October 2001

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By Suresh Jaura

An Attack on America… USA under Attack… The Siege of America … A Day of Infamy… America’s Day of  Terror … America under Siege…- these have been on TV screens all over the world since September 11, 2001 8.45 a.m. EST. This was to be the day of the biggest terrorist attack on U.S. soil.


Just minutes before the first jet slammed into the World Trade Center, United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan issued a statement that September 11 marked the 20th anniversary of the UN's International Day of Peace. "The International Day of Peace should be a day of global ceasefire and non-violence," he said, “a day on which we try to imagine a world quite different from the one we know”.


Sadly, this was not what Mr. Annan intended.  A day of peace? However, we did learn the world is different -- scarier and more evil. An hour or so after that, the UN's workforce of 12,000 was being evacuated from its New York headquarters.


On a beautiful autumn day in New York, the havoc of war made its most spectacular appearance on the American mainland since the 1860s. New York’s World Trade Center was demolished by two hijacked planes, the third crashed into the Pentagon, and the fourth in the countryside – with thousands dead.


The streets looked as if they had been dressed for a scene for the movie “The Day After”, which during the height of the cold war, told of the aftermath of a nuclear attack on the United States. The windows of stores facing the towers were smashed in. Around the corner on Broadway, the spire of St. Paul's Chapel protruded defiantly, as had the dome of St. Paul's Cathedral during the London Blitz, in the movie.


The only notable attack on the United States at home took place during the War of 1812, when British troops burned down the White House. The only time continental USA was attacked from the air before September 11 was in 1942 during World War II. A Japanese plane managed to drop incendiary bombs near Brookings, Oregon, in an attempt to set fire to the forests. The plane, piloted by Nobuo Fujita, dropped more bombs 20 days later. Both raids were unsuccessful.


There is only one event in modern American history comparable in scale and impact to the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon: that is the bombing of Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941, when Japan attacked the American Pacific Fleet and sank many ships.


An attack of this scale on the American homeland is something new in U.S. history. Unlike the Europeans, the Chinese, the Russians and the Japanese, Americans came out of the calamitous 20th century without suffering a single major attack on their cities and towns.


The peculiar blessing of this continent is that terrible disasters have always been what happen in distant lands. War and famine and pestilence are the stuff of far away. With rare exception, we have been sheltered.


“Sixty years after Pearl Harbor, the United States may finally find that it cannot always beat the world's horrors back to other shores,” wrote John Gray in The Globe and Mail.


The senseless slaughter of civilians, until now, had always happened somewhere else. Now the horror has hit home. Henceforth, America will also bear those scars that have always been the burden of others. Whatever we may eventually learn about the catastrophes that were visited on the United States, we know that has all changed.


“The Age of Irony died yesterday. Some events change history, some change lives. This will change us. We will be different people from this day; our values, our attitudes; our very personalities will change, as happens with survivors of disasters. For we are all survivors today, all of us, in every part of the free world”, wrote Andrew Coyne in the National Post.


Because the deed was so painstakingly planned, the date chosen had to be symbolic. September 11 marked the day in 1996 when the man who assassinated Israel Premier Itzhak Rabin at a Tel Aviv peace rally was convicted. It was the date that Chile's Communist leader Salvadore Allende was overthrown and murdered with the help of Washington's CIA. On this day in 1940, that the Germans scored a direct hit on Britain's ultimate symbol, Buckingham Palace. It was also on September 11, 1922 that a British mandate was proclaimed in Palestine, over the protests of Arabs.


September 11, 2001 will mark the day that shook the confidence of many Americans who believed that they lived in the greatest, strongest and most powerful nation on Earth.


A former New York police commissioner, Ray Kelly, remarked "We have relied for years on the relative lack of sophistication of terrorists." America has the assumption that the industrially successful are superior in all ways has been shattered.


People across Canada stood in shock and watched the terrorist chaos unfold in the United States. Fear of the unknown -- and the fear that more devastation was to come -- became so powerful that many people simply stood rooted in front of any available television set or radio to glean information. Will it lead to Third World War? Will there be conscription?


No one knew yesterday how many were killed or injured, but given that 50,000 people work in the World Trade Center on any given day -- not including visiting tourists -- the toll could surpass Pearl Harbor's 3,500.


At a worst case, it might even surpass the worst death toll in U.S. military history. That day was Sept. 17, 1862, when 20,000 died in the Civil War's Battle of Antietam. That, of course, was a fight among Americans.


This is the obituary of the World Trade Center (1970-2001). Minoru Yamasaki, the Seattle-born architect, who designed the World Trade Center, said this about his master work: "The World Trade Center buildings in New York . . . had a bigger purpose than just to provide room for tenants. The World Trade Center is a living symbol of man's dedication to world peace.”


In hindsight, the World Trade Center's vulnerability is obvious. What could be a more effective bomb than a giant kamikaze plane, attacking with a split second's notice, killing the crew and passengers too? Isn’t it ironic that the terrorists' airline of choice was American Airlines and United Airlines?


"It drives home the point that civil aviation is still one of the most vulnerable entry routes for terrorists to engage in mass attacks," said Paul Wilkinson at the Center for Studies in Terrorism in Washington, adding this is the first time the flying bomb suicide weapon has been used since the Second World War when Japanese kamikaze pilots crashed their planes into U.S. warships.


Wesley Wark, a professor of international relations specializing in intelligence services at the University of Toronto, called the attacks the worst intelligence failure in history. He immediately compared them to the Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, but he said there was one important difference.


"In 1941 [the United States] had a handful of agencies and a small budget. Nowadays they have the largest intelligence community in the world with a budget of about $30-billion (U.S.)."


The Central Intelligence Agency, the Defence Intelligence Agency and the National Security Agency, Prof Wark said, will be asked why they didn't know about the attack in advance. “Was it so secret they just didn't know? Or did they have information and not believe it? The U.S. will pore over this issue and I think they will come to the conclusion they should have known.”


“This is not just a day of infamy, this is a tragedy,” said Dana Rohrabacher, a Californian Republican, echoing the words of President Roosevelt, used after the surprise 1941 Japanese attack. “It’s probably the biggest intelligence blunder in any of our lifetimes”.


Prof. Aurel Braun, at U of T, said the United States is not used to being attacked. “They mistakenly assumed immunity to such a threat,” he said. “It's not arrogance. It's a human type of feeling. No one wants to believe someone else wishes to totally destroy them.”


“I am not surprised there was an attack… I am surprised at the size of the attack”, said Bob Graham, Chairman of Senate Intelligence Committee.


“This is a total war. I think this is a wake-up call for America”, said Sen Richard Shelby of Alabama.


This attack has emphasised the vulnerability of all modern societies. Almost all aspects of the infrastructure are open to attack. Skyscrapers, in Milan or Hong Kong as much as in London or New York, are inherently vulnerable buildings. Even teenage computer hackers can disrupt the Internet.


The US treated counter-terrorism as a local concern, not a global policy. The fight against terrorism can succeed only if it is sustained, coordinated and on a global scale. At the end of the day, any distinction between ‘‘good’’ terrorism and ‘‘bad’’ terrorism is untenable. Terrorism of any kind is evil.


The world's response must be to grow adamant that terrorism cannot triumph. It is every nation's duty to strike back by joining an anti-terrorism campaign beyond anything previously mounted. All countries must join, and all must condemn those who do not. With this act of horror, terrorists have cemented their demise.