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Tomorrow, most everyone in America—and arguably, much of the rest of the world—will take a moment to remember what happened on the morning of September 11th, 2001.

We'll fall silent as bells toll for the nearly 3,000 Americans whose lives were lost in the attacks—including 37 officers of the Port Authority Police Department, 23 officers of the New York City Police Department, and 343 firefighters and EMTs.

We'll pay tribute to the countless heroes who responded to the attacks—those members of the public who fervently worked  to help rescue people from the rubble, when there were so few left alive to rescue.

We'll pay tribute to the 184 who died at the Pentagon.

We'll rightly salute the courageous passengers of United Flight 93—the very first soldiers to engage the enemy in a post-9/11 war against al Qaeda and other radical Islamist terrorists around the world.

We'll pause to honor the memory of the brave men and women who went off to war in America's defense—some of whom came home with terrible wounds and some who came home in flag-draped coffins.

We'll remember where we were when we heard the news—what we were doing, how we found out, who was there with us... who shouted and who cried.

We'll all recall asking "Why?"

We'll recognize the lessons learned on September 11th—perhaps we'll even celebrate the unity we had on September 12th.

But what of our recollection of 20 years ago today?

What about September 10th?

Twenty Years Ago Today

On September 10, 2001, Katie Couric and Matt Lauer opened NBC's TODAY show with news of "anemic" economic growth, noting the Dow and the NASDAQ "at near their lows for the year" in the wake of the dot-com bust. Little did anybody know the depths to which those markets would dive in the months following 9/11.

On September 10, 2001, news headlines across the country included reports of shark attacks along the eastern seaboard, and increasing "buzz" around the anticipated release of the first Harry Potter movie.

New York papers reported that Michael Jackson had collapsed during a party at the swanky Tavern on the Green restaurant. In Washington, news outlets chronicled the investigation into the disappearance of Capitol Hill intern Chandra Levy, and ever-increasing suspicion that then-Congressman Gary Condit knew more about the matter than he was saying.

Only a tiny number of people even took notice of international news that Ahmed Shah Massoud—the leader of the so-called Northern Alliance fighting against the Taliban in Afghanistan—had been killed by a suicide bomber disguised as a journalist.

News of that terrorist attack would have massive repercussions just days later.

But terrorism was the furthest thing from virtually everyone's minds.

The 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center—which killed six and injured hundreds more—was barely a distant memory for all but a few police professionals still working "the terrorist angle."

There was no mystery surrounding the most recent attack on the United States—al-Qaeda had claimed responsibility for the suicide bombing on the USS Cole as she was being refueled in Yemen's Aden harbor, killing 17 sailors and wounding 37 others less than a year prior.

Case closed.

Besides, where the [bleep] is Yemen?

American law enforcement officers were correctly focused on keeping the streets safe from criminal mayhem perpetrated by the thief who comes to steal and kill and destroy—but they were doing so almost entirely "below the radar."

A day in the life: Someone calls the police about a crime. Cops respond. Perpetrators flee. Pursuits ensue. Arrests and charges follow. Lather. Rinse. Repeat.

The most noteworthy criminal arrests of 2001 were in response to celebrities behaving badly. Robert Downey Jr., Terrence Howard, DMX, and Vanilla Ice all made headlines accompanied by booking photos.

The biggest press release from the FBI of late was the arrest of eight individuals who attempted to "defraud McDonald's and its customers" by "fixing the outcome" of the restaurant chain's "Monopoly" game.

Indeed, terrorism was the furthest thing from virtually everyone's minds.

Then, September 11th happened.

Altering the Agenda

September 11th has been called the "turning point" and the "tipping point" and the "point of no return" for good reason. The 10th and the 12th of September 2001 could not be more starkly different—in between them, the American agenda had tectonically shifted.

The official schedule of then-President George W. Bush for September 11th—which was seen by the president on the 10th—showed him departing Sarasota Bradenton International Airport at 10:30 AM Eastern time after attending a reading program demonstration at the Emma E. Booker Elementary School. It was to be a short two-hour flight en route to Andrews.

Colonel Mark Tillman was at the controls of Air Force One that day, and had to make adjustments on the fly (pun intended). Tillman first diverted into a holding pattern over the Gulf of Mexico before landing at Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana. Colonel Tillman then flew the president to Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska before the commander-in-chief eventually made it back to the Nation's Capital to address a grieving nation.

Similarly, American law enforcement quickly changed course from what had been planned as of September 10th.

The Department of Justice (DOJ) vastly increased its focus on counterterrorism, reallocating resources toward the objective of "eliminating terrorist networks, preventing terrorist operations, and prosecuting perpetrators of terrorist acts."

DOJ directed the formation or expansion of Joint Terrorism Task Forces—there are now roughly 200 task forces around the country, including one in each of the FBI's 56 field offices—facilitating the exchange of information at the federal, state, and local levels of law enforcement.

Seemingly overnight, cops everywhere knew the definition of terrorism to be "the unlawful use of force and violence against persons or property to intimidate or coerce a government, the civilian population or any segment thereof, in furtherance of political or social objectives."

Seemingly overnight, cops at every level needed to be conversant with the commonly accepted pre-attack indicators of a terrorist attack—financing activities, surveillance operations, security probes, acquiring supplies, conducting dry runs, and deploying assets.

Seemingly overnight, cops found themselves on the frontlines in the war against radical jihadist groups such as al Qaeda, AQAP, Boko Haram, Hamas, Hezbollah, ISIS, and the like.

Seemingly overnight, September 10th became a day all but lost to history.

Final Words

It's difficult to believe that the 9/11 terrorist attacks occurred two full decades ago tomorrow.

It's even more difficult to believe that on 9/10 America as a whole—and many ways, Americans individually—had a unique brand of innocence. We didn't know it at the time, but we did have it.

However, that purity wafted away in the smoke and cinders rising from the smoldering craters in lower Manhattan, northern Virginia, and rural Pennsylvania.

If 9/11 is the line of demarcation for anything—and it is the line of demarcation separating many things—it is the day on which the 20th Century became the 21st Century.

On 9/12 our thinking about the world was vastly different from what our thinking was on 9/10.

Remembering 9/10 is to be reminded that we simply cannot know what tomorrow may bring, or what may follow thereafter.

Today is September 10, 2021—what are you thinking about?

Author

Doug Wyllie
Doug Wyllie

Web Editor

Doug Wyllie has authored more than 1,000 articles and tactical tips aimed at ensuring that police officers are safer and more successful on the streets. Doug is a Western Publishing Association “Maggie Award” winner for Best Regularly Featured Digital Edition Column. He is a member of International Law Enforcement Educators and Trainers Association (ILEETA), an Associate Member of the California Peace Officers’ Association (CPOA), and a member of the Public Safety Writers Association (PSWA).

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Doug Wyllie has authored more than 1,000 articles and tactical tips aimed at ensuring that police officers are safer and more successful on the streets. Doug is a Western Publishing Association “Maggie Award” winner for Best Regularly Featured Digital Edition Column. He is a member of International Law Enforcement Educators and Trainers Association (ILEETA), an Associate Member of the California Peace Officers’ Association (CPOA), and a member of the Public Safety Writers Association (PSWA).

View Bio
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