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David Miller Online. What Came of September 11?

David Miller Online. What Came of September 11?

It is hard to believe that it is a year since the terrorist attacks on the United States. When one watches the images of those hijacked planes hitting the World Trade Centre it feels like it happened just yesterday. However a lot has happened in the past twelve months that are a direct result of the al-Qaeda assault. First of all, Osama bin Laden rose to prominence. Until that day he was little more than the leader of an Afghan based terrorist organisation. Now he is the most wanted man alive. The United States, once so secure in its place as the only superpower left on the planet realised that for all its military supremacy and economic might it could not defend itself against the actions of a handful of men from shadowy terrorist movement. Many things changed that day.

President George W. Bush has emerged from September 11 a much stronger president and leader. We should not forget that Mr. Bush only gained his ticket to the White House on the back of a Supreme Court ruling that blocked a recounting of votes in Florida and his presidency started amidst much protest, scepticism and ridicule. That all changed on September 11. Suddenly a leader emerged who was not afraid to take the fight to the Afghan hills and vowed to fight al-Qaeda wherever they tried to hide. As a result, Mr. Bush has received widespread support for his actions and the public and most democrats have rallied behind him in this new war.

This is a new kind of war. Academics and terrorist writers did warn of its coming throughout the 1990’s and even in the decades before, however September 11 was the day it truly arrived. Suddenly what was written in books and articles was unfolding in front of our eyes and that was one of the legacies of September 11. The enemy had changed. The US and its allies were no longer fighting what they consider a rogue state but instead were up against a non-governmental organisation that was spread throughout the world in highly organised and well-equipped cells. These cells were financed privately by Osama bin Laden who almost immediately became the most wanted man alive and for millions of people around the world the living embodiment of international terrorism. After watching the numerous television programmes dealing with September 11, the impression one gets is that the real legacy of that day is the feeling of insecurity that was inflicted onto the American government, military and people. Watching and listening to people describe how the Capitol was evacuated in a bid to protect the civilian government at all costs truly demonstrates the fear that Americans felt that day and have continued to feel since. The fact that the President and his senior officials were all hurried into bunkers and secure locations demonstrated that the US dealing was with a situation designed for nuclear war and the procedures established for a scenario in the Cold War were being implemented in the 21st Century in response to terrorists.

This column has often stated that the true power of terrorism is that is inflicts psychological damage onto a country and its people as well or instead of the physical. This has proved to be the case in Europe over the past four decades and has been so clearly illustrated in Israel with the suicide bombings. What terrorism does is tell a government and a people that no matter the size of their armed forces, the size and strike power of their weaponry or even the number of nuclear weapons they hold, the military and law enforcement cannot protect them. Even if there is not another terrorist incident within the US borders this year or even next, the threat perception has been placed within the US mindset and overcoming it will prove extremely difficult if not almost impossible. The images of the planes hitting the twin towers will always be there despite the US military successes in Afghanistan and with it the fear that it can happen again.

What is most ironic of all is that the al-Qaeda operatives used an old tactic in a new era. The hi-jacking of airliners was something that was considered no longer a primary terrorist tactic and one that went out of style in the 1970’s with the Palestine Liberation Organisation and Red Brigades. The US under the Clinton Administration prepared itself for cyber attack and weapons of mass destruction but in the end it was the hi-jacking of planes that inflicted the damage. For all the new ideas as to the development and sophistication of terrorism, those who used it twelve months ago reverted to an old method with devastating effect.

The question I am now asking is will the US ever be able to move forward from September 11? I have my doubts. For one thing, the twin towers will never rise again so there is a physical reminder as well as the personal. New York city is still struggling to come to terms with the costs of that day and the people of the US are looking over their shoulders more than ever. Even with people such as Donald Rumsfeld and Colin Powell leading the charge in the war on terrorism, Americans will struggle to feel safe and protected and that inability to overcome the fear and feeling of threat is the true legacy of September 11.


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