Remembering 9/11: The mistakes made before, during and after.

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.

Matthew Buck

5 Comments on this post.
  • Ben
    8 September 2011 at 09:48
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    The attack on the icons of America’s economic and military powers, twin towers and Pentagon, changed the world instantly. The change did not take place due to the terrorist attacks; the world was changed by the massive reaction and fury of the sole super power. Within a period of one month, an attack was launched on Afghanistan which toppled the government of Taliban but which caused the terrorists to be grateful. By the hindsight, it has now been revealed that this was what al Qaeda was asking for. It had successfully provoked the US to enter the land where two earlier super powers, Britain and USSR, had lost their pride and glory. After ten years, one trillion dollar and thousands of lives, al Qaeda is many times stronger and formidable. The US has gained nothing except for taking OBL, who was only a figurehead. The COO of al Qaeda is alive and kicking and so is his ideology of conquering the world. Read more at:

  • tomgrater
    8 September 2011 at 12:11
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    Nice article Matt. This is not a criticism, rather just an observation, but I’m not sure I could possibly be any more bored about hearing where people were on 9/11. For the last 2 or 3 days my Twitter feed has been a constant stream of “Where were you on 9/11? Share your memories with me.” To which, every reply goes something like… “I was sitting in a chair. I turned on the TV. THE HORROR.” No one’s questioning how shocking those events were, and for some perhaps even traumatising, but do we need to always recount a poll of where everybody was at that precise moment? Surely it’s completely irrelevant where everybody was, especially considering the majority of us were just glued to our TV sets. What colour t-shirt were you wearing when the Berlin Wall fell? Were you sitting or lying down when you read about the tsunami hitting Asia? How many mugs of tea had you drunk on the day Kennedy got assassinated? My argument may seem very superficial, but I’ll be close to tearing my hair out the next time anybody says to me something along the lines of… “Where were you on 9/11? I was cutting my toe nails when I heard the news. I’ve kept those clippings in a special box ever since, to remind me of the unspeakable tragedy.”

  • dan
    11 September 2011 at 14:28
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    One thing to remember Humble Opposition is that terrorism didn’t begin with 9/11. The US spent decades allowing the IRA to raise funds on the East coast. Only when it became political expedient to the US did they make any efforts to stop it. More clandestine support can be seen in the various otherthrows of governments through the Americas and the Middle East. Park Chung Hee and Suharto were also supported by the US which lead to hundreds of thousands of deaths. The Iranian overthrow was particularly damaging and hypocritical.

    The French and the British have done the same over the last decades as well though not on the same scale. I am not apologist for the actions of of some cowardly terrorists but this was political action and dramatic and effective. The world id ore polarized about US foreign policy now and to highlight that hypocrisy was one of the aims of this.

  • rob
    25 September 2011 at 11:10
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    Lizards man, it was the Lizards. The mistake was people believing facts, instead of ignoring them to see the real truth. Get REAL MANNNNN

    Im no liberal douch apologist for terrorism, however, one could argue a significant underlying cause of this round of islamist terrorism was american foreign policy. Ah you say! The west has been imperialist long before western and american imperialism. Why would a nihilistic and reactionary docitrine take place only now. Point well made. Except my point was that the west has frequently supported and armed up these reactionary scum to undercut secular nationalism and left wing movements in key countries of interest to the west. Example, the USA and Israel initially liked Hamas as they undercut the left wing secular movement in Palestine. The USA and the UK armed up and encourgaged what would become the ‘Taliban’ to agitate against Afghanistans progressive government to provoke the USSR into intervening and creating their ‘vietnam’. Support for reactionary scum bags has always been top of the agenda if they coincide with western foreign policy goals. So on this note. Surely defeating islamist terrorism would mean an end to western interference and solidarity with secular left wing movements in muslim countries.

    Err, poor writing there. I meant ‘Western imperialism has long existed before Islamist terrorism, so……’

  • iPad 2
    26 September 2011 at 11:04
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    I couldnt agree with you more

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