Saturday September 11, 2021’s Smile of the Day: Not a Smile at All: The 9/11 Attacks
On this Day:
In 2001, two passenger planes hijacked by Al Qaeda terrorists crash into New York’s World Trade Towers causing the collapse of both and deaths of 2,606 people.
The September 11 attacks, often referred to as 9/11, were a series of four coordinated terrorist attacks by the militant Islamist terrorist group al-Qaeda against the United States of America on the morning of Tuesday, September 11, 2001.
On that morning, four commercial airliners traveling from the northeastern United States to California were hijacked mid-flight by 19 al-Qaeda terrorists. The hijackers were organized into three groups of five hijackers and one group of four. Each group had one hijacker who had received flight training and took over control of the aircraft. Their explicit goal was to crash each plane into a prominent American building, causing mass casualties and partial or complete destruction of the targeted buildings.
The first plane to hit its target was American Airlines Flight 11. It was flown into the North Tower of the World Trade Center complex in Lower Manhattan at 8:46 am. Seventeen minutes later at 9:03 am, the World Trade Center’s South Tower was hit by United Airlines Flight 175. Both 110-story towers collapsed within an hour and forty-two minutes, leading to the collapse of the other World Trade Center structures including 7 World Trade Center, and significantly damaging surrounding buildings.
A third flight, American Airlines Flight 77, flown from Dulles International Airport, was hijacked over Ohio. At 9:37 am, it crashed into the west side of the Pentagon (the headquarters of the American military) in Arlington County, Virginia, causing a partial collapse of the building’s side. The fourth, and final flight, United Airlines Flight 93, was flown in the direction of Washington, D.C. This flight was the only plane not to hit its intended target, instead crashing in a field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania at 10:03 am. The plane’s passengers attempted to regain control of the aircraft away from the hijackers and ultimately diverted the flight from its intended target. Investigators determined that Flight 93’s target was either the White House or the U.S. Capitol.
In the immediate aftermath of the attacks, suspicion quickly fell onto al-Qaeda. The United States formally responded by launching the War on Terror and invading Afghanistan to depose the Taliban, which had not complied with U.S. demands to expel al-Qaeda from Afghanistan and extradite al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. Although bin Laden initially denied any involvement, in 2004 he formally claimed responsibility for the attacks. Al-Qaeda and bin Laden cited U.S. support of Israel, the presence of U.S. troops in Saudi Arabia, and sanctions against Iraq as motives. After evading capture for almost a decade, bin Laden was located in a hideout in Abbottabad, Pakistan and subsequently killed during Operation Neptune Spear.
The destruction of the World Trade Center and nearby infrastructure seriously harmed the economy of New York City and created a global economic recession. Many countries strengthened their anti-terrorism legislation and expanded the powers of law enforcement and intelligence agencies to prevent terrorist attacks. The U.S. and Canadian civilian airspaces were closed until September 13, while Wall Street trading was closed until September 17. Many closings, evacuations, and cancellations followed, out of respect or fear of further attacks. Cleanup of the World Trade Center site was completed in May 2002, and the Pentagon was repaired within a year. The construction of the World Trade Center complex’s replacement began in November 2006, and the building opened in November 2014.
The attacks resulted in 2,977 fatalities, over 25,000 injuries, and substantial long-term health consequences, in addition to at least $10 billion in infrastructure and property damage. It remains the deadliest terrorist attack in human history and the single deadliest incident for firefighters and law enforcement officers in the history of the United States, with 340 and 72 killed, respectively. Numerous memorials have been constructed, including the National September 11 Memorial & Museum in New York City, the Pentagon Memorial in Arlington County, Virginia, and the Flight 93 National Memorial at the Pennsylvania crash site.
The origins of al-Qaeda can be traced to 1979 when the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan. Osama bin Laden travelled to Afghanistan and helped to organize Arab mujahideen to resist the Soviets. Under the guidance of Ayman al-Zawahiri, bin Laden became more radical. In 1996, bin Laden issued his first fatwā, calling for American soldiers to leave Saudi Arabia.
