On Tuesday September 11, 2001 the world was changed forever by the most devastating terrorist attack in history.
2,996 people (including the 19 terrorists) were killed and many more injured after two planes crashed into the World Trade Centre towers in the heart of New York's financial district. Just 18 minutes after the first explosion there was a second blast as another plane hit the other tower.
The aircraft involved were passenger planes: one was an American Airlines Boeing 767 flying from Boston. The first aircraft crashed into one of the towers shortly before 9am (2pm BST). Smoke billowed out of a gaping hole in the 110-storey tower, which was utterly demolished. Soon after, the other tower was hit by a hijacked plane. People were seen jumping out of windows in a scene of appalling terror. Some 50,000 people worked in the towers, though it seems that at the time of the attack there were about 6,000 people working there.
The building, the tallest in New York, was a popular tourist attraction which houses financial services companies and the attack occurred at a time when employees and tourists would have already arrived at the building. The Centre was bombed in February 1993, killing six people and injuring more than 1,000 others. Now it no longer exists, reduced to a smouldering ruin.
Nor did the attacks stop here. In another incident, a plane crashed into the Pentagon in Washington DC, setting it on fire. In Pennsylvania, airport officials at Somerset County Airport reported a large plane crashing just north of the Somerset County Airport, about 80 miles Southeast of Pittsburgh.
The tragedies stunned the nation and prompted officials, fearing still more attacks, to evacuate the Capitol, the White House, State Department and other federal buildings. Flights were cancelled at all major airports in the USA. Shortly after the explosion at the Capitol, the federal government ordered all federal buildings in the Washington area closed down, according to the Office of Personnel Management. Within the hour, the federal government took the additional step of shutting down national landmarks across the country, including the Washington Monument, the Statue of Liberty and the St. Louis Gateway Arch, among other locations, according to the National Park Service.
US officials wasted no time in describing the incident as a terrorist attack. It seems that the FBI was investigating reports of plane hijacking before the two crashes. US president, George Bush returned to Washington and convened a national security meeting. He said the explosions were an "apparent terrorist attack" and said "terrorism against our nation will not stand". For the first time in American history the President ordered a national ground stop, prohibiting all flights under threat of being shot down.
President Bush ordered a full-scale investigation to "hunt down the folks who committed this act". "I have ordered that the full resources of the federal government go to help the victims and their families," he said, before asking his audience to hold a minute's silence, and offering a prayer for the victims.
This terrorist act was a completely insane and criminal character and justifiably condemned - but not for the hypocritical reasons given by Bush and the then British Prime Minister Tony Blair. Marxists oppose individual terrorism because it is counterproductive and plays into the hands of the most reactionary sections of the ruling class.
This was clearly the case here and it played into the hands of US Big Business and imperialism. It gave Bush a free hand to do anything he wanted in the Middle East and on a world scale. US public opinion was softened up for the reactionary policies which followed including the passing of the Patriot Act, the re-opening of Guantanamo Bay to detain so-called “terrorism suspects” and the establishment of the Department of Homeland Security to better co-ordinate the operations of the myriad intelligence agencies operating both inside the United States and beyond.
Who was behind the attacks?
Within a few days of the attack the FBI and the CIA were pointing the finger of blame at al-Qaeda. This organisation was one of the factions that broke away from the Muhajadeen which was a coalition of various reactionary groups that was formed after the Soviet Union intervened in Afghanistan in 1979.
It is obvious that this attack was in accord with Bin Laden's aims and methods and that he would have the necessary means of carrying them out. Bin Laden had called upon Muslims everywhere to attack and kill Americans. He warned three weeks before the September 11th, 2001, attack of an "unprecedented attack" on US interests because of Washington's support for Israel. This man and his movement had nothing in common with socialism or anything progressive, but it was representative of the most rabid reaction. However, it is not enough to shout about Bin Laden. It is necessary to explain how he arose and why.
It must not be forgotten that Bin Laden was originally financed, armed and backed by US imperialism and the CIA when it was part of the Muhajadeen. When it suited Washington to stir up Islamic fundamentalism as a weapon against the former Soviet Union and its allies, they had no scruples with supporting such rabid reactionaries and mass murderers. As long as the people being murdered were far away - in Afghanistan or the Middle East - these hypocrites could afford to turn a blind eye. Now they suddenly discovered that Bin Laden and his allies were the "enemies of civilisation".
As I have stated earlier, the Trade Centre was bombed before in 1993. "A second occurrence is just beyond belief," said Ira Furber, former National Transportation Safety Board spokesman. Indeed, it was, and it is clear that there were many enigmatic elements in this outrage. How did it come about that the terrorists managed to launch such an attack without alerting the US intelligence agencies?
