Memories After 9/11

Everyone remembers what they were doing when the news broke that a jet airplane crashed into one of the towers of the World Trade Center[1]. I’ll briefly mention my 9/11 moment, but I want to focus on what I remember after the attack. I want to describe what I saw and experienced as Americans coped immediately after the attack, to as late as a year later. Please notice that I intentionally used terms used from the time period regardless of how “woke” our society has become nowadays (reader discretion is advised).

I was waiting for my 10th grade home room class to start when me and my classmates heard whispers that another classroom was watching some devastating news on TV. Someone begged our teacher to turn on the TV and everyone’s eyes became glued to the news coverage of the accidental collision of a plane hitting a building in New York City.

Someone asked how something like this hadn’t happen sooner. And then, a few minutes later, a second plane hit the other tower, and we knew it couldn’t be a mere coincidence. This was an attack.

Some of us said we’re going to war for this. We started whispering between ourselves which nation would do something like this to us, and why. Our homeroom teacher told us that a nation wouldn’t do something like this. This had to be the work of terrorists.

This is how my class was introduced to the concept of terrorism[2].

After the second tower collapsed, the school Principal was heard on the intercom officially announcing that all classes were cancelled for the day because of the attack. I think she also gave students permission to call our parents to be released from school early. Nobody, especially our teachers, had any intention of doing anything else except watch the news, so we already knew classes weren’t going to take place. If we weren’t watching TV, we were logged in the school computers trying to get the latest information from as many sources as we can. Around lunchtime, one of us found an article or a brief video showing Arabs[3] dancing and cheering the attacks.

This angered most of us in the classroom and we started talking about how terrible and evil these Arabs and Muslims are for cheering such an atrocity. Me and the other “smart” kids commonly known as the “brainiac” misfits had a different perspective because we actually paid attention to our history and geography classes. I especially enjoyed the subjects when they focused on the people and cultures of the world. We didn’t jump onto the “every Muslim is evil” bandwagon, and reminded our fellow classmates that terror has been a valid tool of warfare for millennia, especially by those who lack the means to attack in a conventional manner. Someone (not me) also said that we should have expected something like this to happen since the USA has been meddling in the affairs of other countries, sticking our nose where it doesn’t belong, and bullying the rest of the world for so long.

One of the usual blabbermouth-type girls[4] denounced and called us traitors. She declared that anyone who supported an attack like this was a terrorist sympathizer. She was quickly silenced by the teachers, who applauded us “brainiacs” for trying to see things from a different perspective and for reminding people that not every Muslim is a terrorist.

There weren’t any Muslims in our school, and there may have been 2 or 3 devout Christians[5]. I think most of us were either Atheist or Agnostic, or didn’t care. I can’t imagine how students of Islamic faith were feeling when the attacks happened. I don’t want to think about how many may have been bullied as retaliation or how scared they must have felt back when most ignorant people thought of them as terrorists in the following months and well past a year after the attack.

The next day of school wasn’t very productive either since only half the students showed up. Our day was spent asking the teachers questions, and answering their questions about how the attacks made us feel. The teachers asked everyone for our thoughts and nobody was allowed to pass their turn to talk. The blabbermouth from the prior day said she was sad about the attacks and angry that people were cheering in the streets. She was working herself into a fit, and the teacher cut her off by thanking her for sharing and called on the next person to speak. I think the next person said that yesterday was history, like our version of Pearl Harbor. When it was my turn to share, I said the attack happened over fifteen-hundred miles away, and I really can’t have a personal opinion, but I’m shocked and saddened that so many people were killed. People whose only crime was to show up for work. A couple students copied my response.

I think I saw my first meme later that day. One of the girls from the anime social-clique made a simple drawing of 2 towers with angel wings. She used a scanner to save and posted it to her LiveJournal page. Not very many people had a social media account and Myspace didn’t exist yet (nor did Facebook), so someone printed the image and it started circulating around the classroom and school. Student freedom of speech didn’t have the same protections it does today, so it was just a matter of time before the teacher confiscated the picture and chastised her for being insensitive. In her defense, she explained that the twin towers were dead and everyone in them was probably in heaven, and the issue was dropped.

Later that week, I saw a political cartoon of a grandfather and his grandson standing in front of a future 9/11 memorial. I think the grandfather described how horrible the attacks were and how swift our justice was. I do remember the child asking, “… what’s a Muslim”. The cartoon depicted a clear message that the United States will lead a crusade in retaliation of the 9/11 attacks wiping Muslims off the face of the earth[6].

This wasn’t considered bad or inappropriate back then because the nation was experiencing a mixture of emotions ranging from shock, fear, grief, and anger. The images and video shown on the news compounded and dictated those feelings for months. Please recall that social media didn’t exist. There was no medium everyone could use to share and provide their personal perspective and opinions of how they felt about Muslims and Islam as a whole. The easiest way to share an idea with someone was to blast out an email to everyone on your contact list, and you can imagine how effective that was.

Images and video of terrorist training camps in Afghanistan started to be shown on the news, and war with that country seemed inevitable.

In the weeks after the attack, in between watching emailed links of funny flash-animated videos like “Y2Khai” or “Peanut Butter Jelly Time[7]“, I saw a flash video of how the United States is going to attack the Taliban by unleashing our telemarketers. I remember laughing with the rest of the family as we watched the stereotypically-looking Muslim pick up the phone saying “Taliban” in a foreign accent. Only to repeat this over and over again, and getting more frustrated with each call[8].

Then everyone started seeing terrorism everywhere.

Some of my classmates were tired of New York getting treated like it was the capital of the country, if not the world. People in my class chuckled at how ridiculous New Yorkers were after the news reported panic ensued when a flatbed truck hit a pothole.

