September 11th & the War on Terror

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  • 0:01 A Day of Infamy
  • 0:40 Background
  • 3:19 September 11, 2001
  • 5:53 Consequences
  • 7:23 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Daniel Vermilya
September 11, 2001 was a day of terrorist attacks by radical Islamists against the United States. In New York, Virginia, and Pennsylvania, nearly 3,000 people were killed. As a result, the United States launched a War on Terror that has lasted over a decade since.

A Day of Infamy

There are certain dates in American history that linger through the years. July 4, 1776; November 11, 1918; and December 7, 1941, are just a few examples. In recent history, the date of September 11, 2001, has certainly been added to the list. Most Americans who are old enough to remember have crystal-clear memories of that fateful day. The terrorist attacks in New York, Washington D.C., and Pennsylvania on September 11, 2001, forever changed the United States of America. Let's take a moment to learn about this tragic and history-defining event.


Wars and hatred have been around in the Middle East for centuries. Much of this is fueled by religious conflict between Islamic groups and nation states. Countries such as Iran, Iraq, Syria, and Afghanistan have seen a series of changes in power and purpose through the years. In the latter of these countries, Afghanistan, those changes were to have a large impact on the growth of terrorism in the region. In the 1980s, Soviet forces saw Afghanistan as a new addition to the Soviet empire, and ground troops were sent into the nation in an invasion force. This spurred a strong military response from various groups of Muslim fighters, known together as the Mujahideen. This force was partially funded and supported by the United States government.

When the Soviets were repulsed from Afghanistan, the Mujahideen fighters became radicalized. Osama bin Laden was an Islamic leader responsible for turning many anti-Soviet fighters into terrorists willing to kill innocents as a part of a holy war, or jihad, against the West. In the 1990s, bin Laden issued fatwas, or Islamic declarations, calling for all American troops to leave Saudi Arabia and the Middle East region. His declarations were strongly critical of the United States and its role and presence in the Middle East following the Gulf War of 1990 and 1991.

Bin Laden criticized U.S. policy supporting Israel, U.S. sanctions on Iraq following the Gulf War, and a number of other issues relating to the U.S. and the Middle East. In 2000, the terrorist group Al Qaeda, led by bin Laden, attacked the USS Cole, then stationed in Yemen. Seventeen American sailors were killed.

Bin Laden and his terrorist organization continued planning and preparing for a much larger strike against the United States. Their goal was to cripple American economic, military, and political power. Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was the man responsible for designing this larger strike, the planning for which began in 1996. Small groups of Al Qaeda terrorists made their way into the United States, and several began to take flying lessons in preparation for the attack. By mid-summer 2001, there were 19 Al Qaeda terrorists on U.S. soil, and the final targets were selected. Terrorists would strike the World Trade Center towers in New York City, the Pentagon just outside Washington D.C., and a third major target, which captured terrorists later said was the U.S. Capitol building.

September 11, 2001

On the morning of September 11, 2001, terrorists boarded four separate flights taking off from major airports on the Eastern seaboard. The terrorists chose flights that were going across the country because the planes would have a heavier fuel load and thus would be more destructive upon impact. The plan was to use the planes, with innocent civilians inside, as directed missiles to strike their targets on suicide missions.

Out of Boston, American Airlines Flight 11 took off at 7:59 a.m. with a total of 87 crew and passengers, as well as 5 hijackers. The plane was taken over shortly after taking off, and it was crashed into the North Tower of the World Trade Center at 8:46 a.m. This was the first plane to strike. Roughly 20 minutes later, United Airlines Flight 175, also originating from Boston, struck the South Tower of the Trade Center. This flight had 60 passengers and crew on board, as well as 5 terrorists. The explosions in New York rocked the Trade Center towers, and within 2 hours, both towers had collapsed and over 2,000 people had been killed.

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