Two decades ago, people awoke to find that Al Qaeda extremists had destroyed the Twin Towers, leaving America—and much of the world—in tears and anger. A generation later, we find ourselves waking up to a very different world—one with new threats and new sorrows, over which too few are now “sighing and crying.”
The events of September 11, 2001 are etched into the minds of all who are old enough to remember them. We know where we were when the news of the World Trade Center attack first came to us. We remember seeing the 110-story North Tower billowing black smoke and seeing the second plane hit the South Tower—many of us watching it on live TV. We remember the first report of something happening at the Pentagon in Washington, DC, and then the report of a plane crash in Pennsylvania.
The news of what has since been called “9/11” shook the United States and shocked the world. Nearly 25,000 people were injured in the attacks and 2,977 died—more than were killed during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. How could such a devastating tragedy occur? That day was destined to change the world. That was obvious to any thinking person, but exactly how the world would be different took time to understand.
Messages of support and sympathy flooded in from leaders around the world, although some in the Islamic world celebrated in the streets—dancing, chanting, shooting weapons into the air, and burning American flags. The skies were eerily quiet for a time, with commercial air traffic into and within North America diverted and grounded. So many transatlantic flights were diverted to Newfoundland that stranded passengers were taken into homes and impromptu shelters, where they were fed and cared for during several days until airspace was reopened and all the planes could be cleared for departure. Similar scenarios played out at several Canadian airports. It took three years for air traffic to return to pre-9/11 levels.
There were many questions asked on that fateful day and those that followed. Would there be more attacks? Who was responsible? How would America respond? Then there was the question of why. That is the question this Tomorrow’s World article will answer.
There was also anger, as America wanted to strike back. However, this was not Pearl Harbor, where the enemy was so easily identified. A war against a country with borders is not the same as a war on terrorism, which is not the same as a war on terrorists. Rage and anger turned into patriotic fervor, as seen in one defiant picture circulated in the aftermath. Its caption read, “They wanted to change America, and indeed they did,” and it showed a residential street with American flags displayed at every home. Americans laid politics aside for a few weeks and pulled together. There would be no tolerance for antipatriotic displays—no taking a knee during the playing of the national anthem, no turning one’s back and covering one’s head.
America was united for a short time—indeed, much of the Western world was, as we remembered that 372 of the casualties of 9/11 had been residents of other countries. For a few weeks, church attendance was up, but this did not last. There was no lasting national turning back to God and biblical values. Patriotism replaced repentance—a poor substitute.
Is America today a more righteous nation? Is it stronger? What about the Western world in general? What about the world as a whole? Are we any more secure?
The changes over the last 20 years have been precipitous, as we see from a two-decade trip down memory lane. Remember when there were no security lines at airports? A whole generation cannot remember when the greatest security check was handing over a ticket at the gate. We could send off our loved ones right up to the point of boarding. Such scenes are still seen in popular classic movies—and, if New York is part of the setting, you may see the older skyline, which included two square towers standing above those around them. But the changes go deeper than that, and they are not always understood or appreciated.
New banking regulations and laws against money laundering have been put in place. Former expectations of privacy have become a relic of the past. Virtually every keystroke, spoken word, social connection, purchase, and inquiry is being monitored. Some suggest that you not have an Alexa or other command box in your bedroom, but what about that smartphone that is constantly listening? And those are legal surveillance tools. What about the excesses that lurk in the grey recesses of the cyberworld and the “dark web”?
Following 9/11, the U.S. massively ramped up electronic surveillance, otherwise known as spying. Spying has been around as long as man has been on the earth. Neighbors spy on neighbors through the window blinds. Baseball teams “steal” the communication symbols between pitchers and catchers. Football teams steal their opponents’ playbooks. Nations pry into the affairs of other nations, friends and foes alike. Companies spy on and steal trade secrets from their competitors. Everyone, it seems, wants to get an edge on his neighbor.
As the Internet grew in the 1990s and the 2000s, a new breed of programmer flourished—the hacker. Many enjoyed the thrill of finding a flaw in Microsoft’s programs and letting the company know so the flaw could be patched. Others were not so noble and found ways to exploit flaws with a bit of mischief. Over time, hackers realized there was money in finding a flaw and informing the company before any mischief was done. At first, a “zero-day” discovery—a flaw that had not yet been corrected—could fetch a hacker a few hundred dollars, but U.S. government agencies began paying five- and six-figure sums once they realized how advantageous a zero-day could be in hacking into a terrorist’s or enemy nation’s computer network.
Pandora’s box was opened, with one country after another getting into the business of buying zero-day exploits to spy at will on nations and individuals. As is so often the case, the road to destruction was paved with good intentions.
