TEACHERS: Your students are too young to have lived through the 9/11 attack, but that doesn’t mean it hasn’t impacted their lives. The Perspectives Youth Media Challenge offers them a chance to tell their stories. Maybe they have a parent, older sibling or cousin who served in Afghanistan. Maybe they have seen anti-Muslim sentiment in their own communities. Invite them to share how 9/11 has affected their lives with the Perspectives Challenge. (Preview the curriculum here.)
Updated Sept. 9, 2023
Twenty-two years ago, 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. ‘Forever 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 just ended calamitously in August, with the Taliban reclaiming control of the country — was the longest war in American history.
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 the U.S. soon after resumed intermittent air strikes following the emergence of the Islamic State extremist group, which sprouted from the chaos of war and terrorized the region.
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 — he failed to completely shut it down. Former President Donald Trump was intent on keeping it open, and even sought, unsuccessfully, to refill it. Today, Guantanamo has fewer than 40 prisoners, but still remains operational.
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.
Over the last 20 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.
Since the start of post-9/11 U.S. military operations, some 7,000 American troops have been killed in Afghanistan and Iraq, according to the latest figures from the U.S. Department of Defense. That marks just a tiny fraction of total casualties in the two conflicts, which have claimed the lives of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi and Afghan civilians, as well as contractors, journalists, allied troops and opposition fighters.
Meanwhile, more than 52,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan and Iraq have been wounded in action over the last 20 years. And many more have returned home physically intact but suffering from severe long-term mental health issues, like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression and psychological ailments linked to traumatic brain injury (TBI). Thousands of veterans of the two conflicts have taken their own lives.
California is second only to Texas in its contribution of recruits to the U.S. military.
As of this year, 776 men and women from across the state have been killed in Iraq and Afghanistan since 2001, accounting for 11% of total U.S. casualties — more than any other state — according to an LA Times database.
As the Times reports, “Nearly 20% of California’s war dead were old enough to die for their country but too young to buy a drink. They left behind 453 children.”
Four of the 13 U.S. troops killed In the Aug. 26 suicide bombing at the Kabul airport gate were Marines from California. Occurring just days before the official end of U.S. military operations in Afghanistan, the attack also killed dozens of Afghan civilians — one of the deadliest bombings in the almost two decades since the U.S.-led invasion.
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.