Seventeen years ago, on Tuesday, September 11, 2001, the United States and much of the world was shocked, stunned and saddened by the horrific attacks on New York City’s World Trade Center and the Pentagon in Washington, D.C.
Two Boeing 767 jetliners were targeted, one for each of the two 110-story skyscrapers; a 757 was used against the Pentagon, and a fourth plane also a Boeing 757, was apparently intended to strike the US Capitol building in Washington, DC, but a passenger uprising ensued, resulting in the crash of that aircraft in a field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania. 2,996 people lost their lives in instants that day, and over six thousand others were injured directly in the attacks, with more victims succumbing to cancer and respiratory-related diseases in the years that passed.
Over 18,000 people now have to deal with various types of illnesses sustained by the aftermath of the attacks. More than three thousand children lost at least one parent that day.
For all of us who are old enough to remember this day nationally and even across the world, this was a horrific event. For those of us who lived in and around New York City, the experience was surreal. All air traffic shut down for five days nationwide, resulting in an eerie sense of quiet across the city and the suburbs. Fear and rumors of further attacks had many citizens on edge for days.
New York City was rendered inaccessible for days to all but emergency personnel and a very few regular people. The site where the World Trade Center used to stand burned for three months, despite it constantly being doused with water every day. For all three months, smoke could be seen rising from Lower Manhattan by anyone who could see the city.
Most of the world responded with sadness and solidarity that day. Even adversaies, such as Iran’s leadership, while yet at enmity with the United States, acknowledged the tragedy of the attack and suspended the “death to America” chants that were usually repeated during Friday prayers. In 2006 Russia gave the United States a sculpture of a teardrop as a gift and as an expression of support. That sculpture still stands in Bayonne, New Jersey to this day. A description of the monument and its history follow:
To the Struggle Against World Terrorism (also known as the Tear of Grief and the Tear Drop Memorial) is a 10–story sculpture by Zurab Tsereteli that was given to the United States as an official gift of the Russian government as a memorial to the victims of the September 11 attacks in 2001 (26 of whom were Russian) and the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. It stands at the end of the former Military Ocean Terminal in Bayonne, New Jersey. Groundbreaking was done on September 16, 2005, in a ceremony attended by Russian President Vladimir Putin, and was dedicated on September 11, 2006, in a ceremony attended by former U.S. President Bill Clinton.The sculpture is composed of a 100-foot (30 m) bronze-clad tower split with a jagged opening in the middle in which hangs a large nickel-surfaced teardrop, 40 feet (12 m) high. The eleven sides of the monument’s base bear granite name plates, on which are etched the names of those who died in the September 11 attacks and the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. However, like some other 9/11 memorials, the dedication was based on an outdated compilation and contains about forty people who were removed from later victim listings.
Tsereteli did not disclose the cost of the sculpture except to say that he paid for labor and materials. A lawyer for the sculptor released the cost at about $12 million. Tsereteli said metals for the sculpture were obtained “From a military factory that did airplanes. In Dzerzhinsk. A secret city.”
The world has changed quite a lot since that time. Even the nature of the attacks has been called into question on repeated occasions, as to who “truly” orchestrated them, and why, and much ado has been made of the American realignment towards aggressive action against entities suspected of terrorism. All of this has its proper place, of course. Doing wrong in response to a wrong is still wrong, and the same applies to doing what is right in response. Sometimes people – and nations – make hard choices.
But the most important thing that this day reminds us of is that almost none of the 2,996 people who met their end that day had any idea, wish or plan to do so. Nineteen men, united by hatred of the United States, thought it expedient to take out so many innocent people to further their political cause.
To treat human beings as such expendable commodities is perhaps the biggest horror of this attack, as with all terrorism. To assume that other people’s lives simply do not matter, that they are not sacred gifts of God, this is the tragedy of this and every such attack.
There will be wars and rumors of wars until the very last day. This we are told. But the commemoration of the September 11, 2001 attacks reminds us that this is a choice we make, each and every day. It is not necessary to waste human lives to make any point. Truth, love, humility, these values are what make a people great. Even in war, the country that wins is usually the country that relies on these principles and on their Creator for the strength to fight and die with honor, even to the point of treating the enemy with honor and mercy.
This event calls us not just to fight corporeal evil wherever it exists, but also to fight that evil in ourselves that makes it possible for anyone to come to treat anyone else as of less than infinite value. In our turbulent times, this is the challenge we all must face.