On this day twenty years past, Al-Qaeda terrorists hijacked two airplanes that struck the twin towers late that morning. This was the most brazen and the worst terror attack ever in history. Pictures of the crumbling towers dominated the news coverage for the weeks to come. Aside from the skyscrapers, another plane was supposed to hit the White House. Through the help of daring passengers, the jet crashed on a field in Pennsylvania. Another aircraft hit the Pentagon and caused significant destruction and loss of life. That day, 2,977 humans were slain, including 265 on the four jets and 2,606 in and around the World Trade Centre (WTC). The latter left a void in the New York skyline. When the towers were built, they were the tallest buildings on Earth. They embodied America’s commercial might. Now they were a gaping reminder that terrorists had trampled on America’s front yard.
A little perspective
The 9/11 attacks weren’t the first on the Big Apple’s pre-eminent skyscrapers. In 1993, a similar foray transpired, which the same terror group perpetuated. However, the edifices remained intact. The genesis of the attacks could well be traced to US foreign policy during the Reagan years. Particularly pertinent is their stance on Afghanistan. They armed and financed the locals, which included Osama bin Laden, as they fought the common enemy. They also put Saddam in power, before regretting the decision and going to war with him. In the end, that America did not listen to valuable intelligence also cost them. Commander Massoud, a key opposition figure in Afghanistan, warned them of imminent terror attacks and to take the plight of his countrymen seriously. However, the US powerbrokers affirmed their commitment to neighbouring Pakistan, wary of upending the natural order in the Middle East.
In the wake of the deadly attacks, then-US President George W. Bush announced a global ‘War on Terror.’ Bin Laden became the most despised man on earth. The leader further unveiled an ‘axis of evil’, which included Iraq, Iran, North Korea, and the Taliban. He then proclaimed that Iraq harbouring weapons of mass destruction was ‘a slam dunk.’ This became the basis of the Iraq invasion. In a matter of days, the media widely reported that the Americans had liberated the Iraqis. Indeed, they toppled an imposing statue of the tyrant in the capital. However, there was no sighting of Osama Bin Laden. Moreover, the media failed to report that Iraqi civilians butchered four American soldiers, their corpses paraded along the streets of Baghdad. Regardless, no such cataclysmic weapons were ever found in Iraq.
Aside from the US government’s response, the city became a no-go zone as the dust settled. Bernard Hopkins and Felix Trinidad were to meet in a mega-fight at Madison Square Garden. The two pugilists came in to unify the middleweight crown for the first time in a decade. However, their press conference was postponed considering the strikes, which happened just a few blocks away. The fist fight itself was rescheduled to 29 September 2001. Even a golfer named Tiger became a scared rabbit, spurning his event despite a hefty appearance fee. In ensuing reports, the towers’ great crumble was reportedly heard many blocks away. The haze from the buildings was visible from other boroughs.
An Aussie’s tale
Filmmaker Michael Moore takes a different tack on Bush, as highlighted in Fahrenheit: 9/11. He suggests that the President gave conflicting messages as he dealt with the situation. Meanwhile, a few years back, an Australian programme did a special. An Aussie who worked in New York at the time was one of the guests. He remembers the experience as being very surreal. He was in one of the middle floors when disaster happened. He recalls seeing his officemates becoming upset and despondent. Remaining calm, he climbed down the stairs. In such scenarios, using the lift is out of the question. As he made his way down the stairwell, he encountered a guy, who asked him a question. The descent took forever, and he admitted that it was the longest such walk in his life. Later, having heard of the fatalities, he was very grateful for being alive.
The enduring battlefront
The hunt for Bin Laden became a protracted struggle in two countries. The Afghan intervention lasted twenty years, marking the longest war in American history. The main purpose of the conflict was to free the country from the Taliban’s radical rule and to oversee a democratic government. A surge in terrorists and oppression were seen as the grim alternative. Meanwhile, the fall of Saddam Hussein did not mark the end of hostilities in Iraq. Barrack Obama, Bush’s successor, finally silenced Bin Laden. This campaign had cost the US billions of dollars and left the economy in dire straits. After twenty years, the Taliban toppled the US-backed government in a matter of days. Scenes of denizens desperately fleeing the regime captured the irrationality of the war. Thus, that hundreds of Afghans would converge on an American cargo plane was ironic.
The War on Terror has concretised every Westerner’s paranoia, legitimising the use of surveillance in carrying out these ends. Whole new agencies were established and not just in the US. Ordinary citizens caught in the wrong situation are branded as ‘terrorists’, while the real wolves blend in with the herd of sheep. This ensured the popularity of such shows as Homeland, which built on these fears head-on. In fairness, the 9/11 attacks were not an aberration. The subsequent Bali bombings likewise resulted in the deaths of hundreds. This has been perceived as the Aussie version of 9/11. Subsequent bombings in Europe meant that this is far from an American headache. In the past few weeks alone, an attack was carried out in Afghanistan in the last days of US withdrawal.
Twenty years later
A memorial listing all the victims’ names was set up at ground zero. Like the War Memorial in Washington, this is a lasting tribute to all the lives that were tragically cut short. Regardless, during the Saturday prior to 9/11, my auntie and my late uncle were able to visit the landmark. Three days before the crumble, I must hand it to her as her timing was spot-on. This was a day that lived in infamy, the day when the threat of home court terror became actualised. Twenty years on, we remember the courageous efforts of both the rescuers and those brave passengers who defended their country when all hope seemed lost.