21 Years On

Today is September 11th 2022, the twenty-first anniversary of the attacks on New York City and Washington by a number of Al Qaeda associated terrorists. One of the questions asked on social networks today is, how do you mark this momentous day?

As someone who lived in the NYC area at the time and saw the towers collapse not on television but with my own eyes, I don’t mark the day in particular.

The trauma of the events, the heroism of the first responders, the sorrow of knowing how many lives were extinguished in the collapse, seeing people come together, neighbors helping neighbors… these are things that stay with me all the time. They don’t go away the other 364 days of the year.

But every year on the day I’m reminded of how the right-wing stole the day and used it as an excuse to start a war of choice in Iraq that’s completely destabilized the region and lead to millions of deaths as well as the establishment of a ultra-fascist state (ISIS) that no one has been able to fully eradicate, and ultimately the start of the downward spiral in which the United States finds itself now where it feels like 30% of the country have become radicalized white supremacists as a result of the power hunger of the Republican Party.

In a very real sense 9/11 was the beginning of the end of Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda, and it should have been recognized as such. It was a desperate operation that was meant, in the planners’ minds, to “wake up America” and cause it to rebel against their leaders for their historical hubris, and resulted in the opposite. That’s the real goal of what are intended to be “revolutionary actions”. The only thing it showed is how much Al Qaeda’s leaders had their heads up their own asses. In America the right-wingers started the battle cry and the others followed in response to the trauma of the event. How people who had renounced any national alliance and instead chose to live in literal caves in Afghanistan thought that they knew how Americans thought would be pretty comical if it hadn’t lead to so much death.

Even in tactical terms I’m certain the operation was pretty much a failure. In the famous video that was issued shortly after this Osama bin Laden expressed that the event had been “more successful than had been hoped”, which is something he would say, but what he betrayed there was that things hadn’t gone to plan. We now know there was supposed to be a fifth plane but the prospective pilot of that plane had been in FBI custody for a while. One of the four planes was brought down in Pennsylvania as a result of the passengers storming the cockpit, and the attack on the Pentagon had not caused nearly as much damage as had been hoped.

Personally I have always believed that what the planners thought would happen as a result of the airplanes hitting the towers was that the momentum would cause the towers to topple over. That would have been an absolute catastrophe for lower Manhattan. The towers site is very close to Wall Street and the NYSE was only a few blocks away. Had the first plane had its intended effect the NYSE and everyone in the building at the time would have become history. As it were yes, the entirety of lower Manhattan was covered by asbestos-laden dust as a result of the attack, but the actual heavy debris zone was confined to a surprisingly small area, extending past the footprint of the WTC site only by about one NYC block. One can’t overestimate how important that detail is in retrospect. The NYSE reopened less than a week later, which is pretty remarkable.

The fact that the towers pretty much collapsed into their own footprints is something that (in my opinion) OBL didn’t expect and didn’t plan for. As was the low number of casualties. These were the two largest buildings in NYC, a place full of natural go-getters who really don’t think that showing up to work at 7am is unusual. The city itself put in an order for 50,000 body bags in the days following the attack and that did not really strike anyone as being excessive at the time. That ultimately less than 3000 died was pretty amazing. Ultimately the terrorists had a “symbolic victory” at the expense of losing pretty much everything they had.

What America did to itself and the world as a result of 9/11 is something much worse. I won’t go through it here because, well, it’s 21 years of nihilistic Republican hubris occasionally paused by Democrats desperately trying to fix things while dodging GOP knives aimed at their backs. It’s just too long to go through. I’m left with the overwhelming sense that the USA I knew and loved before that no longer exists, with the fault of that not being the attack but the rabid and ugly nationalism that followed it. And for all the posturing and chest-beating the USA has steadfastly refused to hold Saudi Arabia responsible in any way for their part in the plot — which was just an extension of the usual Saudi policy of remaining willingly blind to terrorist plots as long as they happen outside the Kingdom. Most of the hijackers were from Saudi Arabia and many of them had their rents in America paid by the Saudi Crown while they lay in wait for the signal to strike. None of this is new, everything’s in the official 9/11 report. But oil money speaks louder than corpses in the rubble.

So, every year at this time, that’s what I consciously remember. America responding to the last dying spark of Al Qaeda, by slowly but surely destroying itself and making a mockery of its own so-called principles.

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