“You have to understand,” one… analyst told me, “we were collecting crazy intelligence…. Our work was landing directly in presidential briefings. You felt your work was saving countless lives” (Nicole Perlroth, This Is How They Tell Me the World Ends: The Cyberweapons Arms Race, p. 112).
This relatively new form of spying was complicated, as it involved sorting through the massive amounts of information coming in—but technology came to the rescue.
By 2008 the NSA [National Security Agency] feverishly began removing human decision-making—and with it any complicated moral calculus—from their work. A highly classified NSA software program code-named Genie began aggressively embedding implants not just in foreign adversaries’ systems but in nearly every major make and model of internet router, switch, firewall, encryption device, and computer on the market. By 2013 Genie was managing 85,000 implants… with plans to push that number into the millions.
We have reached the point at which every touch on your smartphone, every word that you whisper in your bedroom, everywhere you go, and everything you buy is likely to be logged and listened to in cyberspace. Even if you do not own a smartphone, you are known by the friends you keep and what your political leanings are. There is a biblical proverb that advises, “Do not curse the king, even in your thought; do not curse the rich, even in your bedroom; for a bird of the air may carry your voice, and a bird in flight may tell the matter” (Ecclesiastes 10:20). Never in the history of man has that advice been more relevant.
By 2007, the problem of the Iranian Natanz nuclear-enrichment facility—secure beneath 30 feet of concrete and rock, housing 8,700 centrifuges designed to produce weapons-grade uranium—was becoming acute. Israel was getting nervous about Iranian capabilities and was putting pressure on the U.S. to supply “bunker-buster” bombs to destroy the plant. Diplomacy had failed to stop the Iranians, and the potential destabilizing effect of a massive strike was considered too great. It was then that the National Security Agency’s Keith Alexander put forth a third option—a cyberattack. It would not be easy, but General Alexander convinced President George W. Bush that it could be done.
“Olympic Games” was a complicated operation spearheaded by the U.S.—some comparing it to the Manhattan Project that produced the first atomic bomb. In addition to developing an incredibly complicated computer worm, it relied on the Israelis for inside knowledge of the Natanz facility; but all was for naught unless someone could get Stuxnet, the highly sophisticated code, into an extremely secure plant. There are many speculations, but it has never been revealed who actually did it. However, by late 2008, the worm had been inserted into the Natanz plant and was spreading from computer to computer. Incoming President Barack Obama was briefed on the operation, and within a month of his inauguration the first of 1,000 centrifuges failed, thanks to the worm. Stuxnet’s full attack did not occur all at once, but took place gradually over the next year, effectively making sabotage appear to be natural failure.
Cyberattacks are now common, as nations probe their enemies’ security weaknesses. Opportunists hack into the computer systems of companies and governments to extort millions of dollars in ransom. Many Americans, especially on the East Coast, were affected firsthand when a cyberattack shut down the Colonial Pipeline on May 7 this year—but this was only the most obvious attack of many that affect daily life in ways seen and unseen.
Consider that in the first 70 days of 2021, according to the Daily Hawker, the following companies were hacked, exposing users’ names, addresses, Social Security information, birthdates, passwords, banking information—essentially anything needed to steal your identity and much more: Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, Parler, Pixlr, Nebraska Medicine, California DMV, Kroger, Oxford University Lab, T-Mobile, Microsoft Exchange, and many more. The number of people compromised by such cybercrime runs into the hundreds of millions, but there are greater dangers than someone stealing your identity, as troublesome as that is.
Hackers broke into a water treatment facility in Florida, gained access to an internal ICS platform and changed chemical levels, making the water unsafe to consume…. Sheriff Bob Gualtier said on Friday, February 5, hackers remotely accessed a computer system that a plant operator was monitoring…. The hacker changed the sodium hydroxide from about 100 parts per million to 11,100 parts per million…. This is obviously a significant and potentially dangerous increase. Sodium hydroxide, also known as lye, is the main ingredient in liquid drain cleaners. It’s also used to control water acidity and [to] remove metals from drinking water in the water treatment plants. After the intruder increased the parts per million, the intruder exited the system and the plant operator immediately reduced the level back to the appropriate amount of 100 (“Hacker breaks into Florida water treatment facility, changes chemical levels,” SecurityMagazine.com, February 9, 2021).
The world is now toying with a new weapon of potential mass destruction. What started out as an attempt to stop world terrorism has spawned a whole new world of terrorism. What will happen when more and more power grids and transportation facilities are shut down?
Since 9/11, our world has changed in many other remarkable ways. Same-sex marriage has become accepted by the majority of people in nation after nation—especially in the so-called “First World” English-speaking nations. Almost as soon as same-sex marriage became “normalized,” the “trans” movement began. Behaviors that were unacceptable 20 years ago are now promoted at the earliest levels of education.
