September 11, 2001, is still frightening, reminding people of destruction and death, and constantly reminding people that terrorism remains a real threat. Not coincidentally, twenty years after the spectacular and bloody bombings that toppled the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center (WTC) in New York, hit the Pentagon in Washington and caused the crash of United Airlines Flight 93 in Pennsylvania, the world did not get rid of the trauma. The violence of the al-Qaeda terrorist network remains in humanity’s collective memory and is now reborn from the shadows with the withdrawal of US military forces from Afghanistan. The attacks left 2,996 people dead and marked New York City forever. Furthermore, the world has changed with the end of the illusion of America’s invincibility—the only previous attack on its territory that the Americans have suffered was the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor in World War II, which left nearly 2,000 dead.
In 2001, the US was still the world’s only superpower and did not have China as a rival. Triumphant with the victory over the Soviet Union in 1991, Americans lived the euphoria of global domination and exported the model of economic liberalism and the 1990s bonanza, with the theory that democracy would be the ideal government regime for all. They felt indestructible and could not imagine that, at any moment, they would suffer a devastating attack by people opposed to the democratic regime, like the one executed by Osama bin Laden. Signs that terrorism might break out, however, were already emerging. Al-Qaeda, whose obsession was to hit the New York WTC, carried out a car bombing of the buildings’ garages in 1993.
“The September 11 attack was so huge that another one of the same magnitude never happened again. The Americans made an enormous effort, with the expenditure of trillions of dollars and two wars, in addition to the increase of the entire State apparatus to fight terror”, comments Felipe Loureiro, professor of International Relations at the University of São Paulo (USP). As a result of the attack, he points out that the American government, through the Patriot Act, a law signed by George Bush shortly after the attacks, obtained an overwhelming control over citizens’ private information. The Patriot Act expired in 2015 and was replaced by the Obama Freedom Act.
The US also created the Department of Homeland Security, increasing bureaucracy and controlling travel. Rules for civil aviation, airports and access to public events have become stricter. “The current doctrine is to fight terror without having soldiers in the places where the terrorists are. There was a huge advance in the technology that allows this in 2021”, says Loureiro. He points out that terror, however, has increased in peripheral countries, mainly Muslim-majority. Today the world is witnessing wars in Yemen and in Afghanistan itself. Political scientist Hussein Kalout of Harvard University notes that fighting terror is no longer a hotspot on America’s foreign agenda. “The international agenda today is based on other themes, such as artificial intelligence and climate”, he says. According to him, the US is better protected than in 2001, as it has greater control of its borders and tracks terror money.
For hundreds of millions of people who were already adults in 2001, the images of 9/11, broadcast in real time on television, remained in the memory. As the towers collapsed, a thick cloud of dust engulfed lower Manhattan and neighboring Chinatown. A gigantic column of smoke rose from the island of Manhattan, being seen even from the International Space Station. The dust that invaded the streets was highly toxic, as it was partly formed by pulverized concrete and asbestos. Of the 5,000 firefighters who participated in the rescues, nearly 1,000 developed respiratory diseases in the following years, as well as other illnesses such as depression and cancer. Even today, many victims are unknown. On Tuesday, New York’s chief of forensic medicine said two more dead had been identified through DNA testing. To date, 1647 victims have had their identities confirmed.
to fight against terror, the US spent $8 trillion. An estimated 900,000 people have died in conflicts in Asia
Brazilian Fabiano Proa is a case of a New Yorker who witnessed three attacks on the World Trade Center — in 1993, 2001 and 2017. On September 11, 2001, he was having coffee with a photographer friend in the financial district, when the first plane reached the North Tower of the WTC. “We went out into the street when the second plane crashed into the South Tower. Panic broke out, not least because we didn’t know if more attacks were to come”, he recalls. The 2017 attack took place near Memorial Plaza and the current tower, the Freedom Tower. An Uzbek Islamic State terrorist threw the truck he stole at tourists near the Hudson River. Eight people died. In 2011, US President Barack Obama captured and killed Osama Bin Laden in Abbottabad, Pakistan. The most aggressive terrorist group today, however, is the Islamic State (IS), which emerged after the American invasion of Iraq in 2003. The overthrow of Saddam Hussein opened a power vacuum, filled in the following years by the “jihadists”. “As of 2011, IS was also fueled by the civil war in Syria. In 2014, they took Mosul, the second largest city in Iraq, and proclaimed the caliphate,” says Loureiro. At the time, Obama saw the risk and sent thousands of troops to Iraq. US-trained Iraqi and Kurdish troops retake Mosul in 2017. The “caliphate” has been destroyed, but the organization remains active. In Afghanistan, EI founded its local group, EI-K.
To fight the “War on Terror” the US spent $8 trillion, estimates a recent study by Brown University. The survey estimates that the wars left 900,000 people dead, including American soldiers, allied military, enemies and mostly civilians in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Syria. In Afghanistan alone, $2.3 trillion was spent. Another $2.1 trillion was spent in Iraq and Syria. The fear now is that ISIS will gain strength and usher in a new era of fear. On Saturday 11, Biden will visit, with his wife Jill, the three places affected by the attacks in 2001. What he wants is “to honor and honor the lost lives”. And once again display the scars of one of history’s greatest tragedies, which he hopes will not be repeated.