Everybody knows what happened on 9/11, right?
The truth is most of my peers—I was born after 2001—don't. They almost certainly don't know why it happened. Most probably don't even know who did it. Such things aren't taught in schools now. So here's what took place on that fateful Tuesday, what the United States of America did about it, and why it's one of the most important days in American history.
September 11, 2001 began as a beautiful morning on the East Coast. America was at peace—not embroiled in any foreign war. Passengers boarded their early flights, headed to business meetings or to visit relatives across the country.
Tragically, they were not the only ones who boarded planes that morning. Nineteen Islamic terrorists, organized by the terrorist group that calls itself al-Qaeda, directed by its leader, Osama bin Laden, and drawn from four Arab countries, also boarded planes that morning.
All of the planes—the terrorists were split among 4 of them—were cross-country flights, so their tanks were filled to capacity with jet fuel. Within an hour after takeoff, these 19 terrorists would hijack the planes, brutally murder defenseless stewardesses and pilots, and kill 3,000 innocent people.
At 8:46 a.m., a hijacked American Airlines flight leaving Boston crashed into the North Tower of the World Trade Center, the international symbol of America's economic power. Seventeen minutes later, a second hijacked plane, also departing from Boston, crashed into the World Trade Center's South Tower. The two planes, spewing their jet fuel, ignited fires that burned hot enough to compromise the buildings' structural integrity.
Hundreds of New York firefighters and police officers raced up the towers to rescue the victims. Quite suddenly, the buildings collapsed, killing 343 firefighters, 60 police officers, and thousands of trapped office workers.
A third hijacked plane, leaving Washington's Dulles Airport, crashed into the Pentagon, the headquarters of the U.S. military; 125 Pentagon workers were killed.
The passengers of a fourth hijacked plane—this one leaving Newark International Airport shortly after the others—had just enough time to learn, via their cell phones, of the other attacks.
Those onboard decided that the nightmare would stop with them. Unarmed, with no hope of survival, they fought the terrorists, crashing the plane in an empty field in Pennsylvania. They gave their lives so that more Americans would not die. We learned later that this plane, United Airlines flight 93, had been heading for either the White House or U.S. Capitol.
The Islamic terrorists who launched these attacks made a number of claims about their motivations. But here is the truth: They did not murder thousands of Americans because they disagreed with America's Middle East policy. And they certainly didn't do it because they were poor and hopeless; they were all either from wealthy or middle-class Arab families. They attacked America because they despised its values—most especially its freedom and tolerance.
The United States, as the guardian of freedom in the West, had to be brought down. This attack would start that process. It would show the world that America was weak—that America lacked the will to safeguard its liberties and people. Bin Laden called America a "paper tiger."
In the days immediately after the attacks, the terrorist leader and his many supporters in the Muslim Middle East believed he had proved his point. Mothers across the Muslim world named their babies "Osama;" bin Laden's face adorned posters in homes; and kids in Pakistan wore bin Laden t-shirts.
But on the afternoon of September 14th, President George W. Bush visited the twisted, still-smoldering wreckage of "Ground Zero"—where the Twin Towers had stood—and, megaphone in hand, promised that America would not be cowed:
"I can hear you," he said. "The rest of the world hears you. And the people who knocked these buildings down will hear from all of us soon."
And they did.
America launched its War on Terror, destroyed the terrorist leadership, and sent bin Laden into a decade of running and hiding. Within six months, kids in Pakistan were no longer wearing bin Laden t-shirts. And ten years later, the CIA located and a team of Navy SEALS killed the terrorist leader.
America will always have her enemies. There will always be those who despise our freedoms, who hate our democracy, who want to see America buckle in the face of tyranny—to sacrifice our way of life to appease those who despise it.
And we will always be faced with a choice: to surrender our freedoms, or to preserve them; to grovel before those who hate us, or to honor the lives of the nearly 3,000 Americans who died on 9/11.
But first, young Americans need to learn what happened that day.
I'm CJ Pearson for Prager University.