And then everyone started worrying about anthrax. People didn’t know if they’d be next to get an anthrax letter. There was legitimate concern for the safety of politicians, but it got ridiculous when common nobodies were on the local news saying they were concerned they’d be targeted next. It was like the Unabomber all over again and the anthrax scare dominated the news for nearly a month.

Sometime after the US invaded Afghanistan, a couple links to games were circulated around school. One was a shooter-game which the player gunned down a character with Osama bin Laden’s face, as he appeared from behind furniture and walls to lob insults at the player with phrases like: “I piss on your grave” or “Death to America!”, and other phrases.

Another game was being circulated around this time as well. This game tried to convey the message that no matter how many terrorists the US killed, the martyrdom of those dead terrorist only creates twice as many terrorists to take their place. It was a no-win game and the only way to measure “winning” was by counting how many terrorists the player killed before getting killed by the infinite wave of terrorists.

Around this time, I noticed that a couple of my PC games had characters and missions which could be construed as terroristic. My favorite game at the time was Command & Conquer: Red Alert 2. If playing as the Soviets, the player is faced with missions to destroy the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and conquer the United States and the rest of the world[9].

Sid Meier’s Alpha Centauri was another game I played around that time. The game had a faction leader whose face and beard looked uncannily like Osama bin Laden. Every time I played that game, I chuckled at the irony of using an image resembling a terrorist leader for the leader of the UN faction. I knew it couldn’t be possible because the game was a couple years old at the time, and hardly anyone in America knew of Osama bin Laden before 9/11. I think the game’s info on the faction leader clearly identified him as Indian, and had a lot of images of Indian culture in the faction’s description. This is indicative of how ignorant most Americans were at the time (and still can be to this day). Most of us mentally grouped similar-looking people from completely different cultures and religions alongside radical Islamists.

On that awkward note, let’s fast forward to the 1st year anniversary of the attacks.

I don’t remember much about the anniversary itself. The World Trade Center had officially been cleaned up earlier that year, and the country had not yet confirmed the identities of half the victims. I remember it being a solemn day. Classes were put on hold while we watched the news coverage of the anniversary and observed a moment of silence[10].

The day after the 1st anniversary, George W. Bush addressed the United Nations and began laying the groundwork for his invasion of Iraq. Soon after that, the creation of the Department of Homeland Security followed.

We were a nation driven by fear, and that fear was constantly fed by the “terror alert level” which regularly manifested itself as a chart shown on the news. The chart was most prominent every time the threat level increased, but merely mentioned when the level decreased. At the time, it made sense that we needed to give the government more power to monitor the nation for threats. After all, the news regularly reported on terrorists who were caught and how their plots were foiled[11].

The terror threat lost its sensation over the years, and some people started seeing connections between our nation and the famous dystopia from George Orwell’s, Nineteen Eighty-Four. One of my college professors told us to compare the book with: the manufactured plots which rooted out terrorists, “Big Brother” with the expanded surveillance, and the War on Terror which closely resembled a “war without end”. When election season came, some people even wondered if George W. Bush was going to use the war as an excuse to remain in power indefinitely.

Every middle-aged adult (and older) has a memory of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. I hope you appreciate my perspective on how the country reacted to the terror attacks, and how we went on with our lives. Even though it’s been 20 years, my heart still raced when I fact-check my memory by referencing the Wikipedia page on the attack[12].

Two Final Notes

First, I focused on the attack on the Twin Towers in this article because that’s what I remember most about the coordinated attacks on 9/11. I think it’s most prominent in my memory because the media’s attention was primarily focused on New York, and only briefly reported on the other attacks.

Secondly, our country was in Afghanistan for about two-thirds of my life, and I’m sure everyone must have an opinion on what currently seems like a disappointing withdrawal from that country. It’s too early to understand the full ramifications of the Taliban’s return to power, so I’ll reserve mine for now. I hope for the best, but am prepared to see news of barbarism.

[1] Possible people who may not remember 09/11/2001 are: infants, toddlers, and people with medical issues related to memory.

[2] Introduction to terrorism – They teach history and describe the various wars and what strategy won battles in school, but nothing about terrorism and the previous acts of terrorism we’ve seen in history. I think the closest school got was the very brief mention of the Oklahoma City Bombing.

[3] These celebrating “Arabs” were later identified as Palestinians. And even later, it was reported the video was taken before the attacks happened.

[4] Blabbermouth-type girl – I think that girl may have been the first “Karen” I’ve ever encountered. Interestingly, she forgot about how treacherous we were when she came to us for help with her Geometry homework later that year. We remembered and refused to help her. Unfortunately, two of my teachers ganged up on me and I ended up helping her pass the class anyways.

[5] Lack of diversity – Now that I think of it, there were only 2 black students in the school, and they were brother and sister (from the same family).

[6] I searched and cannot find this cartoon anywhere on the internet. It’s possible political correctness may have forced the newspaper or journal to censor and buried it. I’ve always lived in the Houston area, so the list of possible publications is limited…

[7] According to Google, The Buckwheat Boyz are credited as the creators or inspiration for “Peanut Butter Jelly Time”.

[8] I managed to find this Taliban video here:

[9] I’m glad social media wasn’t around back then. The snowflakes would have created such an overly inflated uproar against the game, it would have ruined a great franchise. The RTS sub-genre of strategy games wouldn’t be the same as it is today.

[10] It’s sad that we don’t give the anniversary the attention it deserves.

[11] Most of the captured terrorist plots were manufactured to entrap potential terrorists by the FBI, and later the NSA. This fact was usually swept under the rug or hidden in the news report.

[12] Wikipedia. (n.d.). Timeline for the day of the September 11 attacks. Retrieved from Wikipedia The Free Encyclopedia:

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