September 11 terrorist attacks Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

The September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States immediately disrupted the work of businesses housed in the World Trade Center, as well as the airlines whose planes were used as weapons by the terrorists. In the long term, the attacks marked the beginning of a difficult economic period, and the resulting war did not create an economic boom.

When the first jet airliner smashed into the north tower of the World Trade Center in New York City on the morning of September 11, 2001, many observers assumed they were witnessing a horrible accident. To most Americans, it was simply inconceivable that someone could deliberately fly a plane full of people into an office building to make a political point. However, that innocence was shattered fifteen minutes later when a second airliner crashed into the Trade Center’s south tower. After a few moments of confusion, it was clear that the crashes were the result of deliberate hostile acts. President George W. Bush, who was visiting a grade school in Florida as part of a program to promote educational funding, was informed by an aide that the nation was under attack. Shortly thereafter, he boarded Air Force One and was flown to a secure location.September 11 terrorist attacks

The Federal Aviation Administration immediately ordered a halt to all commercial airline takeoffs, but two other hijacked airliners were already in the air. One, Flight 77, crashed into the Pentagon in Alexandria, Virginia, near the District of Columbia, the central headquarters of the U.S. Department of Defense and thus an actual military target. Although the airplane crash started a ferocious fire, the hardening retrofits that were in progress protected part of the affected structure. On the remaining plane, Flight 93, passengers received reports of the three earlier attacks via cellular telephones and thus realized that simply obeying the hijackers would not get them out alive. As a result, they decided to make a last-ditch attempt to fight the hijackers and regain control of the aircraft. Witnesses on the ground near Shanksville, Pennsylvania, subsequently reported seeing the plane twist and jerk in the air as though people were fighting over its controls, before it finally plowed into an empty field, killing everyone aboard. There was speculation that its target may have been the Capitol or the White House.

Within an hour after the attack, first the south tower and then the north tower of the World Trade Center collapsed, killing almost everyone who remained within. However, during the time the towers continued to stand, many thousands of people were able to escape safely.

The New World of Fear

The World Trade Center towers in New York burn after being hit by passenger jets.

(Courtesy: CNN)

The September 11 attacks altered not only the way people thought about war but also the way people did business. The most immediate and obvious change was inAir transportation industryairline travel. In the first several days after the attack, while all aircraft remained grounded and people scrambled to find ground transportation to their destinations, the Federal Aviation Administration and other government bodies scrambled to determine the failures in security that had allowed so many terrorists to carry out their crimes, and to implement new security measures that would prevent a recurrence of the events. National Guard troops were stationed in airports, although they often were not issued ammunition for their weapons and their presence was primarily psychological.

Not so trivial was the revamping of the procedures for screening passengers and their luggage. Because the terrorists had hijacked the planes using box cutters, a whole list of sharp implements previously considered innocuous, including screwdrivers and nail clippers, became subject to confiscation as potential makeshift weapons. Passengers were also required to prove the harmlessness of various substances they were carrying, generally by using or consuming a small portion of them. However, it was not long before complaints began to surface regarding screeners who were abusing their power. Stories of rude or unreasonable demands and seemingly mean-spirited behavior on the part of screeners began to circulate on the Internet. Many people suspected that some screeners were trying to goad people into an intemperate response that could get them posted to the infamous “no fly” list.

Some businesses had to rebuild after having lost vital personnel and files in the collapse of the Twin Towers. New awareness led to many more companies developing disaster recovery plans that included daily off-site backups of all vital digital data.

The most chilling effect on American business, however, was that of the War on TerrorismWar on Terrorism on the American economy in general. Unlike World War II, which had ended the Depression, the War on Terrorism became a continual drag on an economy already hurting as a result of the bursting of the dot-com bubble.

Further Reading
  • Conley, Richard L., ed. Transforming the American Polity: The Presidency of George W. Bush and the War on Terrorism. Upper Saddle River, N.J.: Pearson/Prentice Hall, 2005. A collection of essays examining President Bush’s response to the September 11 attacks.
  • Dwyer, Jim, and Kevin Flynn. One Hundred Two Minutes: The Untold Story of the Fight to Survive Inside the Twin Towers. New York: Times Books, 2005. Stories of the experiences of individuals who were in the World Trade Center during the attack.
  • Friend, David. Watching the World Change: The Stories Behind the Images of 9/11. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2006. Focuses on the process of the reporter and the historian in turning photographic and videographic evidence into coherent narrative.
  • Murphy, Tom. Reclaiming the Sky: 9/11 and the Untold Story of the Men and Women Who Kept America Flying. New York: AMACOM, 2007. Focus on aviation employees and the struggle to restore safe air travel.
  • Williams, Mary E., ed. The Terrorist Attack on America. San Diego: Thompson-Gale, 2003. A collection of documents examining various aspects of 9/11 from a variety of perspectives.

Bush tax cuts of 2001

Business cycles

Federal Emergency Management Agency

U.S. Department of Homeland Security

Iraq wars

Nuclear power industry

Private security industry

U.S. Secret Service


Categories: History