National unity after 9/11 absent two decades later


US National Park Service (Wikimedia Commons)

Militants associated with the Islamist extremist group, al Qaeda, target parts of the United States by hijacking four airplanes and conducting suicide attacks.

Shalin Bhatia

On Sept. 11, 2001, militants associated with the Islamist extremist group, al Qaeda, targeted parts of the United States by hijacking four airplanes and conducting suicide attacks, killing almost 3,000 people. The horrific acts of terrorism sent chills down the spines of citizens across the country, but the outcome brought the United States together in spectacular ways.

Saturday, Sept. 11, 2021, marked the 20th anniversary of the attacks. We, as a nation, have brought our country out of peril and into an era of safety since the attacks. However, a lot remains to be done for our nation to succeed in the future, including regaining national unity that was diminished during the Covid-19 pandemic and 2020 elections.

In response to the events of 9/11, the United States established a Department of Homeland Security. It was created to protect the nation from future terrorist attacks. The department bound domestic intelligence and law enforcement entities, which transformed global security and bolstered the country’s counterterrorism capabilities to disrupt threats against the U.S. homeland. This department brought Americans together under a blanket of safety, which not only united Americans but also potentially saved many more American lives from the hands of terrorists. This department must continue to be widespread and strong so that our country does not lose more precious lives.

Not only did security measures get implemented in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, but we as a nation also carried out the War in Afghanistan to dismantle al-Qaeda. As a result of the invasion, the Taliban government, which had been leading Afghanistan since 1996, lost control of the country. The war led Americans to come together and unite in the short term under a common cause of ending major acts of terrorism on American home soil, just like the goal of the Department of Homeland Security. Within about a year of the attacks, the U.S. bound domestic security with international stability, and this led to a collective sense of togetherness for Americans. However, the great national unity that followed the attacks was short-lived.

We are now a far more divided and nervous country rather than the confident aura we had following the attacks. This can be attributed to the fact that social media has taken over our country and is now widespread. In other words, after the terrorist attacks, a togetherness narrative swept over the country in the media. But now, because of the rise of social media and the subsequent rise of misinformation on the web, we stand divided concerning scientific facts and collective knowledge. This division can be seen in the lens of the Covid-19 pandemic and the rapid spread of misinformation.

Furthermore, the loss of national unity stems from misinformation on the web as well as the 2020 elections, which intensified polarization between Republicans and Democrats. Regaining this unity may be great for the citizens and overall camaraderie of our country, but for our country to succeed, more structural changes must take place as they did after 9/11. After 9/11, the government recognized areas of our nation that needed improvement, such as security, and the government improved these areas to the highest extent they could through the creation of government agencies. Changes like these need to take place now so that we do not live in a world where Covid-19 is still impacting our nation, where African Americans are incarcerated at more than five times the rate of white Americans, and where 10.5 percent of our population, 34 million people, live in poverty, as of 2019.

9/11 ignited a sense of national unity within our country through accomplishments and increased confidence throughout the War in Afghanistan. However, there remains so much that must be accomplished for our country to properly live in harmony. We might not ever be perfect, but we can work hard to improve and make ourselves better. Similar to the effect of 9/11, on the 20th anniversary of 9/11, we as a nation must come together and make changes to our country so that we live in a better place with harmonious national unity.