Twenty Years Later: How September 11, 2001 Changed America 

Matthew Gower 

Sept. 11, 2001 changed much of America and the lives of many Americans. Almost 3,000 Americans died that day when two hijacked planes crashed into the World Trade Center’s Twin Towers in New York, a third plane crashing into the Pentagon and a fourth crashing in Pennsylvania when passengers stopped the terrorists hijacking the plane from reaching its planned location.  

“Over 93% of Americans over 30 remember exactly where they were and what they were doing the moment they learned of the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001,” according to a study by Pew Research Center.  

President George W. Bush addressed Congress and America on September 20, 2001, announcing plans for military action. His plan of action did not include targeting a single facility, but rather a global War on Terror. 

“Our war on terror begins with al Qaeda, but it does not end there,” said Bush. “It will not end until every terrorist group of global reach has been found, stropped and defeated.” 

The United States military invaded Afghanistan shortly after and remained stationed there for nearly twenty years, until their departure in late August of 2021.   

The attacks also changed air travel restrictions when airlines resumed flights on Sept. 14, 2001 when arriving passengers were greeted by members of the National Guard who remained at airports for several months. New security measures were created in November 2001 when George W. Bush signed the Aviation and Transportation Act creating the Transportation Security Agency (TSA) which, at the time, monitored not only airports but railroads and subways as well. As of 2021 the TSA has over 50,000 employees.  

Many Americans also suffered from religious discrimination during this time. Anti-Muslim violence significantly rose to 93 attacks in 2001 from 12 the previous year, according to a 2017 study by Pew Research Center. 

The Patriot Act was signed weeks after Sept. 11, 2001, to prevent potential future domestic terrorist attacks such as the April 1995 Oklahoma City bombing. The over 300-page document sought to make improvements to homeland security by: 

  • “allowing law enforcement to use surveillance and wiretapping to investigate terror related crimes” 
  • “allowing delayed notification search warrants to prevent a terrorist from learning they were a suspect” 
  • “allowing federal agents to seek federal court permission to obtain bank records and business records to aid in national security terror investigations and prevent money laundering from terrorism funding” 
  • “ending the statute of limitations for terror-related crimes”  

And much more, according to 

However, The Patriot Act is not without its controversy amongst Americans. “Civil rights groups have claimed it violates American citizens’ rights and allows the government to spy on them without due process, search their homes without consent and increase the risk of ordinary citizens being accused of crimes without just cause…[d]espite continued civil liberties and privacy concerns, President Bush signed the USA Patriot and Terrorism Reauthorization Act on March 9, 2006,” according to 

The Sept. 11 attacks also changed aspects of how schools operate throughout the country. Changes to school security and emergency preparedness have been implemented following the attacks. “The things that are noticeable to students have occurred over time…Now we have lockdown drills, but students were used to fire drills.” Fred Ellis, director of the office of safety and security in Fairfax County (VA) Public Schools. Some schools also observed a moment of silence to remember or pray every morning. Moments of silence were also observed at sports games, government events and at many other events.  

Changes to the music industry also occurred. More than 165 songs were suggested to be briefly removed from Clear Channel-operated stations being listed as “lyrically questionable” such as Neil Diamond’s “America,” Bob Dylan’s “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door,” Drowning Pool’s “Bodies,” many songs from The Beatles and many more. Tours and concerts were cancelled or postponed due to fears of terrorist attacks. The music community gathered for a telethon on Sept. 21, 2001, raising 150 million dollars for United Way with performances by Stevie Wonder, Bon Jovi, Paul McCartney and others. Similar events were held in Sept. raising more than 170 million dollars to aid families’ of 9/11 victims.  

 Much of the entertainment industry changed in the aftermath of 9/11. Movies, television shows, video games and more were altered, remade or removed entirely. For example, “Spider-Man” (2002) had an early trailer removed that saw him stop a helicopter in a web between the two towers of the World Trade Center. “Men in Black II” (2002) originally showed the two towers in the background heavily but later changed it to the Statue of Liberty instead. “Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty” (2001) featured the World Trade Center in some background scenes that were removed. Dozens of other films, television shows, video games and other forms of entertainment were also altered or cancelled.   

In 2006, construction began on the 9/11 Memorial and Museum on eight acres of the World Trade Center Complex and was opened ten years after the attacks on Sept. 11, 2011. The Memorial has two pools which sit where the North and South Towers once stood and contain the largest main made waterfalls in North America. “The names of the 2,983 people who were killed in the 2001 and 1993 terrorist attacks are inscribed on bronze parapets edging the memorial pools. The names are grouped by the locations and circumstances in which the victims found themselves during the attacks,” according to  

Survivor trees were planted around the pools in honor of survivors of the event. The Memorial Glade where rescue operations began was dedicated to hundreds of thousands of responders, survivors, workers and residents who became sick or died from toxin exposure during and after the attacks. The museum documents its impact and significance while “…[telling] the story of 9/11 through media, narratives, and a collection of monumental and authentic artifacts, presenting visitors with personal stories of loss, recovery and hope” according to  

The 9/11 Memorial and Museum held their 20th Anniversary Commemoration on Sept. 11, 2021 which could be viewed live. Many other events were held throughout the country and in New York City. Network television stations NBC, CBS and ABC provided live coverage of memorial ceremonies in New York and throughout the United States and aired documentaries over several days leading up to the 20th anniversary of the attacks.   

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