Actually, the CIA and the FBI did know about the terrorists, their movements and that something big was going to happen because they had been warned by Saudi, Malaysian and other intelligence agencies. However, once the terrorists entered the United States efforts to monitor them were hampered because the CIA was not allowed to operate within the United States and legal restraints imposed upon the FBI meant they could not carry out the necessary criminal investigations when the actions of the terrorists began to arouse the suspicions of people such as the instructors at the flying schools where the terrorists were studying.
Thus, they were unable to connect the dots and work out exactly what was being planned. More importantly, the CIA did not pass on all the information they had about the terrorists onto the U.S State Department or the FBI because there was no legal requirement for them to do so.
It was only when the attacks had taken place that it all became obvious what was being planned by the terrorists. That was why al-Qaeda was able to be identified so quickly as the terrorist organisation which was responsible.
To those people who have never worked in a bureaucracy it’s often hard to understand that most bourgeoisie government agencies often operate within clearly defined jurisdictions. They jealously guard any information they obtain and won't share it unless they are compelled to by legislation because they know that information a major source of their power.
The official commission of inquiry into the 9/11 attacks highlighted these issues and the creation of the Department of Homeland Security was aimed at ensuring that any information gathered by various government agencies would be shared.
The Patriot Act, which was passed with virtually no opposition in Congress and Senate, greatly expanded the powers of law enforcement and the intelligence agencies and severely curbed the civil and human rights of suspected terrorists.
The economic effects
The attacks had a significant economic impact on United States and world markets. The stock exchanges did not open on September 11 and remained closed until September 17. Reopening, the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA) fell 684 points, or 7.1%, to 8921, a record-setting one-day point decline. By the end of the week, the DJIA had fallen 1,369.7 points (14.3%), at the time its largest one-week point drop in history. In 2001 dollars, U.S. stocks lost $1.4 trillion in valuation for the week.
In New York City, about 430,000 job-months and $2.8 billion in wages were lost in the first three months after the attacks. The economic effects were mainly on the economy's export sectors. The city's GDP was estimated to have declined by $27.3 billion for the last three months of 2001 and all of 2002. The U.S. government provided $11.2 billion in immediate assistance to the Government of New York City in September 2001, and $10.5 billion in early 2002 for economic development and infrastructure needs.
Also hurt were small businesses in Lower Manhattan near the World Trade Center (18,000 of which were destroyed or displaced), resulting in lost jobs and their consequent wages. Assistance was provided by Small Business Administration loans; federal government Community Development Block Grants; and Economic Injury Disaster Loans. Some 31,900,000 square feet (2,960,000 m2) of Lower Manhattan office space was damaged or destroyed. Many wondered whether these jobs would return, and if the damaged tax base would recover. Studies of 9/11's economic effects show the Manhattan office real-estate market and office employment were less affected than first feared, because of the financial services industry's need for face-to-face interaction.
North American air space was closed for several days after the attacks and air travel decreased upon its reopening, leading to a nearly 20% cutback in air travel capacity, and exacerbating financial problems in the struggling U.S. airline industry.
New World Disorder
Overnight, the greatest super power the world had ever seen turned out to be a colossus with feet of clay. The most powerful military state the world had ever seen has shown its powerlessness in the face of terrorism. Before the Second World War, Trotsky predicted that America would emerge as the victor and establish world hegemony, but he added that it would have dynamite built into its foundations. These prophetic words turned out to be literally true. In 1991, after the fall of the Soviet Union, President George W. Bush's father promised a New World Order.
The rape of the planet by Big Business has created a world fraught with misery, war and chaos, which has now impacted on the heart of world imperialism. This is the real cause of the present atrocity. The terrorism of world-wide hunger, disease, misery, exploitation and oppression which torments millions of men, women and children each and every day of their lives, is the root cause of the turmoil and instability which is sweeping the planet in the dawn of the 21st century.
Nowhere is this more obvious than in Palestine, where the people on the West Bank and Gaza are daily subjected to the bloody attacks of Israeli imperialism, their homes demolished, their young people shot down, their livelihood taken away. Is there any wonder that sections of the Palestinian youth have been driven to desperation? Is it surprising that there is a fierce hatred of US imperialism which backs Israel and remains silent about all these atrocities? Most Palestinians remembered the deafening silence from the United States and its allies when the Israelis and Christian militias massacred hundreds of Palestinians in refugee camps near Beirut, Lebanon in 1982. And talks about an "attack on civilisation" rings hollow when put in the context of the misery and suffering imposed upon hundreds of thousands of Palestinians crammed into the Gaza Strip by the Israeli authorities then and now.
