20 Years After 9/11: What Have We Learned?

by Scott Ashley, Victor Kubik Estimated reading time: 12 minutes. Posted on 30-Aug-2021
The devastating attacks on the United States on 9/11 should have led its people to learn critical lessons. But did they?

It’s one of those days burned indelibly into our memories. For years afterward people would ask one another: Where were you on 9/11?

One American songwriter encapsulated the horror and hopelessness of the day in the title of a song that asked, “Where Were You When the World Stopped Turning?” A generation later, that’s the way many remember that day—an unforgettable moment when it seemed the world stopped turning and forever changed.

Although it’s been 20 years, for many the memory remains raw, especially to the families of the nearly 3,000 Americans killed that day when Muslim terrorists flew airliners into the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, and another jet crashed into a field in Pennsylvania while apparently en route to obliterate the White House or U.S. Capitol Building.

Only later, through interrogations of the operation’s captured mastermind, did U.S. intelligence learn that their goal was to bring down the entire nation in a single day by demolishing America’s centers of government, military leadership and economic prosperity through targeted suicide attacks by 20 or more fuel- and hostage-laden aircraft simultaneously crashing into key targets in major cities across the country.

Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who crafted the plan with Osama bin Laden, revealed that the terrorists had to settle for a scaled-back plot because growing pressure from international security agencies forced them to move up their timetable, preventing them from bringing in enough accomplices to commandeer and pilot the 20 or more passenger jets they originally planned for.

Had this not happened, the United States of America might not exist today as we know it. Let that sink in. Enemies hatched a plan to bring the world’s most powerful nation to its knees—armed only with box cutters.

Lessons from the “War on Terror”

The “War on Terror” that quickly brought U.S.-led invasions of the terror-supporting states of Afghanistan and then Iraq brought swift results and was originally almost universally supported. The Taliban regime fell, as did Saddam Hussein’s brutal dictatorship in Iraq. Neither stood much of a chance against allied Western nations’ military might and advanced technology.

But the enthusiasm and excitement didn’t last long. While America could win the war, it couldn’t win the peace.

Efforts to instill Western-style democracy and cooperative government found no foothold or fertile ground among peoples who had never experienced anything of the kind and whose leaders were often local warlords in a tribal culture, Islamic extremists, and thieving opportunists. Rampant corruption swallowed up countless millions of dollars of Western funds that could have helped modernize the nations and improve people’s living standards.

Bloody insurgencies by fighters who easily blended into the local populations proved almost impossible to defeat. Western troops could never be quite sure who the enemy was. And all too often, Afghan soldiers and police who were being trained by American and other Western coalition forces turned their guns on those same Western trainers in “insider attacks”—a term that became all too depressingly familiar as the casualties mounted.

The Iraqi and Afghan fighters, and other jihadists who flooded in from all over the Muslim world, learned a valuable lesson from Vietnam—that they didn’t need to defeat America on the battlefield; they only needed to drag out the war until American popular opinion turned against it. They knew it would then be only a matter of time before U.S. leadership would lose the will to fight and pack up and leave.

One by one, America’s coalition partners learned the lesson too—and quietly withdrew from what they increasingly saw as an unwinnable situation.

The disturbing bottom line

Although few are willing to admit it, the uncomfortable truth is that in withdrawing from Afghanistan, the United States has lost another war.

One could even say America has lost two more wars, since in July U.S. President Joe Biden announced that U.S. troops, except for a small advisory force, would withdraw from Iraq by the end of the year.

So ends a long, painful chapter in U.S. military history. The two conflicts killed or maimed more than 60,000 American servicemen and women. The financial toll is close to an estimated $6.4 trillion—more than total U.S. government spending in any fiscal year until very recently.

Afghanistan lived up to its reputation as “the graveyard of empires”—having thwarted the forces of Alexander the Great, the British Empire and the Soviet Union. Now history will add the United States to that list.

So who are the winners? In Iraq, the big winner will be Iran, which has worked largely behind the scenes to provide weapons such as drones and improvised explosive devices (IEDs) that took many American lives. Iran has steadily gained power in Iraq and will play a major role in Iraq’s future. And in light of the recent Iran-China agreement by which China will buy vast amounts of Iranian oil, which will in turn fuel Iran’s economy, look for China to also make major inroads in the vacuum left by America’s withdrawal. 

In Afghanistan, the Taliban are already capturing large swaths of territory as Afghan soldiers flee or join what is now viewed as the winning side. Afghanistan will likely soon revert to what it was just before 9/11—a fundamentalist Islamic state indistinguishable from Islam in its early years, only now armed with much more modern weapons and capable of exporting terror far beyond its borders.

The all-important biblical perspective

The sad reality is that the United States has not truly won a significant war since World War II, more than 75 years ago. Korea ended with an uneasy truce and a regime that now threatens its neighbors with nuclear-armed missiles. Vietnam was a humiliating defeat. The first Gulf War was an initial victory, but it left the Saddam Hussein dictatorship in power, leading to a second war a decade later and, after 20 years, Iraqi demands that America, being unwelcome, must leave.

And then there was Afghanistan, where the world’s most powerful military force couldn’t decisively defeat fighters living in caves whose most powerful weapons were AK-47s and roadside bombs (read more in “America’s Uncertain Future” on page 3).

Now, 20 years after 9/11, the pain remains a raw wound for America. Reflecting, we try to make sense of what makes no sense at all. How could these things happen?

Most of today’s experts offer no real answers, but your Bible does.

To begin to understand, we must first recognize who America is in Bible prophecy. Americans don’t know who they are. The stunning fact is that history and Bible prophecy reveal than the United States and the other major English-speaking nations of the world are descended from ancient biblical Israel. The Bible is filled with many end-time prophecies of Israel that were never and cannot be fulfilled by the small Jewish state of that name in the Middle East (the Jews there are descended primarily from one of the 12 tribes of Israel—Judah).