In a second fatwā in 1998, bin Laden outlined his objections to American foreign policy with respect to Israel, as well as the continued presence of American troops in Saudi Arabia after the Gulf War. Bin Laden used Islamic texts to exhort Muslims to attack Americans until the stated grievances were reversed. Muslim legal scholars “have throughout Islamic history unanimously agreed that the jihad is an individual duty if the enemy destroys the Muslim countries”, according to bin Laden.
Bin Laden orchestrated the attacks. He initially denied involvement, but later recanted his false statements. Al Jazeera broadcast a statement by him on September 16, 2001: “I stress that I have not carried out this act, which appears to have been carried out by individuals with their own motivation.” In November 2001, U.S. forces recovered a videotape from a destroyed house in Jalalabad, Afghanistan. In the video, bin Laden is seen talking to Khaled al-Harbi and admits foreknowledge of the attacks. On December 27, 2001, a second bin Laden video was released. In the video, he said:
It has become clear that the West in general and America in particular have an unspeakable hatred for Islam. … It is the hatred of crusaders. Terrorism against America deserves to be praised because it was a response to injustice, aimed at forcing America to stop its support for Israel, which kills our people. … We say that the end of the United States is imminent, whether Bin Laden or his followers are alive or dead, for the awakening of the Muslim ummah [sic] (nation) has occurred. … It is important to hit the economy (of the United States), which is the base of its military power…If the economy is hit they will become reoccupied.— Osama bin Laden
but he stopped short of admitting responsibility for the attacks.
Shortly before the U.S. presidential election in 2004, bin Laden used a taped statement to publicly acknowledge al-Qaeda’s involvement in the attacks on the United States. He admitted his direct link to the attacks and said they were carried out because …
we are free … and want to regain freedom for our nation. As you undermine our security, we undermine yours.
Bin Laden said he had personally directed his followers to attack the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Another video obtained by Al Jazeera in September 2006 shows bin Laden with Ramzi bin al-Shibh, as well as two hijackers, Hamza al-Ghamdi and Wail al-Shehri, as they make preparations for the attacks. The U.S. never formally indicted bin Laden for the 9/11 attacks, but he was on the FBI’s Most Wanted List for the bombings of the U.S. Embassies in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, and Nairobi, Kenya. After a 10-year manhunt, U.S. President Barack Obama announced that bin Laden was killed by American special forces in his compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, on May 1, 2011.
At 8:46 a.m., five hijackers crashed American Airlines Flight 11 into the northern facade of the World Trade Center’s North Tower (1 WTC). At 9:03 a.m., another five hijackers crashed United Airlines Flight 175 into the South Tower’s southern facade (2 WTC). Five hijackers flew American Airlines Flight 77 into the Pentagon at 9:37 a.m. A fourth flight, United Airlines Flight 93, crashed near Shanksville, Pennsylvania, southeast of Pittsburgh, at 10:03 a.m. after passengers fought the four hijackers. Flight 93’s target is believed to have been either the Capitol or the White House. Flight 93’s cockpit voice recorder revealed crew and passengers tried to seize control of the plane from the hijackers after learning through phone calls that Flights 11, 77, and 175 had been crashed into buildings that morning. Once it became evident that the passengers might gain control, the hijackers rolled the plane and intentionally crashed it.
Some passengers and crew members who called from the aircraft using the cabin air phone service and mobile phones provided details: several hijackers were aboard each plane; they used mace, tear gas, or pepper spray to overcome attendants; and some people aboard had been stabbed. Reports indicated hijackers stabbed and killed pilots, flight attendants, and one or more passengers. According to the 9/11 Commission’s final report, the hijackers had recently purchased multi-function hand tools and assorted Leatherman-type utility knives with locking blades (which were not forbidden to passengers at the time), but were not found among the possessions left behind by the hijackers. A flight attendant on Flight 11, a passenger on Flight 175, and passengers on Flight 93 said the hijackers had bombs, but one of the passengers said he thought the bombs were fake. The FBI found no traces of explosives at the crash sites, and the 9/11 Commission concluded that the bombs were probably fake.