All this has had the most terrible effects on the consciousness of the Palestinian masses. Hours after the attacks there were reports of celebrations on the streets of Nablus on the West Bank. The terrible suffering inflicted on the Palestinian people by Israeli imperialism, backed by Washington, is what provokes such a reaction. But it is profoundly misguided. Scenes of Palestinian youths on television demonstrating support for the killing of hundreds of US civilians did tremendous harm to the Palestinian cause in the USA and internationally. The sympathy which they had won among the workers of the USA and other countries because of their suffering at the hands of the Israeli oppressors was quickly forgotten in a wave of revulsion, which was used by the US reactionaries to whip up anti-Palestinian, anti-Muslim and anti-Arab feeling especially within the United States. This in turn paved the way for continued acts of repression against the Palestinians which was more acceptable to world public opinion, whereas previously they were condemned.
Despite its spectacular impact, even the best-organised terrorist attacks can never succeed in destroying or even seriously weakening imperialism. George Robertson, the NATO secretary at the time, immediately took advantage of the attack to advocate the stepping up of NATO's military power. The Americans and their allies invaded Afghanistan in November 2001 and Iraq in March 2003 citing the 9/11 attacks as a justification.
The regimes these invasions removed were replaced by inept and corrupt regimes that could only survive with American military and financial aid. Furthermore, they allowed al-Qaeda to expand into Iraq and other Middle Eastern countries until it was kicked into the sidelines by an even more extreme terrorist organisation: Islamic State.
In 2021 the Taliban marched back into power in Afghanistan when the U.S based government was all but thrown to the wolves by Donald Trump under a peace deal he brokered and Iraq is now firmly allied with the Iranians, which would’ve been unthinkable before 2003.
The Rise of Far Right Radicalism
While much of the discussions about 9/11 have focused on the military and economic consequences it’s often overlooked that the 9/11 attacks saw a major upsurge in attacks and acts of discrimination against Muslims both within the United States and elsewhere around the world. Racial and religious profiling became a major problem, even extending to the point that people refused to fly on a flight if a Muslim looking person boarded their aircraft.
The 9/11 attacks spawned many ridiculous and outlandish far Right conspiracies that were given great prominence, particularly through the Loose Change “documentaries” which claimed the attacks were false flag operations launched by the U.S government using missiles and controlled explosions. Loose Change was produced by the media arm of the American National Socialist Movement. Unfortunately, the anti-Establishment sentiments expressed in such so-called “documentaries” have made the conspiracies acceptable even to those who should know better.
As was pointed out earlier, U.S Big Business lost trillions of dollars in shares, real estate, rents for commercial, retail and residential properties, leases and retail sales. Nothing that President Bush and Big Business did afterwards required the 9/11 attacks for these things to happen. The 9/11 attacks just made them easier to sell to the American people and easier to get the approval of the House of Representatives.
The 9/11 attacks also helped to pave the way for a hard core of fundamentalist evangelical Christians to take over the Republican Party, spewing forth anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant and misogynistic bigotry. These evangelical Christians and other reactionaries helped pave the way for Donald Trump whose Presidency resulted in the appointment of Supreme Court judges who all but banned abortion by overturning Roe vs Wade, eroded the already pitifully few rights enjoyed by the American working class and further destabilised of the Middle East with the setting up of the U.S embassy in Jerusalem.
The 9/11 attacks changed the world forever. It revealed that, like all great nations and empires before it, the United States isn't invincible. Despite the military adventurism that was justified by the 9/11 attacks the end result is a much weaker United States that has lost both the ability and the will to bully the world.
The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq not only destabilised Central Asia and the Middle East but they cost thousands of American lives and millions of other lives with nothing to show for it. The United States virtually bankrupted itself to pay for these wars that achieved little more than to add fuel to the burning hatred of the United States that is felt in most of the Middle East and in the Muslim world as a whole.
When all is said and done the only thing the 9/11 attacks achieved was an increasingly divided world where most people struggle to survive while most of the world's wealth is concentrated in the hands of a few dozen billionaires and divisions within the United States where political parties now see their opponents as traitors and enemies of the state and people learn to hate and fear those who aren't like themselves through ideologies like identity politics.
The 9/11 attacks also highlights the need for genuine change to end the misery, poverty, alienation, bigotry, suffering and resentment that breeds terrorism and terrorists. That change can only come through Socialism.