Twenty years ago, the world changed forever.
On September 11, 2001, the world trade centers in NYC were hit by two out of four planes hijacked by Islamic extremist group al Qaeda. The other one struck the Pentagon just outside Washington, D.C, and the fourth crashed in a field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania. The attacks caused 2996 deaths and over 6000 injuries.
The attacks not only changed the way that people value their families but changed airport security rules and caused huge growth in American patriotism. More directly, it caused two wars; one with Afghanistan and one with Iraq.
As a middle school student, you were not born when 9/11 (Nine-eleven, not nine-one-one) happened, which can make it hard to understand the significance, but all of our teachers were. We sat down with a few of your teachers to learn how they were affected so that we could better understand this terrible event.
[interviewed by #Woojin]
"I heard that a big plane collided with the tower. I thought it was nonsense."
“I actually remember; I was teaching high school that year. During that day, I was driving to school on my one-hour commute with the radio on. Then from the radio, I heard that a big plane collided with the tower. I thought it was nonsense. But once I arrived from school, my students were telling me to turn on the TV (my class was the only one that had TV), and then the news confirmed that a giant plane crashed into the tower, and the tower was collapsing. I felt so terrified and quite scared because of how many innocent people died during that time.”
Mrs. Al Moreno
[interviewed by #Aarkin]
I was at home. And it was about five in the morning for me because I'm on the West Coast. And so, I woke up, and it was all over the news. I was at home. I was a senior in high school, so my senior year had just started because American schools in the US often start right after Labour Day. So we were in our first week of school. And, yeah, my mom woke me up and said, You need to come to watch the news. I was 17, so I went into her room, and I didn't really understand what was happening because none of us did; it was still at the point where we didn't know if it was over. It was enough by the time I found out that the Pentagon, all the planes were down, but we didn't know if we were under attack. And so, all of this as the news does and should do and at that point was like we were preparing for like, Is the United States under attack right now. What does this mean? Big cities were all put into states of emergency, and I lived in Seattle, proper. And so, close enough to the Space Needle - they started listing out different monuments that might be key places to attack, and the Space Needle was one of them, so we were pretty locked down for a little bit.
"It has taught me empathy for people who live in war zones. I was freaking rocked by even the idea of an attack, and I can't imagine that fear. I can't imagine what it is to live in that fear constantly."
I just have a very vivid memory of walking from going down the stairs for my history class, which was the first block, to an assembly, which we weren't supposed to have but obviously, they called it. I'm thinking about my history teacher because he had a bunch of us seniors in history. How he managed to have a class is beyond me, but I remember walking down the stairs talking to my best friend, Clark. And I think it stayed with me because it was such a visceral feeling, and it also shows when we are scared, we are not the best versions of who we are. And I said, in not great language but I was 17 I said, they F****d with the wrong country. And I reflect on that, and I think how I felt that I usually would not share this. Because again, but I think it's important to like that I was angry, I wanted vengeance.
Watching President Bush on TV, watching him getting called out of a classroom because he found out when he was reading a book to a bunch of elementary schoolers. I did not agree with President Bush on almost anything. And then watching my president, even though I wasn't a supporter of his, like he was still my leader, watching him getting pulled out of an elementary school classroom, which is what was happening like we saw this all over the news. That was really jarring for me.
I also have a cousin who works right next door to the World Trade Centre, so I was ridiculously worried about her. A super vivid moment was when we when I got the call that she was okay. And this is before smartphones. The school was really having to turf, a lot of communication because no one could just whip out their phones and talk to people. So, we were worried about family and friends over there.
The whole day is like bursts of vivid moments or nothing.
It's so silly. But we had dropped my brother off a week before, and I walked my brother to the gate to say goodbye to him at the airport. There was no security, that way. I didn't need anything. I literally walked my brother to the gate, hugged him, and watched him walk onto the plane. And that is mind-boggling to me now that we could do that. And I miss it, I miss being able to see people off that way.
On a philosophical level, I saw a really big shift in who the "bad guys" were. My whole upbringing, as awful as it is, because it is awful. Russians and Germans were the bad guys in all of the movies, and immediately it switched to Arabs. And yeah, it has had a massive impact on our media on the movies we watch, and now we're seeing the backlash of it right and now we're seeing it shift, but I think that was a pretty big, just like media shift of, oh, we have new bad guys now and how horrendously awful and racist that is.
We like having go to bad guys, and it just changes with what is happening in the world.
[interviewed by #Hannah]
“I was In the US working as a high school teacher; I went to check the Spanish newspaper and thought, “What is going on?” I went to talk to the social studies teacher, everyone was silent watching the news. I was very confused. Nothing like that had happened in my life before. Everyone was sad. It touched everybody. My sister was in Pennsylvania; we were both new in the states. We were a little lost. I put a sign against the war and people weren’t happy with me. They were too patriotic and proud. The biggest change was in the airports, all the security changed and made it annoying.”
[interviewed by #Seoha]
"Everyone was believing in one thing; we all have to come together."