With this perspective, we can see that Bible prophecy tells us that America is a very sick nation. Foreseeing our time, the prophet Isaiah wrote: “The whole head is sick, and the whole heart faints. From the sole of the foot even to the head, there is no soundness in it, but wounds and bruises and putrefying sores” (Isaiah 1:5-6).

In Leviticus 26:19 God spells out the consequences of the nation rejecting Him and disobeying His laws, which were designed to bring blessings on a nation. “I will break the pride of your power,” He warns. Consider that for the last 76 years since the end of World War II, the United States has been the world’s greatest military power. But that power has not brought a single lasting military victory! Let that sink in!

There is a reason for that and the many other problems that plague the United States today! Reading from that same chapter, God tells us: “If you do not obey Me, and do not observe all these commandments . . . I also will do this to you: I will even appoint terror over you, wasting disease and fever . . . I will set My face against you, and you shall be defeated by your enemies. Those who hate you shall reign over you . . .” (verses 14, 16-17). The chapter goes on to list many other curses, as does its companion chapter, Deuteronomy 28. It’s sobering reading—as it’s meant to be.  

To get the whole picture, be sure to read the eye-opening study guide, The United States and Britain in Bible Prophecy. Our mission with Beyond Today is to help you understand where this world is heading and why—and what you can and should do about it. We pray that you will have eyes to see, ears to hear, and a heart to act on what your Creator says!



“There Are Some Things America Needs to Learn!”

Twenty years ago, in September 2001, the world recoiled in horror as militant al-Qaeda Islamists executed a carefully coordinated attack on New York City’s Twin Towers and the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. As millions looked on in live TV coverage, the 1,360-foot-high towers collapsed, with almost 3,000 innocent lives lost. One could only ask, “What kind of wicked people could do such a thing?!”

Thousands of organizations and people immediately offered to help. Through an international humanitarian organization I had founded a few years earlier, I was able to quickly build a network and assemble firefighting equipment, food and bottled water to supply relief workers in New York City. Our network included a local major university in Indianapolis. One of the staff there who worked with foreign exchange students—several of them of the Muslim religion—offered to drive our humanitarian donation to the Javits Center in downtown Manhattan, the staging area for donated relief supplies. 

I found back then that the sentiment of the university students was almost wholly sympathetic to the victims of this evil deed and condemning of the perpetrators.  However, one of the whispers among the foreign students included this disturbing statement: “We decry what happened, but there are some things America needs to learn!”

“What?” one may object. What are Americans supposed to learn? This statement seemed like an insult added to grievous injury at a most difficult time. I knew firsthand from my experience in providing humanitarian aid that the people of the United States are often the first to step up with money, equipment and personnel. Americans—whether through private or public efforts (including government resources)—have financed and built countless hospitals, schools, canals, railroads, transportation systems and much more.

No doubt the student was missing some vital perspective. But here are some hard facts: While Americans do many wonderful things, they are also resented, even despised, in many places on the earth. There are several reasons why—outright jealousy of the wealth and freedoms Americans enjoy, but also Americans are seen as insensitive or wrongly motivated, though often through a distorted lens. Despite skewed assessments, particularly from Islamic extremists, it's sadly true that America exports corrupt values in culture, morality, entertainment and such to the world.

Americans have been regarded as generous and noble, but there is a troubling side that the world also sees. The United States is second only to China in the number of annual abortions, while Russia is third (most Latin American, Middle Eastern and African countries either restrict or prohibit abortion). Americans regularly flout traditional biblical definitions for marriage and sex. The values of faithfulness in marriage and wholesomeness in conduct—former bedrocks of society—are all but abandoned and constantly trending downward.

During the same year as the Twin Towers catastrophe, the Netherlands became the first nation to legalize same-sex marriages. Massachusetts followed suit three years later in 2004, leading the change throughout the United States in the next decade.

Gender itself is being redefined, as there are now dozens of definitions for what is male and female in the United States. Society-destroying pornography—a big driver of early Internet technology (including streaming video and digital photography transmission)—remains big business in America and tragically makes up much of the world’s Internet traffic.

When traveling around the world one quickly sees negative elements of American culture exported through movies, television and music.

American educational institutions have kicked God out of the classrooms. Under the guise of church and state legal principles, God’s presence and influence is increasingly stricken from our consciousness. A society-building belief in God has been replaced with godless undefined “science” and secular humanism where morality is considered relative.  

The students helping to deliver aid to New York City 20 years ago perhaps didn’t think of these specific things, and they likely had some misperceptions, but they did recognize that the impact of what Americans say and do often stirs up resentment, then hatred. So much hatred exists that some radicals feel it’s justified to kill Americans. 

Here’s the irony: As many scholars attest, the American legal system reflects the ancient laws God delivered to Israel. Moses declared: “Obey them completely, and you will display your wisdom and intelligence among the surrounding nations. When they hear all these decrees, they will exclaim, ‘How wise and prudent are the people of this great nation!’ For what great nation has a god as near to them as the Lord our God is near to us whenever we call on him? And what great nation has decrees and regulations as righteous and fair as this body of instructions that I am giving you today?” (Deuteronomy 4:6-8, New Living Translation).

Ancient Israel failed in this responsibility. Today Americans, who have a great opportunity to be influencers, are failing as well. And just as there were consequences for Israel long ago, so there are consequences for Americans now and in the future.

The prophets of old warned the people of Israel of impending doom for persisting in disobedience. Israel could not hide behind hypocritical piety and practice of perversion. Could the same happen again in these modern times? Clearly, there are indeed things Americans need to learn. The crucial question is, Will we learn them in time?

—Victor Kubik

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