Digital History>Teachers>Modules> Topic
Learn About September 11th
At 8:45 a.m., September 11th, 2001, the first of two
airlines struck the World Trade Center in New York, in the first
of a series of coordinated terrorist attacks on the United States.
At 9:03, a second plane crashed into a second World Trade Center
tower, and exploded. With both buildings ablaze, hundreds
of rescue personnel rushed to the scene.
At 9:43 a.m., a third passenger plane crashed into the Pentagon, in the
worlds largest office building. At 10:05, the south tower
of the World Trade Center collapses, plummeting into the streets
below. A massive cloud of dust and debris forms and slowly drifts
away from the building. Five minutes later, a portion of the Pentagon
collapsed. At 10:28, The World Trade Center's north tower collapses
from the top down, releasing a tremendous cloud of debris and
smoke. At 10:48 police confirm that a fourth passenger jet had
crashed in western Pennsylvania.
In the deadliest terrorist attack on American soil, hijackers
crashed passenger planes into the Pentagon and the World Trade
Center towers in New York, toppling the 110-story twin towers,
killing all aboard the jets and more than 3,000 people on the
Learning from History
In ordinary times, many students question the value and relevance
of history. After all, knowledge of history doesn't seem as practical
or rewarding as knowledge of medicine or physics or economics.
The normal justifications for studying history seem rather vague:
to learn about the development of our society and our cultural
heritage; to develop the skills characteristic of history as a
discipline, such as the ability to undertake research, to read
and interpret primary sources, to write clearly and analytically.
But in times of crisis and tragedy we are reminded of the more
profound reasons why we study history. We study history:
- In Order to Learn from the Mistakes of the Past so We do not
- Because Knowledge of the Past is Essential to Understanding
the Present and Shaping the Future.
- To Remind Ourselves that Nothing is Inevitable, but is the
Product of Human Action and Choices But also of Chance.
- To Remember Acts of Heroism and of Villainy.
- Because History Contributes to Moral Understanding and Reminds
Us about the People who Weathered Adversity and Acted with Courage.
The tragic events of September 11, 2001 underscore the need for historical
perspective, and provide the history teacher with an opportunity
to remind students of why historical knowledge is indispensable
in navigating through present-day challenges and preparing for
What, then, do the events of September 11, 2001 teach us about
No one predicted on September 10, 2001 that the next day would
witness an unprecedented act of terrorism, just as no one in
1941 anticipated an attack on Pearl Harbor and no one in 1991
guessed that the Soviet Union would collapse. Similarly, no
one guessed that the outbreak of world war in 1914 would result
in the collapse of five empires or the Communist Revolution
Today, no one can predict the outcome of the events that took
place on September 11, 2001. But history does remind us that
consequences of a terrorist attack or an assassination are rarely
those that the perpetrators of violence have sought. Those who
destroyed the World Trade Center and attacked the Pentagon hoped
to demoralize the American population, disrupt our economy,
and discredit the United States in the eyes of the world. Despite
the destruction they wrought, it seems unimaginable that the
terrorists will succeed in those goals.
- To Remember that Nothing is Inevitable
What happened on September 11, 2001, was not preordained.
The tragic events that occurred that day were the product
of a train of individual events that might have turned out
differently. Nothing better underscores the unpredictability
of events better than the actions of the brave passengers
on United Airlines Flight, who learned about the attacks on
the World Trade Center and sacrificed their own lives in order
to prevent their airplane from striking Washington, D.C.
- To Understand Why
In recent years, we have come to recognize that most acts
of aggression and fanaticism in the contemporary world are
rooted in a sense of historical grievance. In areas as diverse
as the Balkans, Israel and Palestine, Northern Ireland, and
Zimbabwe memories of the past are strong and fuel contemporary
conflicts. History does not have the power to resolve those
conflicts, but it can help us understand why antagonisms are
so deeply rooted.
- To Prevent History from Repeating Itself
Over time, we will understand why the intelligence apparatus
failed to uncover the terrorist plot and why our security
systems failed to prevent the attacks. As we learn from past
mistakes, we may be able to prevent similar acts of terror
from recurring in the future.
- To Remember
History is our collective memory. It is an indelible record
of acts of bravery and of treachery, of leadership and of cowardice.
We study history in order to keep these memories alive.
To learn more:Terrorism
in Historical Perspective by Steven Mintz, University of Houston.
September 11 News.Com
for related documents in the our collection.
Handouts and fact sheets:
York Times Learning Connection
on September 11th
Yossef Bodansky, bin Laden: The Man Who Declared War on America
(Random House, 2001)
Click to learn more.
Film: Islam: Empire of Faith
A PBS film on the history of Islam.