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The terrorist attacks on September 11th, 2001 signaled a new era in world history. The hijacked jets used in the strike destroyed New York’s World Trade Center and damaged the Pentagon, the headquarters of the U.S. military near Washington, D.C. The attacks also sent shock waves through American society that are still being felt more than 10 years later.
Shortly after that September morning, the U.S. military entered a decade-long state of war. U.S. forces, with strong public support, invaded Afghanistan in order to wipe out terrorist bases there. In 2003, they also swept into Iraq in order to remove Saddam Hussein from power. The Iraq War proved very controversial as many Americans were unconvinced of the threat Hussein posed to the United States.
More than 6,000 American troops have been killed in the two wars, and hundreds of thousands of Afghans and Iraqis have died as well. While U.S. combat forces left Iraq at the end of 2011, the U.S. remains tangled in Afghanistan in a conflict costly both in lives and money.
Americans experienced a different kind of shock in 2007–08. Poor planning and risky behavior among banks and other financial institutions triggered a global economic crisis. Companies went out of business, and millions of workers lost their jobs. Poverty jumped in most American communities. Hard times have resulted in unrest and protests, both here and abroad.
On the environmental front, climate scientists have grown increasingly alarmed by the threat of rising temperatures and sea levels associated with climate change. The world watched with dismay as a massive oil spill polluted the Gulf of Mexico in 2010, and a year later when a nuclear disaster in Japan poisoned towns and farmlands with radiation.
The first decade of the 21st century has not been all gloom and fear, however. In 2008, Americans elected the first African American president, Barack Obama. Advances in technology and communication have made people more interconnected than ever through gadgets and applications like smartphones, Twitter, and Facebook. Science and medicine continue to push back the limits of what we know about ourselves, our world, and even our universe.