Everybody knew that the world had changed at 9:03 am on September 11, 2001. Seventeen minutes earlier, an explosion had been registered in the Twin Towers, in the North. In New York, very few saw what happened. Many heard the roar of a plane over Manhattan, heading in the direction of the Hudson River. It was strange, because that is not the trajectory of the thousands of flights arriving or departing from New York every day. In the south of Manhattan, the detonation of the commercial airplane was felt, a Boeing 757 with 11 crew members and 81 passengers. Among them, five Al-Qaida terrorists. But at that moment, 8:46 in the morning, the confusion was maximum. The mobile cameras were not everywhere then. Some television crew caught the moment, but none live.
“Some crazy person has crashed his plane against the Twin Towers”, was the rumor that ran through the city and that filtered to the media. In the North tower the chaos was already absolute, with the flames of the plane, which made a gap between floors 93 and 99 -the skyscraper had 110-, spreading inside the building. From the outside, the matter was still viewed as a rarity, perhaps an unfortunate accident that would cost the lives of dozens of people.
The reality was only perceived in the communications between air traffic controllers, airlines and national security teams. It was not a plane, but American Airlines flight 11, who had left Boston just over an hour earlier and had been kidnapped twenty-five minutes before crashing into the North Tower. Those lines of communication were on fire: another flight – United Airlines 175, also departing from Boston – had also been hijacked, around the same time as the first blast in lower Manhattan, and was heading for New York.
It was too early for this information to reach the media. By then, everyone had their live cameras pointed at the North Tower, from which it was emerging a column of black smoke. In Spain, the ‘newscasts’ began at three in the afternoon, nine in the morning in New York.
New Yorkers remember that it was a serene morning, with a crystal clear blue sky, without a cloud. ‘Just a perfect day’, what Lou Reed would have said. A perfect day from New York in September, one of the best months to visit. Smoke from the first explosion darkened the sky. The second made it the blackest day in New York history.
The impact on the South Tower was lowest, between floors 77 and 85. It was the moment that the entire US knew that I was being attacked. The images of that moment in the streets of New York portrayed him perfectly: screams of panic, terror in the eyes, desperate races.
Afterward, the situation only got worse. Another hijacked plane crashed into the Pentagon in Washington. One more later fell in rural Pennsylvania. The crew and passengers were already aware of what had happened and they faced the kidnappers. That plane is believed to have been headed for the White House or the Capitol. Back in New York, the collapse of the Twin Towers turned them into a death trap for those who could not flee in time and for emergency teams. Almost 3,000 people died in the attacks.
EE.UU. acababa de close the door of the twentieth century, in which it had positioned itself as the great global power, victorious in two world wars, with overwhelming economic development, and with a moral triumph over the decomposition of the Soviet bloc in the last decade. The new century began, however, marked by weakness: a score of terrorists had terrorized the country, destroyed families and sullied its symbols.
The terrorist attack launched a series of movements that changed the world and the US position in it. The immediate reaction was to avenge the deaths and humiliation at all costs. For this there was political consensus, a push from public opinion, a patriotic awakening – tens of thousands of young people enlisted in the army – and the hunger for power and business with which they fed each other. the ‘hawks’ of foreign policy and the military-industrial complex. In private life, Americans, and with them the world, accepted the price of redoubling security in common life – airports, travel, searches – and submitting to ‘Orwellian’ control of their communications.
War on terror
USA embarked on two wars in distant countries, in rocky areas and deserts, between centuries-old tribal and ethnic conflicts, between fanaticism and poverty. Out of them he came out humiliated. The one, in Afghanistan, to end the refuge of the terrorists who attacked them and their protectors, the Taliban. The other, in Iraq, due to the existence of weapons of mass destruction in the hands of Saddam Hussein that later proved non-existent.
These decades-long wars bled America, military families, and public coffers. AND its results were disastrous: In Iraq, the suffocation of the Hussein government opened the door to Daesh and boosted Iran’s influence in the region. The humiliation in Afghanistan – now controlled by the Taliban, with a blushing exit and topped off by a terrorist attack that killed thirteen Americans – is very fresh.
In that process, the US has also changed indoors. The financial crisis of 2007-2009 – New York office workers were not leaving for terrorist attacks, but fired for abuses of the system, with their belongings in cardboard boxes– Redoubled distrust towards the elites. From that soup came Donald Trump, driven by the idea that the US should stop being ‘the police of the world’ and focus on benefiting its own citizens. The current president, Joe Biden, has reaffirmed that policy. As Stephen Wertheim has written in ‘Foreign Policy’, “Twenty years later, 9/11 broke the US claim to be globally indispensable.”
That claim is now held by China without complexes, and Biden today presides over an anniversary with the US in retreat and, in turn, without shaking off the Covid-19 pandemic. Today it will be silent six times by the four crashed planes and the collapse of the two towers. And the church bells in the US will ring. It will be the same old sadness, but with a new pessimism about the place of the country in the 21st century.
Acts of remembrance
2.30 p.m. (Peninsular Spain time)
Biden and his wife in New York
US President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden will come from Washington to participate in the memorial ceremony at the National September 11 Memorial in New York.
Silence and bells for the victims
At the same time the first plane crashed into the World Trade Center 20 years ago, silence will be kept in memory of the victims while the temples will ring the bells.
Tribute in Pennsylvania
Biden and his wife attend a memorial ceremony for the victims at the National Flight 93 Memorial in Shanksville, Pennsylvania.
Ceremony at the Pentagon
The Pentagon, the other scene of the 9/11 attacks, will also host a ceremony to lay flowers in which the US president and the first lady will also participate.