Plaque for the World Trade Center Sphere in Lower Manhattan. Taken in 2002.

What happened to 9/11?

Tomorrow is the 22nd anniversary of 9/11. This means an entire generation has grown up and finished college, and they only know about 9/11 from a history book.

I’ll commemorate 9/11 by donating blood. That’s what many people did in the days and even hours after the attack. We wanted to do something—anything—to help those in need. There are plenty of stories of people who helped those directly affected by the attacks. Many risked their lives going to the crash sites to look for survivors and help with the recovery. Several of them suffered severe health problems and have died working at those crash sites.

We regained a sense of national unity. Regrettably, it came with a hatred towards Arabs, Muslims, or anyone considered part of those communities. It also led to two decades of war, one of those based on false pretenses against a country that had no involvement in 9/11, and left generations of battle-scarred veterans with little or no support.

What happened to 9/11 is the same thing that happened to an earth-shattering event of my childhood: the assassination of John F. Kennedy. As with 9/11, the further away we get from the event, it becomes less of a tragedy and more of a confirmation of the deceit and treachery that governments can do. We became skeptical because we didn’t have enough faith in our leaders to be heartbroken.

But worse, 9/11 brought us to the horrible situation we are in today. There’s a clear through line between September 11 and January 6.

Take Alex Jones, who recently got on Russian TV to give his full-throated support for Putin and compared the “globalists” to the 9/11 hijackers. I remember back when he was one of the “truthers” who constantly said 9/11 was an “inside job” and “jet fuel can’t melt steel beams.” Fears over future attacks and distrust of the government created a fertile ground for conspiracy theorists and grifters. These master manipulators built echo chambers to entice fearful people with reassuring “facts” and justifications for their deepest hatreds. And the only one who can save them is some bold strongman who declares, “I alone can fix it.” A strongman who can drive a mob to attack the Capitol while he sat back and did nothing. Even as the former president accumulates criminal indictments and his most devoted supporters get long prison sentences, his followers still believe he will be magically reinstated to the White House.

People have become so addicted to conspiracy theories that even natural disasters are considered part of some evil scheme. And let’s not even get into COVID. There doesn’t seem to be anything that can unify us. Not empathy for the suffering of fellow Americans. Not even sports.

Twenty-two years later, we must face some hard truths about 9/11. We are a nation more divided, more fearful, and more uncertain of the future. Osama bin Laden may have succeeded in his goal to bring down America. What’s worse is that we did it to ourselves.