9/11: 20 years later

Long Gone Day

The changing legacy of an attack that America has promised never to forget.

After the collapse of the first tower on September 11, 2001. Photo: Doug Kanter/AFP via Getty Images
After the collapse of the first tower on September 11, 2001. Photo: Doug Kanter/AFP via Getty Images
After the collapse of the first tower on September 11, 2001. Photo: Doug Kanter/AFP via Getty Images

Everyone remembers 9/11 differently. Here in New York, it often depends on where you were when the planes struck the Twin Towers, the vantage point being the determining factor between a concussive fireball overhead and a wisp of smoke climbing into blue skies. These are memories that are evoked each time this anniversary comes around, as if to relive that terrible day is the surest means of remembering it properly.

But as we approach the 20th anniversary of 9/11, it has never been more apparent that a growing number of people do not remember it at all. Of the 13 American service members who were killed in an attack during the U.S.’s chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan in August, a full five were only 20 years old themselves. Seven of the service members were toddlers or infants in 2001, and the oldest was 11. Meanwhile, a retaliatory U.S. drone strike reportedly killed seven Afghan children, including two 2-year-olds who had no inkling of 9/11, let alone the war that has been waged in its name.

This is all to say that, even as the violence continues, 9/11 has passed out of remembrance and into history — the history of museums and textbooks and tales your parents tell. The hope of this collection of essays and criticism is that our perception of that day, along with its awful consequences, will only become clearer with distance.

Planning for the Worst After the attacks, we had a chance to build the downtown that New York deserves. Two decades later, timidity and fear have us hemmed in at every turn.

Photo: Alexei Hay

The 9/11 Museum and Its Discontents A new documentary goes inside the battles that have riven the institution.

The National September 11 Memorial & Museum. Photo: Cem Ozdel/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

America’s Greatest Existential Threat Wasn’t Terrorism Frank Rich on the continuing fallout after 9/11.

Maurizio Cattelan, Blind (2021). Photo: Emanuele Cremaschi/Getty Images

Reparations for Iraq America’s engagements in Iraq can best be described as a multidecade colonization.

Basra, Iraq, in May 2003. Photo: Lynsey Addario/Getty Images

What Dead Prez Got Right About 9/11 The rap group represented an alternative vision of the Bush era.

Photo-Illustration: by Intelligencer; Photo by Hiroyuki Ito/Getty Images

How 9/11 Destroyed the Muslim Model-Minority Myth For people in my generation, the attacks inaugurated a new political consciousness.

Photo: Thomas Dworzak/Magnum Photos

I Thought 9/11 Was the End-Times. Literally. This is what the attacks meant to those steeped in a biblical education.

Photo: Richard Perry

What 9/11 Did to the Democratic Party To this day, Democrats struggle with the fear of looking weak.

John Kerry reports for duty at the 2004 Democratic National Convention. Photo: Emile Wamsteker/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Bin Laden Won How the terrorist mastermind drew the U.S. into a war with its own ideals.

Anti-Taliban fighters watch the U.S. military bomb Al Qaeda’s redoubt in the Tora Bora mountains. Photo: Erik de Castro

The Patriot Act and Me As a kid, I tried out photography. Then the FBI searched my home.

The author at the Sydney Olympics in October 2000. Photo: Ria Tobaccowala

‘One Giant Nerve That You Were Afraid to Touch’ 37 comedians remember their first time onstage after 9/11 and how the attacks changed comedy forever.

Photo-Illustration: Vulture; Photos from Getty

9/11 and the Rise of the (Unionized) Security Officer How a group of unsung heroes fought for better working conditions.

Photo: Gary Hershorn/Getty Images

The Woman in White Twenty years after 9/11, a photographer searches for an elusive subject.

Photo: Robert Stolarik/Polaris for Time Magazine

I Lost My Dad on 9/11. I’m Still Searching for Who He Was. Twenty years later, I’ve started to find him outside of the tragedy that took his life.

The author with her father in the summer of 2001. Photo: Nicole C. Foster

The Women Left Out of Post-9/11 Health Care The events of 9/11 made these women sick. Twenty years later, why are they still left out of the health coverage that was created for survivors?

Photo: Andrew Lichtenstein/Corbis via Getty Images

The Persistent Outrage of Laura Poitras Twenty years after the “war on terror” began, the filmmaker behind a trilogy of post-9/11 documentaries remains profoundly angry.

Photo: Criterion

The World Trade Center, Before, During, and After Remembering architect Minoru Yamasaki through the afterlife of his most famous buildings.

Photo: Balthazar Korab, Courtesy of Library of Congress

Escape From New York The great maritime rescue of lower Manhattan on 9/11.

Photo: United States Coast Guard

Visiting the Visitors: Photographs at the 9/11 Memorial Some tourists are more respectful than others.

Photo: Shaughn and John

Where the Meaning of Flight 93 Can Never End The national memorial was built to allow multiple interpretations.

The Flight 93 National Memorial in Shanksville, Pennsylvania. Photo: Keith Srakocic/AP/Shutterstock


From the Archives:

The Encyclopedia of 9/11 On the 10th anniversary, we found ourselves asking: With all we now know, how to begin to address the enormity of the event?

9/11, 20 Years Later