The Worst Terrorist Attack in U.S. History Takes Place

Posted by The Home School in the Woods Team on

It’s hard to believe the attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, happened 19 years ago. For those who lived during this time of terrorism, it not only left an emotional scar but had a lasting impact on the way our country operates.

As homeschool parents, it can be challenging to explain difficult topics in history, such as 9/11. You might be left wondering how you can educate them on the subject with an accurate, unbiased lense. 

Let’s factually look at the circumstances surrounding this event in history, as well as tips on teaching an important but tragic topic such as this. 

Defining Terrorism 

The best place to start is to define terrorism to our kids. According to the government, there are two definitions.

International terrorism, which is defined as “violent, criminal acts committed by individuals and/or groups who are inspired by, or associated with, designated foreign terrorist organizations or nations (state-sponsored).” The events that took place on 9/11 can be defined as international terrorism. 

Domestic terrorism, on the other hand, can be defined as “violent, criminal acts committed by individuals and/or groups to further ideological goals stemming from domestic influences, such as those of a political, religious, social, racial, or environmental nature.”

It’s important to note that terrorists have existed throughout history for centuries. Modes of terrorism included Hitler’s attempt to eliminate the Jewish population, assassinations against presidents such as Abraham Lincoln and JFK, and murders committed by the Ku Klux Klan.

By defining terrorism and pointing to other examples throughout history, you can help kids understand that the act of terrorism can be committed by any race, religious belief, or political party. 

What Happened on September 11, 2001?

On September 11th, four American airplanes were hijacked by 19 terrorists associated with a militant Islamist group founded in the 1980s by Osama bin Laden

Two planes crashed into the twin towers of New York City’s World Trade Center. The third plane hit the Pentagon, America’s Defense Department, and the fourth plane, which didn’t make it to its destination, crashed in a field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania. 

Almost 3,000 people were killed during the attacks – 2,750 in New York, 184 at the Pentagon, and 40 in Pennsylvania, plus more than 400 emergency responders. 

Al Qaeda’s Motive

Before the attacks that took place on September 11, many Americans weren’t aware of al Qaeda and their hatred toward the United States. 

Al Qaeda, Arabic for “the Base,” began in the late 1970s after the Soviet-Afghan War in Afghanistan. Among those involved was Saudi Arabian millionaire Osama bin Laden, who helped provide money for weapons and soldiers. 

After Afghanistan won the war, al Qaeda was formed to promote more holy wars across the globe, with the United States being their number one target. The reasoning behind al Qaeda’s hatred for the United States included control over resources and religious differences, among others. 

September 11th wasn’t the first time the iconic New York City World Trade Center had been targeted. Bin Laden’s previous act of terror on the United States took place nearly a decade prior. In 1993 a bomb was planted inside a truck and exploded near the North Tower, causing six deaths and a considerable amount of damage.

The Plot and Execution of September 11 Attacks 

The plan to hijack planes and attack the United States began sometime in the late 90s when Khalid Sheikh Mohammed presented a proposal to al Qaeda involving trained pilots crashing into buildings across the United States.  

From there, al Qaeda funded the operation with bin Laden as the mastermind. Hijackers from Saudi Arabia planted themselves in the United States, and some even received flight training. By 2001, the plan was ready to be executed. 

On the 11th of September, 19 hijackers boarded planes in various airports – five on three of the aircraft and four on the fourth. 

Shortly after takeoff, the hijackers took over the cockpits with box cutters and knives and headed to their appointed destinations. Two planes targeted the World Trade Center and one the Pentagon. The fourth plane, however, never reached its unknown destination since passengers attempted to retaliate, and the hijackers instead crashed into a rural field in Pennsylvania. 

All before 11 a.m., the twin towers caught fire and filled the streets with clouds of smoke and debris. The North Tower burned for 1 hour and 42 minutes after the initial crash until it collapsed, and the South Tower took 56 minutes to collapse.

Aftermath of 9/11

American citizens were left devastated by the attacks. Over 3,000 people were killed in total, not to mention billions of dollars worth of damage to the affected areas. 

Many of the United States’ allies shared their grief with Americans – one of the most memorable being a French newspaper, which stated, “We are all Americans now.” 

President George W. Bush and his administration set out to find the terrorists involved in the crime, as well as put strict foreign policies in place to prevent further terrorist attacks from taking place. 

By October 7, 2001, the U.S. declared war with Afghanistan, and the FBI sought to find and kill Osama bin Laden at any cost. On May 2, 2011, U.S. Navy SEALs shot and killed bin Laden after finding him hiding at a private building in Pakistan. 

Today, September 11th is considered a day of remembrance where American citizens vow to “never forget” the terrible attacks that took place and cost the lives of thousands. There are also several September 11th memorials dedicated to the victims, including Ground Zero and the 9/11 Memorial & Museum

Teaching Your Kids About 9/11

Teaching children about 9/11 can be challenging – especially since many of us watched the events unfold on television right before our eyes.

Stating the facts as it happened allows kids to listen, process, and react in their own way. As parents, all we can do is help our kids process the event as we have, utilize the illumination of scripture, and pray for peace in our world. 

If you’re looking for more resources to help you teach this event, we have a September 11th timeline figure to help kids visually understand when this event took place in history. You can also read our blog post, Teaching with Timelines, to get a better idea of how this can be helpful when teaching history.

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