Caption: The Drake University Veterans Association planted rows of American flags in Helmick Commons to honor the 2,977 victims who died in the 9/11 attacks.
On Sept. 11, 2001, Al-Qaeda terrorists hijacked four planes to cause mass destruction. The hijackers flew two of the planes into the Twin Towers in New York City, toppling them. The 9/11 attacks killed 2,977 Americans that day.
In response, America started the Afghanistan War against terrorists. Twenty years later, the last American troops have left Afghanistan, ending the war as the nation remembers all the lives lost on 9/11.
Drake senior Jordan Roubion served in the Army for five years, and she remembers watching the 9/11 attacks unfold from her fourth grade classroom.
“[My teacher] got a call, and we could tell something was wrong. She turned on the TV, and we all saw the footage,” Roubion said.
While Jordan didn’t quite know what had just happened, she said that she understood it wasn’t normal and something big was happening.
“I remember my mom asking me, ‘Do you understand what’s happening?’ And I said, ‘Yes,’ in that I understood we’re going to war,” Roubion said. “But obviously, I was too young to understand what the true ramifications of that were.”
Drake University professor David Skidmore said he was teaching at Drake on 9/11.
“We watched a little bit of coverage in the classroom. We talked a bit about it, and then I just dismissed classes,” Skidmore said. “Students went back to their dorms—basically, classes were canceled for the rest of the day.”
Skidmore studies American foreign policy and international relations theory. He recalled that there was a shift in Americans’ view of Islam after 9/11 and leading up to the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan. He said the U.S. government began actively looking for terrorist threats, even when none existed.
“To his credit, President George W. Bush actually quite clearly tried to say this is not a war against Islam. Islam is a venerable religion all-around, you know, there’s a billion and a half practitioners who find value in the religion,” Skidmore said. “This is not about Islam, it’s about terrorists and terrorist groups that use violence to try to intimidate and gain [their] objectives. Despite that, there was an uptick in violence and harassment of Muslims in the United States.”
First-year Drake law student and Marine Corps reservist Matt Braun served in Afghanistan during the first half of 2019, and while he didn’t see combat action, he lost friends overseas. Braun said he is saddened that Afghanistan fell so quickly after the U.S. military occupied the country for more than 20 years.
“One of the guys who I was over there with committed suicide because he just didn’t know how to handle life when he was going to go home,” Braun said. “All those sacrifices, all that bloodshed, and just, you know, seeing the whole country collapsing on itself, over the course of like two weeks is super disheartening.”
As a female veteran who served and trained in Morocco, Roubion worries about the women and children left in Afghanistan after it fell to the Taliban.
“So first, and foremost, my concern was for the women and children,” Roubion said. “I have PTSD due to military sexual trauma, so I understand on at least that level what they’re going through.”
While Skidmore said the Taliban are facing demands from their followers to impose “‘traditional roles’” upon women, he also said the Taliban are under pressure from abroad to improve the situation of Afghan women so they can gain access to foreign aid and Afghan money held in U.S. banks. He added that female activists will provide another source of resistance.
“The difference between now and 20 years ago is that we’ve had 20 years of women getting educated, taking jobs, establishing positions of influence in society. They’re not going to just quietly go [to] their homes, and just sit there and wait for their man to tell them what to do,” Skidmore said. “So the Taliban is going to come up against resistance from, you know, like confident, educated women who will have already started mounting protests.”
Skidmore remembers how the Drake community came together 20 years ago to remember the lives lost and educate the community about Islam.
“There was a candlelight vigil on campus that night,” Skidmore said. “University President David Frank as well as [the] student body president [spoke]. One of the messages was [that] we should take steps to try to reassure our Muslim students that they were valued members of the Drake community and that we would stand up to the efforts to blame people who had nothing to do with what happened.”
A few days after the 9/11 attacks, a local mosque held an open house for the community to learn more about Islam and the principles of the religion. Skidmore said 300 people attended the open house, and bookstores were selling out of any book on Islam.
“So I was kind of proud that that’s at least a fair number of people in the community, [and] their reaction was, we need to learn more, rather than just accepting casting blame and jumping to the worst conclusions about the religion or people practicing.”
The 9/11 Memorial and Museum hosted an in-person memorial at the site of the 9/11 attacks on Sept. 11. The ceremony included six moments of silence to acknowledge each of the attacks that took place 20 years earlier and a reading of the names of Americans who died that day. To learn more about 9/11 and its effects, visit the 9/11 Memorial and Museum’s online exhibitions.