The Indelible Impacts of 9/11

Sep. 10, 2021

Dear Campus,

Tomorrow marks the 20th anniversary of 9/11 – an attack on such a scale that it left us in shock and disbelief. Nearly 3,000 people perished, and it changed our way of life forever.

Many of our students are too young to remember where they were on that fateful day – some may not have even been born yet. I am hopeful they have studied history and have a thorough comprehension of the indelible impacts of 9/11. I hope we all do.

I vividly recall that day. I was a faculty member at Penn State University. I was facilitating a meeting with my research team. As word quickly spread about the terrorist attack, we turned our attention to news reports and watched repeated video of the first hijacked plane hitting the World Trade Center, and then another crashing into the Pentagon. Time seemed to stop, or at least moved in slow motion. It was surreal. It traumatized everyone. The world was stunned. We were left angry and numb.

The terrorist attack scarred the soul of America and made us all remember the fragility of life, but also highlighted stories of individual heroism and self-sacrifice – including first responders who entered collapsing buildings to save others but didn’t make it out themselves. It also challenged our belief systems and – sadly – generated misguided hatred toward Muslim Americans and individuals of Middle Eastern descent, something our nation has continued to grapple with at varying levels. Yet through the tragedy, grief, and confusion, the attack largely galvanized the nation and stirred passion among many Americans to stand united.

Over the last several years we have strayed from those concepts that unite us. Seemingly constant vitriolic rhetoric and denigration has divided, not united our nation. Immigration. COVID-19. Social injustice. There’s plenty to argue about. Too often the divergent path is the easy one of late. It should not take a tragedy the magnitude of 9/11 to unite us. Can we not stand united without one?

The backdrop of 9/11 of course was – and still is – Afghanistan. The United States has been at war there for two decades, and we’ve been involved in some fashion or another at various periods since the Cold War. Some question our involvement or policies there. That’s not a political statement, just a fact. We know our presence in Afghanistan has altered the lives of many, including the brave military men and women who have served admirably there. Some have paid the ultimate sacrifice. More than 7,000 have died – including 58 Nevadans – since 9/11.

There are more than 1,600 active duty, veterans, reservists, National Guard and military family members who attend UNLV. Combined, they have more than 150 years of service in Afghanistan. Four Rebel Vets will participate in a statewide event tomorrow to honor the victims of 9/11: Andrew Ho (Air Force), Jen Martinez (Marine Corps), Bianca Islas (Navy) and Ross Bryant (Army). We owe a debt of gratitude to all our Rebel Vets – and all military personnel – for their service. They defend and fight for the freedom we enjoy every day.

Wherever you were 20 years ago, wherever you are tomorrow, I hope all of us take time to reflect on that fateful day. We felt vulnerable, confused, and scared. It changed our way of life forever. But it did not diminish the American spirit, then or now. I find solace in that. And despite our imperfections, we remain strong as a country. And here at UNLV, we remain Rebel strong.

Warm regards,

Keith E. Whitfield, Ph.D.