Subtle and substantial, changes wrought by 9/11 now part of the culture

It’s become almost a cliche to say that everything changed after the terrorist attacks on 9/11/2001.  WHYY’s Elisabeth Perez-Luna reports on some of the changes we might have forgotten about and how the day became a defining moment for an entire generation.
(image credit: JoeyBLS at en.wikipedia)

Ask any baby boomer and they’ll tell you they remember exactly where they were during several tragic events in our recent history: President Kennedy’s assassination, the murder of Martin Luther King Jr.  And 9/11/2001.

“I had just finished a meeting, when my chief of staff came in and asked me to go to his office to see what was going on in NY.”

“My daughter was in New York and she could see the fire. The towers had fallen, and she chose not to look, because she said she was afraid  she couldn’t drive home”.

“I was the morning of September 11 flying into NYC. I landed at 8:30, and as we were driving in , we were looking at the window at The World Trade Center and it had a billowing cloud of smoke.

For a younger generation the memories are different.

“I guess I was really young when it happened, I was ten years old.

Amelia Possanza is a 20 year old senior at Swarthmore College.

“It was probably my second at middle school so it felt very abrupt that I didn’t know what was going on, but I was also suddenly shoved into having to think about national politics and international politics all of a sudden.”

That shoving into national and international politics later translated, into a spike of volunteering.    David Eisner, President of the National Constitution Center, says that involvment faded away among older people.

“There was a younger generation, that spiked continued to be a generation of very civically engaged people whose first sense of their civic identity was formed around the crisis of 9/11. “

The surge in civic responsibility is rooted in the sense of unity and a desire to rebuild a nation in shock. Something pollsters, like Frank Newport, Editor-in-Chief of the Gallup Poll, call “rallying”.

“The President’s job approval rating within a week went up to 90% which was the highest job approval rating in Gallup Poll history, it still is and that was symptomatic of the fact that regardless of one’s political persuasion at that time, Republican, Independent, or Democrat, Americans were uniting behind their leader”.

There was also another sort of rallyng going on: The need to strengthen security measures by any means necessary.  Security and surveillance systems were at first ovehauled and then refined. Part of the counter terrorism tactics, says Steven Frank, Chief Historian at the National Constitution Center, was the approval of controversial laws such as the Patriot Act.

“Our feelings about security and about personal privacy, all that has changed. The kind of national security state that we have developed and come to accept is different from the kinds of ideas and institutions we would have accepted previously. Whether we have struck the right balance only time will tell.”

Portions of the Patriot Act were reauthorized lat year. Most of the changes brought about by the 9/11 attacks have become so integrated in our daily lives that we often forget when they started. Including a new terminology that was quickly incorporated in our vocabulary. New words and commonly used words were redefined–terms like homeland security, TSA, WTC, vigilance, color coded alert system, bin-Laden, al-qaeda,  PTSD, first responders and of course, ground zero.

It has also changed the way business and leadership are taught says Amanda Fefferson.  She designs leadership classes for colleges.  She notes that even today,  a post 9/11 reality is part of every discussion about modern business strategies.

‘Whether it was leadership or finance. Even in strategic planning and scenario planning and what’s the world going to look like in ten years, and it’s just woven into the fiber of our history books in so many different ways.”

So what has changed since 9/11?  Depends on whom you ask.

I’m Elisabeth Perez-Luna for WHYY News.

Produced and edited by Elisabeth Perez Luna

1 Response to Subtle and substantial, changes wrought by 9/11 now part of the culture

  • Hanan Fishman

    One of my closest friends, Bobby McIlvaine, died in the world trade center on 9/11.

    For sure, 9/11 was a day I’ll never forget. It was an unseasonably warm day. At the time, I was living in Center City Philadelphia. My office was (and still is) in Ft. Washington. I had just returned from a business trip in Rochester, NY late the night before and I must admit I wasn’t in the best mood when I came into work the next morning. One of the first things that happened was that a fellow from one of the companies down the hall came into my office and asked me if I had a TV, I told him I didn’t.

    He came back 2 minutes later and ask the same question. I told him I did not, this time slightly more annoyed.

    He came back another 2 minutes later and asked the same question. This time I was really agitated and asked just why he needed a TV so badly. That’s when he told me an airplane had hit the World Trade Center.

    After that, it was chaos. You couldn’t even get on the internet.

    I myself had lived in New York for a couple years and worked in the World Financial Center (located in the same complex as the Twin Towers). When I worked in New York, I walked under the shadow of the Towers every day on my way from subway to my office.

    Immediately upon hearing the news of the disaster, I started going through my mental Rolodex of friends and family in New York. My brother and sister in law. Bobby. Scores of others.

    That day was total chaos. Internet access was spotty. Cellular and phone connectivity were almost nil. As the day progressed, news filtered in about this person or that person being OK.

    But, no one seemed to have heard from Bobby.

    If the truth’s known, I wasn’t really too concerned. Bobby was the best athlete I knew, and even though he worked in the same complex I used to work, I couldn’t have imagined for a single second he could be caught up in this. Of all people, not him.

    But 24 hours went by, and still no word. For sure, he was on one of the ferry’s people boarded to Staten Island I told myself. Knowing Bobby, I just figured he was helping to coordinate the effort and just never bothered to account for himself because he was too busy helping others.

    As the hours and days went on, it became clear that wasn’t the case at all and that all of our worst fears about his fate had been realized. His family finally identified his remains after some time.

    His funeral at Queen of Peace was jam packed.

    While I lost a dear friend that day, and while no life is any more important than any other, the world really lost a special person that day. I think I can say that totally objectively as many who knew him, even far less well than myself, would concur. For me, Bobby wasn’t just my friend, he was my hero, as he was for a lot of others.

    At present, I am leading a drive to honor Bobby’s memory at the new Upper Dublin High School, where we both graduated.

    The memorial will consist of the following:

    1. A fund raising drive whose proceeds will go the Upper Dublin Foundation

    2. Dedication of a plaque in Bobby’s memory

    3. Naming the Scholar Athlete Award at Upper Dublin after Bobby

    4. A school assembly during which Bobby’s memory will be commemorated on the 10 year anniversary of 9/11. This will be held on Friday September 9.

    It is my hope through the memorial we are conducting at Upper Dublin that we can help more people know who Bobby was and understand that 9/11 wasn’t just a tragedy for our country, but for this community.

    Please feel free to email me with any questions about this memorial at or cel 215-275-4781 or visit to learn more.


    Hanan Fishman

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