Three buildings in the World Trade Center collapsed due to fire-induced structural failure. The South Tower collapsed at 9:59 a.m. having burned for 56 minutes in a fire caused by the impact of United Airlines Flight 175 and the explosion of its fuel. The North Tower collapsed at 10:28 a.m. after burning for 102 minutes. When the North Tower collapsed, debris fell on the nearby 7 World Trade Center building (7 WTC), damaging the building and starting fires. These fires burned for hours, compromising the building’s structural integrity, and 7 WTC collapsed at 5:21 p.m. The west side of the Pentagon sustained significant damage.
At 9:42 a.m., the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) grounded all civilian aircraft within the continental U.S., and civilian aircraft already in flight were told to land immediately. All international civilian aircraft were either turned back or redirected to airports in Canada or Mexico, and were banned from landing on United States territory for three days. The attacks created widespread confusion among news organizations and air traffic controllers. Among the unconfirmed and often contradictory news reports aired throughout the day, one of the most prevalent said a car bomb had been detonated at the U.S. State Department’s headquarters in Washington, D.C. Another jet (Delta Air Lines Flight 1989) was suspected of having been hijacked, but the aircraft responded to controllers and landed safely in Cleveland, Ohio.
In an April 2002 interview, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and Ramzi bin al-Shibh, who are believed to have organized the attacks, said Flight 93’s intended target was the United States Capitol, not the White House. During the planning stage of the attacks, Mohamed Atta (Flight 11’s hijacker and pilot) thought the White House might be too tough a target and sought an assessment from Hani Hanjour (who hijacked and piloted Flight 77). Mohammed said al-Qaeda initially planned to target nuclear installations rather than the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, but decided against it, fearing things could “get out of control”. Final decisions on targets, according to Mohammed, were left in the hands of the pilots. If any pilot could not reach his intended target, he was to crash the plane (per Wikipedia).
First, a Story:
We don’t ever make fun of 9/11. It’s just plane wrong…
Second, a Song:
Come from Away is a Canadian musical with book, music and lyrics by Irene Sankoff and David Hein. It is set in the week following the September 11 attacks and tells the true story of what transpired when 38 planes were ordered to land unexpectedly in the small town of Gander in the province of Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada as part of Operation Yellow Ribbon. The characters in the musical are based on (and in most cases share the names of) real Gander residents as well as some of the 7,000 stranded travelers they housed and fed.
The musical has been received by audiences and critics as a cathartic reminder of the capacity for human kindness in even the darkest of times and the triumph of humanity over hate.
After being workshopped in 2012 and first produced at Sheridan College in Oakville, Ontario, in 2013, it went on to have record-breaking runs at the La Jolla Playhouse in San Diego, California, and the Seattle Repertory Theatre in 2015, at the Ford’s Theatre in Washington, D.C., and the Royal Alexandra Theatre in Toronto in 2016. It opened on Broadway at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre on March 12, 2017, and became a critical and box office success, routinely playing to standing-room-only audiences even during previews. In October 2018 it became the longest-running Canadian musical in Broadway history, surpassing The Drowsy Chaperone’s previous record of 674 performances. A live recording of the production will be released on September 10, 2021, on the eve of the 20th anniversary of the attacks.
The musical premiered at The Abbey Theatre in Dublin, Ireland, in December 2018 and then transferred to the Phoenix Theatre in the West End in February 2019.
At the 71st Tony Awards in 2017, the musical was nominated for seven awards including Best Musical, Best Original Score, Best Book of a Musical and Best Featured Actress in a Musical for Jenn Colella, winning for Best Direction of a Musical for Christopher Ashley (per Wikipedia).
On the morning of September 11, 2001, the townsfolk of Gander (including Claude the mayor, Oz the police constable, Beulah the teacher, Bonnie the SPCA worker and others) describe life in Newfoundland and how they learn of the terrorist attacks taking place in New York City, Washington, D.C., and Shanksville, Pennsylvania (“Welcome to the Rock”).
The attacks result in US airspace being closed, forcing 38 international aircraft to be diverted and land unexpectedly at the Gander airport, doubling the population of the small Newfoundland town, which is unequipped for the influx of stranded travelers (“38 Planes”). The Gander townspeople spring to action and prepare to house, feed, clothe, and comfort the nearly 7,000 passengers (along with 19 animals in cargo) (“Blankets and Bedding”). Meanwhile, the pilots, flight attendants and passengers are initially not permitted to leave the planes, forcing them to deal with confusing and conflicting information about what has happened and why they were suddenly grounded (“28 Hours / Wherever We Are”).
