After reviewing the reference entries and primary-source documents provided in the Need to Know section, consider the following discussion questions:
1. Health Effects of 9/11
The debris cloud created by the collapse of the Twin Towers contained a variety of harmful substances, including glass, lead, mercury, and asbestos. According to recent medical studies, exposure to these airborne contaminants has produced respiratory illnesses, cancer, and other adverse health effects, particularly among first responders and members of cleanup crews. Although legislation was recently passed to provide medical care and monitoring for those affected, critics have accused the New York state and federal governments of failing to provide proper safety equipment and falsifying air quality reports in the days after the attack.
- How much of a health effect do you think the collapse of the World Trade Center had?
- In your opinion, did government officials knowingly misinform the public about air conditions at Ground Zero? If so, why?
- Beyond the medical care provided by the James Zadroga Health and Compensation Act, should those affected and their families be given any other form of reparations?
2. Conspiracy Theories
In the wake of 9/11, a number of alternate versions of events have emerged. Some have conjectured that the U.S. government knew about the attacks beforehand and allowed them to happen, while others have taken this a step further, suggesting that U.S. operatives, rather than Al Qaeda, perpetrated the attacks. A small minority believe that the destruction to the Pentagon and the Twin Towers was accomplished by planted explosives rather than the crashing planes.
- What do you believe happened on September 11? What evidence supports your views? How would you refute the arguments of someone who believes differently?
- Why do you think there are so many conspiracy theories surrounding 9/11?
3. Security and Civil Liberties
Two important pieces of legislation—the USA PATRIOT Act and the Homeland Security Act—were passed as a direct result of September 11. Although proponents assert that such measures are necessary, critics have argued that these acts threaten citizens' civil liberties. Issues such as airport security screening and warrantless wiretaps remain hotly debated topics.
- Should the Patriot Act continue to be reauthorized? Why or why not?
- Have the various measures instituted by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) made air travel safer?
- Is it acceptable to curtail certain individuals' civil liberties in the name of public safety?
4. War on Terror
Within weeks of the September 11 attacks, President George W. Bush had declared a "Global War on Terror" and led the nation into a war in Afghanistan, where the Taliban regime had sheltered Al Qaeda for years. Since then, U.S. troops and members of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) have worked to apprehend terrorists around the world, and in May 2011 U.S. special forces captured and killed Osama bin Laden at a compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan.
- What do you believe is the best way to combat terrorism?
- In your opinion, at what point can the War on Terror be declared "over"?
5. Rebuilding and Remembering
Since the 9/11 attacks, there have been numerous efforts to rebuild the World Trade Center and other damaged portions of New York City near Ground Zero. Across the nation, memorials have also been erected to pay homage to those who lost their lives during the attacks.
- Should the Park51 Islamic cultural center, commonly known as the "Ground Zero Mosque," be constructed so close to Ground Zero? Why or why not?
- Imagine that you have been tasked with designing a memorial to commemorate those who died in New York; Washington, D.C.; and Pennsylvania on September 11. What would it look like and where would it be located?