From Thursday to Sunday Impact’s ‘Features’ and ‘News’ teams will publish four articles regarding the consequences of 9/11. Four different writers have chosen to discuss separate branches of the impact of the attacks that occurred in 2001. We look at the political, social and emotional cost of the event that defined the birth of The 21st Century.
I was 15 on 9/11. I remember after school there was talk that something had happened, but I didn’t know what. In the art department several of us huddled around a friend’s phone as he rang his dad to find out what was going on. Planes, buildings…under attack. Suddenly the helicopter overhead was a portent of doom, something had happened there and now it was happening here too… It wasn’t until I got home that I found out what had really happened, and I sat glued to the news with my dad.
The ruthlessness of it was terrible, and like everyone else, I felt sadness for those who had been lost, and those who had suffered a loss. Four planes hijacked, two crashed into the World Trade Center, another into the Pentagon, the final one brought down in a field by its passengers who assaulted the cockpit to try to regain control and prevent it being crashed into Washington DC. Two of the world’s tallest buildings felled, the symbol of American military prowess assaulted… it was hard to take in.
[pullquote]We killed Osama Bin Laden, after ten years in hiding, but Al Qaida has become a franchise operation – not a single entity, but scores of disparate cells fighting under the same banner.[/pullquote]
For the self-proclaimed greatest nation on earth, terrorism – something that had been an abstract concept, something that happened to other people – was brought home all too suddenly. I don’t subscribe to the conspiracy theories; I like to believe that the American government is not so corrupt as to bring such death on its people intentionally, but the government was not blame-free. A series of mistakes allowed terrorism to be wrought on the eastern United States.
On a local level, we can look at New York politics. In 1993, a car bomb exploded in the underground car park below 1 World Trade Center. In the aftermath of this, the city set up an emergency management centre, to coordinate efforts between the police, fire department and other emergency services. Mayor Rudy Giuliani overrode objections and had it sited in 7 World Trade Center, allegedly because that way it was within walking distance of city hall, and thus accessible for photo opportunities. 7WTC collapsed on 9/11. Furthermore, despite having bought the frequencies required to create an integrated system, the police and fire department radios could not pick up each others’ transmissions, and so many firefighters’ lives were lost because the fire chiefs weren’t coordinated with the police chiefs, and so were unable to evacuate their men before the towers collapsed. Ten years on, the radios still can’t interlink.
On a national level, efforts to stop the planes before they reached their targets were thwarted by bad luck and poor planning. That day, the armed services and coastguard were conducting a training exercise in which planes were hijacked and used as missiles, causing confusion between what was an exercise and what was real life. When the threat was realised and jets scrambled, they headed out to sea, because it had been assumed that any hijacked plane would be coming from outside the US, not from inland. Furthermore, the flight school that trained the hijackers reported them as suspicious and most of them were on the FBI watch-lists, but weren’t prevented from taking to the air. And of course, we mustn’t forget that infamous memo “Bin Laden determined to strike in US” which crossed the president’s desk a month prior to the fateful day.
Finally, we look at the international scene. Throughout the twentieth century, America has been toppling democratically-elected governments and propping up dictators who are more likely to be pro-US. Nicaragua. Chile. Panama. Iran. Bin Laden himself was trained by the CIA to help fight the Soviets in Afghanistan. Then there’s the unswerving support of Israel and the Saudis, and it’s no wonder that a fair majority of the Middle East sees America as a negative influence.
Yet what has 9/11 brought us? Two major wars to topple foreign governments, a third undeclared war in Pakistan, and tens of thousands more dead. In Afghanistan we ousted the Taliban for harbouring Bin Laden – something they were honour-bound to do, no matter what the cost – and now we are inviting them back in. I cheered when Saddam was deposed, but there was no real plan of how to rebuild Iraq, and years later essential services are still in a state of disarray. We killed Osama Bin Laden, after ten years in hiding, but Al Qaida has become a franchise operation – not a single entity, but scores of disparate cells fighting under the same banner. What with Guantanamo, extraordinary rendition, Abu Ghraib and enhanced interrogation, the situation has been made worse, not better.
No matter how intrusive we make airport security, no matter how much we crack down on photographers, no matter how much we spy on our populus, there will always be another attack coming, just so long as the conditions breed it. People commit acts of terror because they believe they are doing what is just, what is right, what will punish those whom they see as oppressors; and they will continue to do so until we change the way we approach the world. Just as the British Empire fell, so will the American, and the past years have shown that all the military might in the world cannot defeat a determined guerrilla force fighting for a cause they believe in. If you are a hammer, everything will look like a nail. If your primary method of engagement is through the military, everything will look like a war. The war on terror is a misnomer – you can’t defeat an abstract idea, you can kill the people doing it, but that won’t help. The way to defeat terrorism is to defeat the causes of terrorism.
One final thought: Osama Bin Laden said that the true cost to America of 9/11 would not be measured in lives but in dollars. I can’t help but feel he was on to something.