Once allowed off the planes and transferred to various emergency shelters in and around Gander (“Darkness and Trees”), the passengers and crew watch replays of the attacks on the news and learn the true reason why they were grounded (“Lead Us Out of the Night”). The frightened and lonely passengers desperately try to contact their families and pray for their loved ones, while the townsfolk work through the night to help them in any and every way they can (“Phoning Home / Costume Party”). The travelers are initially taken aback by their hosts’ uncommon hospitality, but they slowly let their guards down and begin to bond with the quirky townsfolk and each other. The “islanders” in Gander and the surrounding towns open up their homes to the “plane people”, regardless of their guests’ race, nationality or sexual orientation. Two women, Beulah (from Gander) and Hannah (from New York), bond over the fact that both of their sons are firefighters, but Hannah’s son is missing (“I Am Here”). Hannah asks Beulah to take her to a Catholic church, and a number of characters make their way to other houses of worship around town (“Prayer”).
To alleviate rising fear and mounting tensions (“On The Edge”), the passengers are invited to be initiated as honorary Newfoundlanders at the local bar (“Heave Away / Screech In”). The gravity of the attacks nevertheless continues to set in as US airspace is eventually reopened. One trailblazing pilot, Beverley Bass, comments on how her once optimistic view of the world has suddenly changed (“Me and the Sky”). While one pair of passengers starts to develop a romance despite the terrible thing that brought them together (“Stop the World”), another pair sees their long-term relationship fall apart under the stress of the event.
As the passengers and crew fly away to their homes, they joyously exchange stories of the immense kindness and generosity that was shown to them by the Newfoundland strangers in their time of need (“Somewhere in the Middle of Nowhere”), but not before a Muslim traveler, faced with increasing prejudice from his fellow passengers, undergoes a humiliating strip search prior to boarding. The townsfolk in Gander return to normal life, but comment on how empty their town now seems and how different the world now feels. The passengers and airline staff who return to the United States are faced with the horror of the attacks’ aftermath—including Hannah, who learns that her firefighter son lost his life during the rescue efforts (“Something’s Missing”).
Ten years later, the crew and passengers (the “come from away”) of the once stranded planes reunite in Gander, this time by choice, to celebrate the lifelong friendships and strong connections they formed in spite of the terrorist attacks (“Finale”). As Claude the mayor professes, “Tonight we honour what was lost, but we also commemorate what we found.” (per Wikipedia).
During The Tony Awards, the cast of “Come From Away” performed “Welcome to the Rock.”
It only won one out of its seven Tony nominations, including a nomination for Best Musical, for Best Direction of a Musical for its director, Christopher Ashley.
“Come From Away” star Jenn Colella lost the best featured actress in a musical Tony to Rachel Bay Jones of “Dear Evan Hansen.”
The show also lost out on the best lighting design of a musical award to Bradley King of “Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812.”
“Come From Away” is set in Gander in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks.
The remote East Coast town saw its population double in size as it sheltered 6,579 passengers and crew from planes diverted when U.S. air space was closed.
Directed by Christopher Ashley, the show includes a book, music and lyrics by Irene Sankoff and David Hein (per YouTube.com).
Here is “Welcome to the Rock” from “Come From Away” performed at The Tony Awards. I hope you enjoy this!
Thought for the Day:
“On this day… 19 years (September 10th) ago, 246 people went to sleep in preparation for their morning flights. 2,606 people went to sleep in preparation for work in the morning. 343 firefighters went to sleep in preparation for their morning shift. 60 police officers went to sleep in preparation for morning patrol. 8 paramedics went to sleep in preparation for the morning shift. None of them saw past 10:00 am Sept 11, 2001. In one single moment life may never be the same. As you live and enjoy the breaths you take today and tonight before you go to sleep in preparation for your life tomorrow, kiss the ones you love, snuggle a little tighter, and never take one second of your life for granted.”—Unknown
Have a great day!
Dave & Colleen
© 2021 David J. Bilinsky and Colleen E. Bilinsky