It was just 19 al-Qaida terrorist who flew four jetliners into three buildings and a Pennsylvania field on Sept. 11, 2001, but they changed the world — or the reaction of politicians changed the world. It was a shocking blow against civilization in general and America in particular and many hoped it would lead to increased understanding and cooperation among nations to wipe out the causes of extremist violence, but instead it went the other way.

Although Osama bin Laden, leader of the then-little known terrorist group al-Qaida was responsible, the administration of President George W. Bush, supported by an angry American public and Congress, appropriately invaded Afghanistan, bin Laden's base, but then invaded Iraq, a country that had little or nothing to do with the attack. The U.S. invasion unseated a dictator, but also destabilized Iraq, creating a chaotic breeding ground for the new terrorist engine of the so-called Islamic State. Almost 3,000 died on 9/11. Almost 4,500 U.S. service personnel and somewhere between half a million and 1 million Iraqis have been killed in the Iraq war. 

The financial cost of the war has been huge, with estimates as high as $5 trillion. The federal budget, by comparison is $3.8 trillion a year. The 9/11 attacks also led to the creation of mega-budgeted Homeland Security and TSA, and made airline travel fall well short of the “friendly skies” we used to love. 

The 9/11 attack was something too horrific for even Hollywood to dream up or portray, yet there it was in real life, while most of us on the West Coast were getting dressed and making coffee as we headed out for work. It’s a moment frozen in time, one that created endless debate about the soul of the nation and where it’s going. It also planted a toxic mix of enmity and misunderstanding between America and Islam, a fear regularly exploited by politicians who promise to restore the security we took for granted at the turn of the century. 

We asked Ashlanders how they felt 9/11 has changed the world and how the attack and its response has affected them personally.

Kim Garcia (declined photo) — There’s a lot more fear, finger-pointing and judging of others. You can see how we perceive people different from us, from other countries and religions. It’s made it worse. There are so many more divisions now. This election has pulled those fears out and put more wedges between people. It bothers me.

Bob Valine — It’s started a lot of wars and made a lot of money for defense contractors. It’s made a lot of our service people suffer, as well as people from other countries. It’s made us question what we’re doing in other countries. It was a terrible shock, followed by anger and revenge. The leaders in office acted like school boys, saying "if you hit me, I’m doing to beat you up." I hope we’ve learned something, how to respond to such terrible things. It’s difficult to believe it could happen. Human nature shows in the reaction that you’re going to go out there and get revenge, whether it’s responsible or not. I hoped we could change that, but that illusion is gone. All the lies people thrive on ... but I still stay involved in our election. 

“Nuni” — I remember 9/11. I was living in Tahoe and woke up to the news. I couldn’t believe it. I believe it was a conspiracy, the way our government went into Iraq to get oil, really, and going after bin Laden. I was really upset. Now, I just try to live my life and be positive. 

Donnie Golightly — It made us more skeptical. It forced me into early retirement because we could be next (as victims of terrorism).

Caryn Tierney — It made people more security conscious and reactive, more willing to give up personal rights for the sake of security. Me, I feel it increased my level of fear, but also compassion and awareness of different cultures. 

John Darling is an Ashland freelance writer. Reach him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.