“I was teaching a 12th-grade class in the first period. I knew that because some teacher turned on the TV to show us about it. I was terrified and I was so scared. I didn’t know that our country was under attack. I just remember that everyone thought that they needed to go to their families and was I safe. I don’t really remember that day, like which classes I had or anything like that. We felt alert, wondering if it would happen again and what should I do now. I couldn’t focus on other things for a month. Actually, everyone around me couldn’t focus on their life because the attack was the biggest thing at that time. Everyone was kind of believing in one thing; we all have to come together. Everyone cut out the American flag from the newspaper and put it on the windows. So that everyone could see it and believe that they were all together.”
[interviewed by #Paul]
"It was the first time I had ever seen anything that was so impactful and devastating."
I was 18 years old. I remember going to school and coming back home. I think I had half a day. And I came home and my dad said, “Sheena, come quick, come look at the news.” I saw on the screen the plane going into the towers. I remember feeling quite shocked. It was like watching a movie. It didn’t seem real. In my lifetime, it was the first time I had ever seen anything that was so impactful and devastating. The most vivid memory is seeing the plane going into the tower. It kept coming up on the news. Another thing was just seeing the number of people who were killed keep rising and rising and rising. It was a very strange feeling. I was in the UK at the time. Something that happened in the US, but affecting us in the UK. Even impacting relationships with people. I saw more racism happen towards innocent people just because of the way they looked. But I also saw the opposite side of that which was a lot of support and helping each other.
[interviewed by #SeoEon]
"It was shocking, disbelief and sadness."
“I was in a theatre and I was a part of an orchestra musical. The time between South Africa and America is about 12 hours. So that’s what I heard about in the middle of the night. It was my very first year teaching AISJ in Johannesburg. It was a huge disaster for the students from America. It was shocking, disbelief and sadness when I heard about that. The news kept on showing the same news. I don’t remember after that except for how every day more people discovered more and more fatalities, and how many citizens died in the tragedy. I’ve never been to America but I felt sympathy and sadness.”
[interviewed by #Jihong]
"I evacuated the city of Lahore as soon as I could."
I had moved to Lahore, Pakistan four weeks before, teaching in a highschool, when I got an unexpected call from my vice-principal informing me to watch the news because something big had happened. When I saw the news, I remember vividly the plane crashing into the trade center building and it collapsing. I felt sympathy for the people in New York City and prayed for the families there. When the US vowed to get revenge - even though most if not all of the people in Pakistan were against the attack - people started blaming the attack on Muslims and generalizing the people of Pakistan. That's when I started to get scared of what would happen to me and the Pakistani people. I evacuated the city of Lahore as soon as I could, as the planes could be cancelled due to complications. After the attack of 9/11, I questioned the validity of the news that I was watching and stopped watching the news, and instead I now read from many different sources to get valid and reliable information.
[interviewed by #Anya]
"You just saw people jumping out of buildings. It was terrifying."
I was in my final year of university [in Canada] and I was in my living room- I was in a time zone one hour ahead. It was 9 and I was getting ready for a 10 am class. I turned the TV on, and the first tower had already been hit. And then, live- in real time, a lot of us saw the second one hit. Before I even saw it, I thought “is this a movie trailer? This isn't real is it?” and then the second one hit. It was a huge shock. Just two weeks ago, I was in the basement of the world trade center, getting a pizza. What I described - not thinking it was real. I don't think anyone had ever seen anything like that, and country or culture. Obviously we had seen terrible acts before, but I don't think anything like that. It was weird. You didn't have any rational questions. Like I couldn't think straight. The idea - is this real? This is happening now?
And then another plane hit. And sorry to be graphic, but you just saw people jumping out of buildings. It was terrifying. Human beings from all cultures and all over the world, we all try to make sense. When we see something we try to categorize it. How do we take what I know, our knowledge, and make sense of something. I could not, and it was crazy to see. And when the second tower got hit - I vividly remember everything about that moment. This might sound really cheesy, but usually I would try to make sense of things by songwriting. And it was the first time in my life that I picked up my guitar, and played a song, and it was just there. I walked to campus, I was alone in my apartment at the time, my friends were in class or at work, and I went to school - and you reach out to other peoples experiences and of course this was about an hour, I showed up late for my class. And no one knew what to do. Class was canceled. Everyone was in shock. I had just come from New york- that's where I had spent my summer, I had a friend that was stuck on the throgs neck bridge, i believe it connects long island to manhattan. So he sat there, in rush hour, everything had shut down, and watched it happen. My friend at the time- she's american- so i remember connecting with them. The summer camp I was at in New York, one of the parents, one of the kids who had gone to work, died.
I remember there was so much emotion, when people don't know what to do with it, it often turns to anger. And of course, when you've got so much anger- imagine someone punching a wall out of anger. What's the government-military equivalent? What's a society equivalent? It resulted in a lot of islamophobia, a lot of anti muslim rhetoric, a plan to invade iraq- which of course- i was going to say as we now know, but we knew at the time the iraqi government did that, as far as i know not one government did it. There were governments that knew about this, and rumors that certain governments knew about this and supported it- i don't know enough about that. But I think so many people around the world wanted a way to direct their anger. I remember the hate- people on subways, people on the street getting harassed. And of course that's disgusting- but it's still happening. I remember so much anger, and hate- it's hard to sit back and reflect on something that's so terrible and think why would that happen. There's no reason that should happen, and you think about it critically; it's being directed in the wrong places.
The DM team is grateful to the teachers for taking the time to talk to us.
See more stories from #Anya