Fifteen years ago the attacks on New York City and the Pentagon on September 11th, 2001, changed the way America saw itself. The largest loss of life by foreign hands in the country's history, the attacks resonated deeply across the world. To this date, it is likely the most broadcasted incident in history - filtered for days and weeks across television sets in every corner of the earth.
It's been fifteen years since the attacks but there are still echoes of the event felt in the world. The United States, as well as a number of allied countries, are still in Afghanistan. Serious inquiries over the effect the dust from the attacks on the two World Trade Centre buildings are still being done, with several first responders suffering from respiratory illnesses and cancers believed to be tied to the attack. The New York City skyline has been forever changed, and let's be real when you're watching movies or television pre-2001 and the Towers are featured in b-roll or in an establishing heart, for at least a moment, your heart drops to your feet. In the United States, airline safety protocols are still enforced based on regulations introduced in the aftermath and a number of American laws have changed the way the country is run and how it sees itself.
Even young people who might not remember as much still know a lot about that day - or so they think. Surprisingly, for the most documented event in contemporary history there remains both questions and a lot of information that it seems that most people don't know about.
Housed at Princeton University is the Global Consciousness Project, in effect, an experiment designed to measure the interaction between physical systems and the "global consciousness." In effect, it's a machine plugged into a number of different systems. Using statistical inputs it measures shifts in people's behavior on a truly mass schedule.
On the morning of September 11th, 3 hours before disaster struck, the machine predicted a potentially cataclysmic event that would occur sometime that day. While the machine itself cannot predict what exactly that means, we all know what happened next. Many scientists are skeptical about this particular result for a number of reasons, with many claiming that if there was no major event to spur scientists to look into the numbers and results, it would have been insignificant. As human beings, we search for patterns to contribute to a greater narrative, which is why the significance of calculators like these remains tenuous. Still, it makes you wonder if we will one day be able to predict something of this magnitude - and if so, what we would do with that information.
In one of the more tragic ironies of the devastating events of September 11th, was how close the hijackers were to the NSA (aka National Security Agency) who are charged with protecting Global and National safety. This is the same organization that has been monitoring your calls in hopes of finding (and not finding) terrorists that Edward Snowden exposed. On the morning of the attack, 5 of the 19 hijackers were staying in a hotel literally under the NSA's noses - their lodgings directly across the street from the Washington D.C. headquarters. While the terrorists were on their way to the airport, they were literally traveling on transit with workers for the National Security Agency on the way to work.
September 11th was not the first date that an attack was orchestrated against the World Trade Centre towers. Long a symbol of the United States' prosperity and the centre of the nation's stock market, it's no real surprise that it had been targeted in the past. On February 26, 1993, a bomb had been planted in a parking garage that blew a 100-foot crater that affected a number of floors. Six people were killed instantly, whereas over a thousand people were hurt (some seriously, with crushed limbs). The work of fundamentalist Islamist terrorists, the actual plan had been for the bombing to be serious enough to topple the first tower, which they believed would topple and hit the second one. It turned out to be a horrific testing ground for the now more famous second attack in 2001.
With no shortage of conspiracy theories swirling around nearly every aspect of the various attacks of September 11th, it shouldn't be surprising that one of the biggest pieces of ammo conspiracists hold against the American government is the suppression of the video footage of the Pentagon attacks. It was only in 2006, five years after the attack on the Pentagon that the government released the footage. While the attacks on the World Trade Centre towers are among the most seen news footage in history, the ones at the Pentagon were conspicuously missing. The government said they had kept the footage a secret in order to help prosecute Zacarias Moussaoui, who had conspired to help commit the attacks but had been caught beforehand due to an immigration violation. After the jury for his trial was selected and requests were made with the freedom of information act, the government released the footage in the hopes of putting to rest any further conspiracies.
Long before Steve Buscemi became one of the most beloved actors in the world, he worked as a firefighter in New York City. He served as a firefighter in Little Italy, one of the busiest stations, for four years before turning to the entertainment industry. In the aftermath of September 11th, Buscemi returned to his old haunts and assisted the FDNY in sifting through the rubble of the World Trade Centre in the hopes of finding survivors. Pulling twelve-hour shifts, he worked alongside his former firefighters. Buscemi refuses to be interviewed about the event and no photographs exist, because he never wanted to do it for the publicity. Years later, Buscemi still does charitable speeches and walks in protests with his fellow comrades - to the point of being arrested in 2003 during a protest to support higher wages and stop firehouses from closing in the city. Talk about a great guy!
While the value of human life lost on September 11th obviously outweighs everything else, among the billions of dollars in damage caused by the attacks, $100 million in valuable artwork was destroyed. This includes the orange sculpture (above) designed by Alexander Calder, which stood in front of the two buildings. The rest of the art that was destroyed included works by some of the most famous artists in the world, including a collection of Rodin sculptures, works by Picasso and pop artist Roy Lichtenstein. In the lobby of the South Tower, a tapestry by Joan Miró, a famous modernist who had been friends with Calder, has similarly been lost forever.
In the immediate aftermath of the attacks on September 11th, Canada put into action "Operation Yellow Ribbon" in which they took in 255 diverted flights from the United States. This was done for the safety of civilians, but also to free up the American airspace as quickly as possible in order to ensure that no other flights had been diverted. In the hours that followed flights were directed to commercial and military airports across 17 different airports. Part of the process involved canceling all Canadian flights as well, excepting police, military and humanitarian excursions. Huge public efforts were made in order to house and feed the diverted passengers, which estimated to include upwards of 30,000 people. The process was considered a huge success and was a moment of hope and kindness on an otherwise terrible day.
