Politics, media and war: 9/11 and its aftermaths
Politics, media and war: 9/11 and its aftermaths

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1.1.2 The events of 11 September 2001

President Franklin Roosevelt said that 7 December 1941, the day of the attack on Pearl Harbour, ‘would live in infamy’. The same has to be said of the dark day of 11 September 2001, when terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center (New York City) and the Pentagon (Washington DC) robbed some 3,000 people, mostly civilians, of their lives. The victims, while largely American, numbered nationals from some 90 countries. In addition to the destruction of a much loved architectural landmark, the attack on the World Trade Center cost the global economy countless billions in economic losses. The response of the US and its allies, notably the UK, but also Italy, Spain and others, was to launch a ‘war on terror’, which we will discuss in future sections. It also led to US-led interventions in Afghanistan in October 2001 to overthrow the Taliban regime, which had provided safe haven to Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda, and in Iraq in March 2003 to overthrow Saddam Hussein.

9/11 is, for millions of people throughout the world, a rooted memory. Just as a generation can recall where they were and what they were doing when they heard of the assassination of President Kennedy on 22 November 1963, so we can quickly recall our own personal experience – how we felt and what we thought – as witnesses of 9/11. Few modern events have attracted such a global audience, which is something we will study later in the course. This owes much to the immediacy of the attacks and their relevance to Western audiences. Also important was the fact that the events were visually reported by the news media in real time and, by being subsequently and endlessly replayed and dissected, were reinforced among audiences well beyond the US.

The New York Times, unsurprisingly, has provided detailed reportage of the events of 9/11 and its aftermath. The newspaper’s website provides a timeline of the events of that day [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] , which you may wish to look at briefly should you need to remind yourself of that day. (You may wish to browse the additional resources that have been posted by the New York Times on this webpage, but bear in mind that this is a huge resource. For the purposes of this course, you need only to remind yourself of the timeline and immediate consequences of the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington DC.)

In the aftermath of the attacks, two New York Times journalists wrote a book reporting in detail the terrible personal experiences of some of those caught up in the events of the awful day in lower Manhattan. A review of this book – Dwyer, J and Flynn, K. 102 Minutes: The Untold Story of the Fight to Survive Inside the Twin Towers – provides some indication of the stories the authors unfold in their book. Please read the review now.

In January 2008, Guardian journalist Ed Pilkington wrote a very short newspaper article, where he tries to capture the moment of 9/11 and, however briefly, to identify its global impacts (many of which we will discuss in this course). Please read the article now.

Also writing in the Guardian newspaper, but in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, the novelist Martin Amis commented in his customary style on the initial impact of the terrorist attacks. The article foreshadows many of the geopolitical debates that would be prompted by that day’s events in New York City and Washington DC. Please read this article now.

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