EDITORIAL: 9/11, 18 years later

The Tribute in Light at the World Trade Center returned for the 18th anniversary of 9/11. (Photo by Milo Hess)

With the marking of the anniversary of 9/11, it’s time to take a look at where we are now and take stock, 18 years after the worst attack ever on American soil — even worse than Pearl Harbor. Eighteen years after the worst terrorist attack in our country’s history.

While not everyone in so-called Generation Z might remember the World Trade Center attack, the rest of us will never forget it: The horrific events, feelings, sights, sounds and smells of that day and its aftermath will stay with us forever. The victims’ family members, of course, feel the pain the most deeply of all.

More than 2,600 people perished in the World Trade Center and surrounding area. Certain firms located in the Twin Towers were completely decimated. Cantor Fitzgerald lost 658 employees; Marsh & McClellan lost 358 workers. The Fire Department lost 343 members who were bravely and selflessly responding to the disaster.

According to a 2018 report by the World Trade Center Health Program, an additional 2,000 deaths of first responders — those who worked on “The Pile” — have since been attributed to 9/11-related illnesses.

Lower Manhattan was plunged into the depths and darkness of despair by this hateful and evil attack by Islamic terrorists. But, with typical New York resiliency and spunk, the area has been miraculously rebuilt and is now once again thriving.

Just as we remember the shock, bewilderment and, yes, fear of 9/11, we also recall how, as a city, we came together in the midst of adversity to emerge even stronger than before.

Major thanks are also due to Congressmember Carolyn Maloney and Jon Stewart for recently pushing through the Never Forget the Heroes: James Zadroga, Ray Pfeifer and Luis Alvarez Permanent Authorization of the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund Act, which will ensure that the attack’s victims, as well as family members of deceased victims, will continue to be compensated.

At the World Trade Center Memorial. (Photo by Milo Hess)

Of course a massive debt of gratitude is owed to law enforcement — at all levels — for having kept us largely safe from terrorist attacks since 9/11.

And yet, we must always remain vigilant. Sadly, there have been a few lone-wolf-style incidents since the W.T.C. attack. On Sept. 17, 2016, a pressure-cooker bomb — loaded with ball bearings and steel nuts and left by a terrorist — detonated on W. 23rd St. between Sixth and Seventh Aves. More than two-dozen people were injured. Thankfully, there were no fatalities.

The terrorist — inspired by ISIS and Al-Qaeda — left a second, similar bomb nearby on W. 27th St., but a local resident reported it, and it was rendered safe and later detonated out of harm’s way.

A far-worse incident, however, occurred on Halloween two years ago, when an ISIS-inspired terrorist drove a rental truck onto the Hudson River bike path at W. Houston and, speeding southward, mowed down eight cyclists and runners, most of them tourists. A combination of large concrete blocks and steel bollards have since been added to the popular bike path to protect it from future attacks.

Over all, though, we know there are people out there who want to hurt us, and are trying their best to do so. Luckily, we have the best law-enforcement in the world on our side, watching our back. Yes, admittedly, we’re in an era when police are under extreme scrutiny for the behavior of a few bad apples — from Daniel Pantaleo, who should have called for backup if he couldn’t handle arresting Eric Garner by using legal techniques, to others around the country documented on video in unjustified shootings.

But most police are just trying to do a good job and, in fact, want to help our communities. And those in law enforcement who are protecting our city from terrorist attacks are doing an amazing job. Again, there is no finer anti-terrorism operation anywhere.

There’s now also, understandably, a lot of discussion about whether “white guys with AR-15s” are the real terrorist threat to our nation, even worse than radical religious terrorists. There’s no question that domestic terrorism has become an epidemic, one enabled by these semiautomatic killing machines. No citizen needs one of these weapons, and more to the point, more stringent background checks are a must to keep them out of the hands of mentally ill and troubled individuals.

Yet, the growing problem of mass shootings doesn’t mean the other problem of religious-based terrorism is going away. It hasn’t, and it probably won’t in our lifetimes. Which is why our anti-terrorism defenses must stay rock solid.

Turning abroad, after 9/11, we waged war in both Afghanistan and Iraq. The attack on the fundamentalist Taliban in Afghanistan, many would say, was warranted, since this was the country that harbored Osama bin Laden, the plot’s mastermind and financer. Our going into Iraq, however, was obviously not justified based on the 9/11 attacks, but was a case of planned regime change. Ultimately, yes, we took out a dangerous and cruel leader who definitely posed a regional threat. But, clearly, a big reason we went into Iraq was simply to get our hands on that oil. Although Saddam was deposed, the region was, in fact, left destabilized, leading to massive displacement and the refugee crisis that we are seeing today.

Meanwhile, more than 4,500 U.S. troops have been killed in Iraq and nearly 2,500 in Afghanistan. Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis are believed to have been killed due to the fighting and the general destruction of their country. And though Saddam was toppled, his generals went on to form ISIS.

In short, while the 18th anniversary of 9/11 was a solemn day of remembrance, there is also a lot to celebrate about how we have bounced back, stronger than ever, as a city. We celebrate the renewal of the Victim Compensation Fund for 9/11 survivors and their families. At the same time, we still need to be on the alert against terrorism and can’t drop our guard: The bad guys are not giving up. And, sadly, there’s no denying that our actions in Iraq sparked an international crisis.

So, we mourn the victims and remember and thank the heroes. We celebrate our recovery and we keep moving forward. We remain vigilant and we vow: Never again.

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