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9/11: The day that reshaped the American identity

The following opinion piece was written by Global Studies teacher Nick Martino and originally appeared on his blog Defenders of Ma’at.

Why was 9/11 so important in the psyche of Americans, specifically New Yorkers?


  1. We don’t get attacked. We attack others.
  2. We rarely lose.
  3. Wars aren’t fought on our home turf.
  4. We don’t live in fear.


Former Secretary General of the United Nations, Kofi Annan, stated, “Freedom from fear is to sum up the entire dialogue of human rights.”

September 11, 2001 was the first time since 1941 that the majority of mainstream upper middle class Americans had their basic human rights put in check. Innocent lives were lost, and for the first time ever wealthy American citizens were seen running for their lives.

On Dec. 7, 1941, we were attacked on American soil, but a) Hawaiians look different and b) the men and women that died at Pearl Harbor were voluntary members of the United States military. They had made the choice to fight and defend the United States of America against all enemies both foreign and domestic during WWII. They were very different from the businessmen and women working to earn a wage and sustain their families in New York circa 2001.

Some years later after the Vietnam War, American politicians realized that the threat to contain communism was proving costly and dangerous. That drafting young American males to fight in a war that they didn’t understand or agree with would never happen again. Without being able to fill its armed forces with drafted young men, America would need a solid reason for declaring any war that was both moral and socially accepted. They would need a cause for war so important that the American people would enlist voluntarily to fight.

The US response..

After 9/11, the national morale changed. Now that we felt fear, something had to be done. Now that we had lost nearly 4,000 civilians, we had to respond. Suheir Hammad writes in her spoken word poem that she heard a citizen say, “I will feel so much better when the first bombs hit over there” in the days following 9/11 in Brooklyn, NY. It didn’t matter whom or where, just that we punish the perpetrators.

When George W. Bush announced the plan to invade Afghanistan and later Iraq, US citizens understood and accepted. Click here for a timeline of US Invasions post 9/11.

Despite the United Nations disapproval, the US invades Afghanistan (2001). The UN Charter forbids bombing where you cannot tell soldiers from civilians.



US invades Iraq (2003). The United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan told the BBC that the US-led invasion of Iraq was an illegal act that contravened the UN charter.

The reasons for the invasion of Iraq were two-fold. First, that Iraq was developing and hiding Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMDs). Second, in order to maintain the original rationale for the War on Terror of hunting and finding Usama Bin Laden. Saddam Hussein (then leader of Iraq) was a secularist who probably wasn’t in good standing with the radicals that make up Al Qaeda, thus making the chances of the link between Bin Laden and Hussein very slim. United Kingdom’s Prime Minister, Tony Blair, stated, “There is no direct evidence in the public domain linking Osama Bin Laden to the 11 September attacks. At best the evidence is circumstantial.”

Weapons of Mass Destruction and Saddam Hussein seemed like a good place in 2001 and 2004 to start to “hunt down and punish those responsible for these cowardly acts.”

The War on Terror and the future…

The US has waged its War on Terror for 12 years, making it America’s longest running war. Its citizens are finally fed up. However, the gap between Vietnam era anti-war protesters and the current generation couldn’t be more vast. Assassins’ bullets shot through the ideas and iconic leaders of the 60s and have left those strong and willing enough to carry the torch afraid to stand up. With no leaders fuelling the anti-war movement of today, the ’me’ generation finds itself completely diluted in personal technology and blinded by biased media coverage. Americans, by and large, today are complacent, apathetic, and lack the desire to step into the political arena. Unfortunately, they naively think that America will live on this way forever. History has shown us that every powerful empire has fallen, so how will America avoid this fate? It must start with the American people reevaluating their dangerous delusion of America being the greatest country in the world. When we remove our ethnocentrism and get eye level with the rest of the world, we can begin to question whether our international actions are just and if our government has shared with us the full story.

America, then and now…

We used to stand for freedom, justice, and equality. Today’s debate is the same one it always has been: that all men are created equal. ‘Men’ being defined as HUMAN BEINGS, if you are a human being you are equal to every other human being. As a society, it is easy to identify dividing social constructs such as race, ethnicity, religion, and sexual preference. These flawed constructs are irrelevant when you step back and think of us all as humans.

My thoughts…

It is imperative that we leave Afghanistan and Pakistan. Our cultural survival depends on the building of both economic and political bridges to ensure the prolonged freedom of man. If we are ever to be a city upon a hill again, it must start with this.

The American ideals of private property and individual achievement apply to all of the immigrants here. From the first wave that came through Ellis Island to those children of illegal immigrants that were born on US soil yesterday. We must remain true to our ideals despite the roadblocks and obstacles.

Bad things happen and evil exists in the world.

What we good men must do is work to ensure that dignity, opportunity and justice is offered freely to all.

To see the task given to students at THINK Global School on this assignment click here.

To see the work that students created in response to this lesson and their trip to the Ground Zero Museum and our chat with John Busching, NYPD policeman and paramedic, who responded on 9/11/01 click here.

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