generic opinion

TRAGEDY JOLTS NATION. Hijackers Devastate N.Y., D.C. Terrorism Horrifies Students. 

These three headlines ran on the front page of the Sept. 12, 2001, issue of The Alligator. Today, on the 17th anniversary of that issue, we’re taking a look back to remember 9/11, the lives that were lost and the fallout from that infamous day.

The terrorist attacks that brought down the World Trade Center in New York City are probably foggy memories for most undergraduates at UF who have followed the conventional college timeline. Seniors this year, even as the oldest of undergraduates, were only about 5 years old when the attacks occurred. What we know about that day likely comes from events and emotions recounted, but barely from our own memories of seeing it unfold live on television. Our parents and loved ones have told us stories about that day — where they were when they heard the news, what they saw when they turned on the television or how scared the nation was as it feared subsequent attacks. Crowds of people standing silently, their attention fixed on live coverage as the second plane collided with the South Tower, exploding just 17 minutes after the first. Those who jumped from the upper stories. The towers collapsing. The heroism of the first responders who rushed into the burning buildings. Some ran in but never walked back out. Those who braved toxic smoke and ash to clear debris and recover remains. Words fail to capture that experience, so we must settle for the accounts of others who lived it.

Still, for other students and faculty, 9/11 is all too vivid of a personal, permanent memory.

We remember 9/11, not only to honor and respect those who were lost, but to learn from a tragedy that did irreparable harm to our country’s psyche. Sept. 11 changed our country’s course forever. Although the attacks are 17 years old as of Tuesday, the dust has not settled. The wars are not over.

The editorial that ran in the Sept. 12, 2001, issue of The Alligator addressed the attack. It urged the government “to find out where it came from and react with swift justice.” It was prophetic. The U.S. began airstrikes in Afghanistan in October of 2001. The war escalated. A second war started. The U.S. invaded Iraq as the dark and unknown threat of terrorism still lurked in the minds of many Americans. The war in Iraq formally ended, but the war in Afghanistan still lingers, turning 17 this year, too. We still do not have the final tally of how much the wars have cost in blood and sacrifice. On Sept. 11, 2,996 died in the attacks. In the invasion and occupation of Afghanistan, 2,372 U.S. military personnel have died so far. In the Iraq War, nearly 5,000 U.S. military personnel died. Still more are dying in the continuation of that war, now waged against the Islamic State.

We remember these wars much more clearly than the terror of 9/11.

The precise death toll of civilians as a result of the wars is almost impossible to calculate, but estimates range as high as 210,000. Our Sept. 12, 2001 editorial called for justice, but what the U.S. found was vengeance, and we paid a high price for it.

Today we are in remembrance of those we lost on Sept. 11, even though we may not have a clear memory of the day. We thank our Americans in uniform who enlisted in the military and those who signed up to make the world a safer place. In the decades to come, we hope that those memories teach us to practice restraint especially when outrage and war seem most appropriate.