Updated Sept. 11, 2020
Before September 11, 2001, the United States wasn't officially engaged in any wars. Few of us had ever heard of al-Qaeda or Osama bin Laden, and ISIS didn't even exist.
We deported half the number of people we do today. Our surveillance state was a fraction of its current size. And — perhaps hardest to believe — we didn't have to take off our shoes to go through airport security.
America’s involvement in the War on Terror — prompted by the 9/11 terrorist attacks — resulted in a dramatic change in our nation's attitudes and concerns about safety, vigilance and privacy.
It ushered in a new generation of policies like the USA Patriot Act, prioritizing national security and defense, often at the expense of civil liberties.
These changes continue to have ripple effects across the globe, particularly in the Middle East, where American-led military operations helped foment rebellions and ongoing warfare throughout the region.
Below are four of the many dramatic impacts — nationwide and in California — resulting from the events of that one tragic day.
I. Ongoing Wars
Less than a month after 9/11, U.S. troops invaded Afghanistan in an attempt to dismantle al-Qaeda — the terrorist group that claimed responsibility for the attacks — and remove the Taliban government harboring it. Two years later, in March 2003, the United States invaded Iraq and deposed President Saddam Hussein. Although not directly linked to the terrorist attacks, Hussein was suspected of producing weapons of mass destruction (none were ever found). The invasion was a key part of America's newly launched War on Terror, under the leadership of President George W. Bush.
Our military involvement in Afghanistan, which continues today, has turned into the longest-running war in U.S. history. And although formal U.S. combat operations ended in late 2014, more than 8,000 U.S. troops are still there to stem the ongoing Taliban insurgency. In August 2017, President Trump announced his intention to boost troop levels in the region in response to deteriorating security conditions.
In December 2011, remaining U.S. troops were pulled out of Iraq, leaving that nation in a far more volatile state than when military operations first began in 2003. But as the Islamic State extremist — which sprouted from the chaos of war — continues to terrorize the region, the U.S. has resumed intermittent air strikes.
In 2002, the Bush Administration also opened the Guantanamo Bay detention center in Cuba, where it began sending suspected enemy combatants. Held indefinitely, prisoners were denied access to trials or legal representation, and were subject to brutal interrogation techniques. There were more than 650 foreign inmates at the facility by 2003.
Critics have long pushed to shut down the Guantanamo facility, calling it a gross violation of basic human rights and a stain on America's image abroad. And although early in his first term, Obama vowed to close it — and significantly reduced the population (there are only 41 inmates remaining) — he failed to completely shut it down. Guantanamo still remains operational and President Trump has vowed to begin refilling it with foreign-born prisoners.
After 9/11, budgets for defense-related agencies skyrocketed: Homeland Security's discretionary budget jumped from about $16 billion in 2002 to more than $43 billion in 2011. Meanwhile, the budgets of the Coast Guard, Transportation Security Administration and Border Patrol have all more than doubled since 2001.
In the last 15 years, millions of young U.S. soldiers have been deployed overseas, thousands have been killed and many have returned home with debilitating physical and mental injuries.
According to U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, roughly 3.1 million Americans entered military service between 2001 and 2011, and nearly 2 million were deployed to Afghanistan or Iraq. In that time, more than 6,000 American troops have been killed, and roughly 44,000 wounded. Of returning service members, more than 18 percent have post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or depression, and almost 20 percent reported suffering from the effects of traumatic brain injury (TBI).
California is second only to Texas in its contribution of recruits to the U.S. military. As of 2009, the U.S. Census reported roughly 118,000 active California service members. Multiply that by the number of families and friends those soldiers left at home, and the statewide impact becomes more clear.
The LA Times reports that as of August 25, 2014, 749 California service members from every corner of the state had been killed in Iraq and Afghanistan.
II. Immigration and Deportation
The Bush Administration created the Department of Homeland Security in 2002, a cabinet-level office that merged 22 government agencies. The Immigration and Naturalization Service and the U.S. Customs Service -- both formerly part of the Department of Justice -- were consolidated into the newly formed U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). The agency has overseen a massive increase in deportations; they have nearly doubled since 9/11.
According to the Department of Homeland Security’s Yearbook of Immigration Statistics, there were roughly 200,000 annual deportations a year between 1999 and 2001. While that number dropped slightly in 2002, it began to steadily climb the following year. In the first two years of the Obama Administration (2009 - 2010), deportations hit a record high: nearly 400,000 annually. About half of those deported during that period were convicted of a criminal offense, although mostly low-level, non-violent crimes.