U.S. 20th 9/11 commemoration highlights need to reflect on "war on terror"

Li Wei
2021-09-12 16:28:52
A U.S. national flag is shown by a guard of honor during a commemoration ceremony of the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks in New York, the United States, on Sept. 11, 2021. The commemoration ceremony was held here on Saturday to mark the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. (Xinhua/Wang Ying)

NEW YORK, Sept. 11 (Xinhua) -- As people commemorated those lost in the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the United States must reflect on the root causes of terrorism, with its two-decade military presence in Afghanistan ending recently in a fiasco, said experts and local residents.

A commemoration ceremony on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks was held at Ground Zero here on Saturday morning, attended by current and former top decision-makers, including U.S. President Joe Biden and former presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama.

With grieving relatives vowing to "never forget" those who lost their lives in the tragedy, the Biden administration is under pressure from the victims' families to declassify certain documents related to the 9/11 attacks.


While victims' names were read one by one at the ceremony just as was done at previous anniversary commemorations, their relatives easily got emotional when expressing how they missed their loved ones.

Madeline Lawrence, who came from Upstate New York, said Saturday that she came to the ceremony in honor of her former partner.

Speaking of Rodney C. Gillis, a sergeant who died in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, Lawrence said, "We remember him for his bravery. He didn't shrink back from his duties and whatever he had to do."

Gillis made his decision to go in and his selfless action was not surprising, said Ronald Gillis, Rodney Gillis' brother.

"I have very vivid memories, because I was here (in New York) and I heard the fighter jets over the head," said Daniel, a New Yorker from the Bronx borough, who didn't give his full name.

Daniel chose to come to Ground Zero to pay his respects to his friend Manuel D. Mojica Jr. on Tuesday as 9/11 happened on a Tuesday 20 years ago with a similar weather condition.

"This is the least I could do -- come and see him. This is all I have now. But he was a very good friend," said Daniel, who worked for a trucking company when 9/11 occurred.


American people hold divisive views on the U.S. counterterrorism campaigns in other countries following the 9/11 calamity.

"I don't agree with the military action. I don't think they should have done it in Iraq. I don't see a reason at the time," said Daniel, noting the United States had never found weapons of mass destruction in Iraq but "they destroyed the country, and they caused problems."

The counterterrorism campaigns in foreign lands launched by Washington reflect the reality of jungle rules at the international level, which is kind of typical revenge, said Michael Chu, the publisher of the Asian American Times newspaper.

Meanwhile, Daniel said he welcomes the changes in security after 9/11 and everybody has to go through the procedures that were created because of the event. Nothing like 9/11 happened again in the past 20 years and if "they did not take appropriate action, there would have been another," he said.

The United States has to remain engaged in trying to maintain stability and build the preconditions for that, said Michele Flournoy, former U.S. undersecretary of defense for policy who serves as the co-founder and managing partner with WestExec Advisors, and chair of the board with think-tank the Center for a New American Security.


Analysts believe that the United States has put too much focus on its military might and should have invested more to tackle the root causes of terrorism.

The United States remains stuck in a vicious cycle due to its obsession with the "an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth" approach, and the lack of reflections on the fundamental reasons for 9/11, Chu told Xinhua on Monday.

Things similar to what happened in Afghanistan would be repeated, said Chu, who has been living in New York City since the 1980s.

"One of the missed opportunities is that we from the start took a very military-focused approach to counterterrorism," Flournoy said, explaining that the United States ignored investing in other instruments of national power, such as diplomatic, informational, and financial tools.

On counterterrorism, "what we've learned over time is that it's one thing to have a kinetic approach that sort of gets at a specific target or disrupts a specific plot. But if you really want to create sustainable change over time, you've got to build local partners and capacity," said Flournoy.

"We have to have a global perspective, certainly, when it comes to terrorism, but also other transnational threats, be it climate change or nonproliferation, or preventing the next pandemic," she added.


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