Before 9/11, women were already encroaching on almost every last domain of men. Girls demanded that they be allowed in the Boy Scouts and on boys’ baseball and football teams. Female reporters demanded access to the locker rooms of male sports teams. But what goes around comes around. Today, men identifying as women are invading women’s sports at every turn, pushing women aside as these larger and stronger XY-chromosomed specimens of “womanhood” break record after record. Any male who decides that he wants to be female can now enter a women’s locker room. This might seem to be a just reward for those who promoted the idea that men and women are the same. However, the father whose daughter was being considered for an athletic scholarship until the transgender athlete showed up has a right to be furious about this injustice! And, as a husband, I find it insulting for men to be given access to a restroom while my wife is there. Or, in places with two unisex restrooms so as not to offend, a toilet that some uncouth man just used while refusing to lift the seat is an offense to the woman or girl who uses it next.
Girls who cannot legally get a tattoo or go on a school field trip without parental permission can easily get an abortion or testosterone injection without that same safeguarding consent. We are told that minors are intelligent enough to make those decisions on their own—but why, then, do we not let them drive a vehicle, buy alcohol, purchase a gun, or make a host of other choices until they reach an age higher than is required for them to destroy their bodies and futures? Let’s call this movement being promoted on social media and in schools what it is: child abuse and insanity. All of these changes have taken place since 9/11.
Our democracies are failing. Division within them is the order of the day. “Polarization is tearing at the seams of democracies around the world, from Brazil and India to Poland and Turkey. It isn’t just an American illness; it’s a global one” (“How to Understand the Global Spread of Political Polarization,” CarnegieEndowment.org, October 1, 2019).
The U.S. is more divided today than at any time since the American Civil War—and what will happen to the rest of the world if America tears itself apart? As Jesus proclaimed, “Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation, and a house divided against a house falls” (Luke 11:17).
Yes, a lot has changed since 9/11. So, we must ask: How did we go so wrong in the last 20 years? What is the cause of our problems?
The God of the Bible inspired the prophet Moses to proclaim a choice for His people. If they obeyed God there would be wonderful blessings, but if they disobeyed Him, there would be terrible consequences. You may not at this time understand the identity of most of the Western nations—including the United Kingdom, the U.S., Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and many of the nations of northwestern Europe—but you can understand the mind of God through His word.
Take a look at the blessings and curses found in Leviticus 26. Those blessings include rain in due season, abundant crops, good health, and great military strength against enemies. But then, beginning in verse 14, we learn the results of disobedience. Can we connect the dots between our behaviors and the curses God pronounced on those who would disobey Him?
But if you do not obey Me, and do not observe all these commandments, and if you despise My statutes, or if your soul abhors My judgments, so that you do not perform all My commandments, but break My covenant, I also will do this to you: I will even appoint terror over you, wasting disease and fever which shall consume the eyes and cause sorrow of heart. And you shall sow your seed in vain, for your enemies shall eat it (Leviticus 26:14–16).
Note the order of events as emphasized above. It was evident for several years prior to 9/11 that Americans and others had begun not only neglecting, but actually despising God’s law. And the result? Americans and others have been fighting a war against terrorism since 9/11, with America long mired in conflicts in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Syria. Only this year has the U.S. withdrawn from 18 years of conflict in Afghanistan—its longest war by far—and who knows what it will have to show for it in the end?
Further, the whole world has been fighting a war against disease. And the western U.S. and Canada are in one of the worst droughts in recent history. Note this astonishing report from The Guardian:
On Sunday, the small mountain town of Lytton, British Columbia, became one of the hottest places in the world. Then, on Monday, Lytton got even hotter—47.9C (118F)—hotter than it’s ever been in Las Vegas, 1,300 miles to the south. And by Tuesday, 49.6C (121F). Lytton is at 50 deg N latitude—about the same as London. This part of the world should never get this hot. Seattle’s new all-time record of 108F, also set Monday, is hotter than it’s ever been in Miami. In Portland, the new record of 116F would beat the warmest day ever recorded in Houston by nearly 10 degrees (“How did a small town in Canada become one of the hottest places on Earth?,” TheGuardian.com, June 30, 2021).
Some attribute this to global warming, but is that also the cause of terrorism and COVID-19? Why are all these troubles occurring at roughly the same time? Unless we turn around and move in a very different direction, here is our future: “I will set My face against you, and you shall be defeated by your enemies. Those who hate you shall reign over you, and you shall flee when no one pursues you” (Leviticus 26:17). Do not think it cannot happen. Connect the dots and reevaluate your life and choices—before it is too late.