiting for a takeout order in a sports bar. I went home and watched the news for the rest of the day.

The following weeks and months were a blur. I recall the deluge of political cartoons depicting the Statue of Liberty with a single tear. Rentals of action movies about counter-terrorism were popular. Entertainment, like TV shows and pro sports, returning from hiatus was a big deal as well. Osama bin Laden became a household name, and Al Qaeda and Taliban entered the popular lexicon, and Afghanistan was in the spotlight.

For some reason, several years ago I was fascinated with this event. I spent a lot of time watching professional and amateur footage on the NIST YouTube channel. I also watched 9/11, the serendipitous documentary that followed a group of New York firefighters. I read The Eleventh Day and found it be an informative look at the full context of the attacks. I also read No Easy Day and watched Zero Dark Thirty around that time as well.

Against my better judgement, today I watched some footage from that fateful morning. I didn’t cry in 2001, but I sobbed for a bit in 2021. Seeing people limping away from the crash site, while covered in dust, got to me. I haven’t been directly affected by the attacks, unlike tens of thousands of people. Nonetheless, everyone who’s old enough to remember that day has been altered in some way by it.

The events of that day are the second world-changing incident of my lifetime. The first one is the advent of the World Wide Web, but its impact hadn’t been as immediate or obvious. The September 11 attacks faded from public consciousness until the recent chaos in Afghanistan. I don’t know if Islamic terrorism will take hold of the zeitgeist again while I’m alive. It might re-emerge in 20-30 years, well after COVID-19 becomes distant memory.

In any case, understanding of the September 11 attacks will fade further as Generation Z becomes more prominent in the world. In some ways, that’s a good thing. The people who do remember have the burden of preserving that cultural memory.