I went outside after shul this morning - I daven in a hashkamah (early) minyan - and I felt transported back to the morning of September 11, 2001. Today was a warm, sunny day with few clouds in the sky, just like it was twenty years ago. Then a little after 9:00 a.m., I felt a sense of sadness overcome me. I realized this was the time the second tower was hit.
What has changed since then is the attitude in the county. Imagine if the attack had occurred today. Many Republicans would accuse Biden of having blood on his hands and demand his resignation. They made that claim regarding the soldiers who died in Afghanistan because of the terrorist attack at the airbase where fewer than 20 people were killed; how much more so if almost 3,000 died? There never would have been a bipartisan independent commission to investigate how 9/11 was able to occur and what needs to be done to make sure that it never happens again. This Congress could not agree for an appointment for a commission on the attack on the Capitol on 1/6. There is no reason to believe that they would agree to a commission for 9/11.
It was different twenty years ago. People like to remember how the country came together and the self-sacrifice of those who died in the line of duty trying to save others. That is important. President Bush understood the importance of bringing the country together. His trip to Ground Zero a few days after the attack was significant in this process. President Biden and past presidents, with one exception, were present at the events today commemorating 9/11. Although Trump did not participate in the official events, he did stop by a firehouse and a police station near his office in Manhattan.
I look back at a tragedy that could have been avoided. The 9/11 Commission report goes through the events in detail. If you have the time, I recommend that you read it. There were signs that were missed. No one connected the dots. Existing safety and security protocols were not followed. There was little if any preparation for this scenario. Even after the planes were hijacked, there was an inadequate response. This continued even after the first plane hit the World Trade Center. The Pentagon was totally unprepared to deal with a plane hitting it, although the North Tower was hit 48 minutes earlier and the South Tower 34 minutes earlier. If it weren’t for the courageous passengers on Flight 93, the fourth plane would have hit the Capitol. The passengers on that flight were able to find out about the attacks because back then, you were allowed to use cell phones on an airplane. The irony is that now it is prohibited to use a phone.
To my knowledge, there were no repercussions for the many failures that were described in the 9/11 Commission Report. No one lost their job or otherwise suffered any adverse employment consequences. This stands in contrast to the most famous prior debacle: the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941.
This year, 9/11 also had an added significance since it fell on Shabbos Shuvah. It is a reminder of the frailty of man. Most people who died were at work. Who could have contemplated in their worst nightmares that something like this would happen? The attack also showed us that we are not invincible. A small group of individuals with a low-tech operation were able to cause death and destruction in the heart of America. The United States prides itself as being the strongest country in the world. These guys were able to easily penetrate that fortress.
9/11 is a reminder that anything can happen, and we cannot take anything for granted. We need to change for the better, starting today. The excuse that there is no rush since we can start tomorrow was shown to be a fallacy on 9/11. For the 2,977 who died in the 9/11 attacks, tomorrow never came.
May you all be inscribed in the Book of Life.