Long before we have come to think of September 11th as a day of devastating loss, the day represented something very different in the history books. Smallpox, once considered one of the most deadly pathogens responsible for countless deaths (71% of people who contract smallpox die as a result of it or complications from it), was believed to be eradicated by 1972 but unfortunately, that wasn't the full story. Smallpox was one of the major success stories of immunization as a means of effectively killing a disease. By the 1970s, smallpox was gone for nearly 30 years in most developed countries and the third world was sure to follow. It was only in medical facilities where it existed, which unfortunately lead to Janet Parker, a photographer, to contract it due to misuse. She died in 1978 and is considered the last person to die as a result of the disease. Since then, harsher regulations have been put into effect to prevent another incident of the kind.
The only thing more comforting than God in a time of crisis is that sweet, sweet booze. While church attendance saw a jump, it did not compare to the percentage of people who said they had turned to the bottle more than normal in the weeks and months following the attacks. While most of these findings are self-reported, therefore, should be taken with a grain of salt, we are not really surprised that in the event of a really devastating and stressful event that people would turn to the bottle. It wasn't just alcohol though, as many also reported an increase of smoking or marijuana use. The worst part? Most studies showed that those who were more likely to turn to self-medicating were likely to suffer from severe depression or post-traumatic stress. While this might be a chicken and an egg scenario, with those suffering psychologically more likely to turn to substances to help soothe their pain, it's possible their stress was exacerbated by substance abuse.
In late December 2001, the final fires at the World Trade Centre finally burned out. As improbable as that may seem, the magnitude and the materials involved meant that fires below the surface spurred on by acids and office furniture. For nearly that whole time it was nearly an endless stream of water being pumped onto the location in the hopes of putting it out. The fires that continued to rage only made attempts at recovering remains or evidence, harder, as firefighters and investigators never knew when another small flare-up would pop up. Just to be safe, even after December 20th when all fires were reported out, the fire department stationed a fire truck there around the clock as it was not unusual to find a hot pocket while they searched and cleaned up the aftermath. Better to be safe than sorry.
Nearly one year to the day of the September 11th attacks, Al Jazeera released an exclusive interview with Khaled al-Sheikh Mohammed and Ramzi bin al-Shaibah, who were believed to be the leaders of Al-Qaeda at the time. The pair not only discussed the events about where the thwarted United 93 flight was destined (the Capitol in Washington), but revealed that their initial targets were nuclear plants across the country. The reason they decided not to go with that plan after all? They feared it "might get out of hand", while they never explained what they meant by that, it's clear that a serious Nuclear breach could easily have a worldwide impact that could very easily have consequences that couldn't be walked away from.
Those who were unlucky enough to still be in the Twin Towers when they fell were all but doomed. Due to the sheer mass of the buildings, mixed in with the near constant fires, hope of survival was very slim. So small in fact, that sorting through the rubble in the upcoming days, just sixteen people were found alive. Among the survivors were twelve firemen, a bookkeeper, an office temp, an engineer and a port authority cop: by all accounts, none of them should have survived. The effort and danger that went in recovering these people is nothing short of bravery either, as they were not only sifting through concrete and steel but constantly raging fires.
Most memorials are organized alphabetically for obvious reasons, but the 9/11 memorial took things in a bittersweet direction. Rather than arrange names of victims by name, the memorial decided to organize the list by relationship. With nearly 3000 names, the process was complicated but a gesture to help bond those who "lived and died together" by way of their meaningful relationship to each other. This process, which put focus on the victims rather than perpetrators, shows an infinite respect for their tragic experience. Beyond familiar and friendship relationships, as often as possible they would classify people by the companies they worked for, or if they were on one of the planes. This method ultimately subverts just an endless list of names but showcases an involved need to remember those who were lost as people with lives and people who loved them.
In perhaps the most ambitious way to showcase respect for those lost on September 11th, The New York Times undertook to writing an article about every victim of the 9/11 attacks. A decade later, they similarly followed up the article with a series, taking a look at the family and friends of those who have lost, and how their lives has changed over the past decade. On an easily navigable interactive website, you can scroll through the thousands of names and photos and learn something about the people lost on that fateful day. You can read about Leonard Ragaglia's mean breakfast skills or Virginia M. Jablonski's passion for astrology. On the morning of her death she got up early to watch the International Space Station pass overhead and her husband remembers getting up with her and feeling it was going to be a good day. In a horrific event like this, sometimes it's worth focusing on the best of people, and there is little denying this small gesture by The New York Times will live on forever; a beautiful tribute to people whose lives were cut short.
In the aftermath of September 11th, it's not that surprising that places of worship, including churches and synagogues, saw a pretty substantial surge in attendance. Different polls indicate a rise between 20 and 25 percent in the weeks and even months that followed the attacks. With many people at a loss of how to handle their lives turned upside down, or the loss of loved ones, this surge was predictable -- though it's hard to say if many could have predicted such a strong bump. While this number held steady for a few weeks, by the next year on September 11, 2002, most churches reported that their numbers had dropped back down to normal numbers with some even experiencing a drop in overall attendance. Some point to religion being seen as a short term rather than long term fix, and expect in the event of another disaster or personal tragedy, people will return to the church. Mosque attendance during this period reportedly dropped though - with many New York City mosques reporting a nearly 50% drop in attendance, with many regular goers fearing hate crimes and violence.