Ten years ago, New York’s World Trade Center was destroyed by a combination of fire and certainty. Its destruction ignited fires all over the world, even more certainty, and many lies.
For every innocent American who died in the Twin Towers, a hundred innocent people perished in the global conflagration that followed, in countries far removed from the United States, and unconnected to the attacks.
New York is a place of diversity, of tolerance and of acceptance. You can be whoever you want there. If you feel like riding a unicycle with a parrot on your shoulder, that’s your own business. If you’re gay or transgendered, Pastafarian or atheist, short, tall, black, blue, purple or just plain weird, that’s fine. New Yorkers don’t care, and maybe that was part of what enraged the demented ideologues who planned the attack.
Perhaps it wasn’t just the financial district that drew their anger. After all, most people these days would be happy to see Wall Street obliterated if they could be sure the destruction was confined to bankers and not ordinary people. There’s no doubt that the extremists wanted to create a spectacular attack on what they perceived as the heart of western commerce, but was it also because of New York’s laid-back acceptance that the Saudi plotters focussed their destructive psychosis on the Apple? This, after all, was a scheme hatched in a land where they routinely kill women with stones and whip them for dressing in an unapproved manner.
A land of mega-rich goat-herds.
Of course, intelligent, informed Americans, as opposed to those who draw their opinions from Fox News, were unable to avoid the overwhelming question: why would these people choose to attack the United States? The answer to that lies in half a century of American foreign policy, but it’s a discussion for another day.
The first time I ever saw the World Trade Center was through a bus window. I’d just got off a ferry from Hoboken, and I was wandering around lower Manhattan, sight-seeing nothing in particular. I didn’t know that these strange tuning-fork windows were part of the gigantic WTC structure but I found their quasi-gothic cathedral regularity intriguing, so I got off the bus for a better look.
So this was the WTC? I had expected to find a huge office block, with a big desk at reception where they ask you what you want.
I’d like to meet Mr Merrill and Mr Lynch please. Tell him I’m from the Old Country.
Instead, I found a theme park with thousands of people milling around and a huge queue lining up to visit the observation deck at the top. Going up to the roof of the towers was an industry. They were shovelling in the entrance money. Once we got through the light security check, they even had a tour guide for the elevator journey, who told us that it took 58 seconds to reach the top, which is a very American thing to say. Not 57. Not 59. No: it’s 58. The lift was rocket-driven. Your ears popped. It did two floors per second and it was scarier than a Disneyland white-knuckle roller-coaster. The whole top floor was an exhibit and yes, it was astounding, even to a cynic such as myself, but luckily the simulated helicopter ride through Manhattan gave me an outlet for my cynicism .
As part of the admission price, you got a go in one of those theatres where the seats move, and you’re supposed to feel like you’re flying. Now look. I’ve been to Universal Studios. I’ve been piloted by Yogi Bear. I’ve flown Delta. I know simulated rides and this one was bullshit. A syrupy cabaret-style voiceover talked you through a blurred film that wasn’t even continuous. The video was so old you expected to see Harold Lloyd hanging out of the rooftops. You flew under a bridge and The Voice jokes, Hey-Hey! Careful with those rotors, pilot!
The top floor, in reality, was one big, cheesy shopping mall in the sky, but that’s not why anyone was up there. There was an escalator to the roof and when you got out there you realised what a staggering feat of construction the WTC was. Looking down at the tiny skyscrapers below, you began to realise how high you were: 1350 feet. You could see everywhere in New York, except North-West because that’s where the other, equally tall, Twin Tower stood, blocking your view. There’s the tiny Brooklyn Bridge. Up there is the even tinier 59th Street bridge, feelin’ groovy. Over there is the little Chrysler building and the miniature Empire State. You could stand into the windows and look down at the toy office blocks scattered around you like something a child abandoned until the whole thing began to feel utterly unreal in its vastness.
When I got back to ground level, people were lying on the ground looking up at the towers so I did the same. It was the only way to comprehend what a huge, mind-unhinging thing we were looking at and yet, three years later, it would all be rubble, brought down by fire and by certainty.
The US president, GW Bush, and his Vice-President, Dick Cheney, used the attacks as a pretext to invade Iraq in a decision that many now regard as an act of treason. It wasn’t difficult to fool the people. Even though Saddam Hussein, for all his brutality, presided over a secular regime and was hated by Osama bin Laden, it’s a measure of how poorly the United States is served by its news media that one in three Americans still believes Iraq had something to do with the attack.
Bush’s cabal of neocons promoted an aggressive, and futile, agenda of retribution, sometimes against those who perpetrated the atrocity, but mostly against countries that had nothing to do with what happened on the 11th of September 2001.
The one country that had everything to do with the 9-11 outrage was Saudi Arabia. Most of the attackers were Saudi citizens. The extreme religious certainty emanated from there. The money for the operation was Saudi cash. And yet, instead of bombing Saudi Arabia, Bush invaded Afghanistan and later Iraq. In doing so, he whipped up anti-Islam fervour and turned his shock-and-awe invasion of Iraq into a religious war. One kind of religious, hate-filled certainty became mirrored by another and each believed itself incapable of error.
Cheney, of course, has no principles and no beliefs. All he wanted was profits for his company, Halliburton, and in this he was successful beyond his dreams.
What did the invasion of Iraq achieve? Nothing, unless you happen to be Halliburton or Blackwater, in which case you made a fortune out of it — a fortune based on the Iraqis’ own money. Apart from that, all that the invasion achieved was to cast a country into murderous turmoil. All the talk of deposing a dictator was guff. The world is full of brutal dictators who pass unnoticed and untouched because they aren’t sitting on giant oil deposits.
The invasion of Afghanistan achieved nothing. No foreign invader has ever won a war there. Not Attila, not the Russians, not the British and not the Americans. The US is looking for its exit strategy, and as soon as the troops leave, Afghanistan will revert to tribal rule and that will be the end of it until another invading army arrives in a generation or two. Afghans take a glacial view of history.
Cheney’s part in the entire affair is pivotal. The US constitution explicitly limits the role of the Vice-President to two specific things: taking over from the President if the incumbent becomes unable to serve, and acting as the presiding officer of the US Senate. He has no other role under the constitution, and yet Dick Cheney became the driving force behind the decision to invade Iraq. He adopted an executive role that is not provided for in the US constitution, and in so doing, gravely overstepped his brief. Having resigned as CEO of Halliburton in July, 2000, it was Cheney who made speech after speech mentioning 9-11 and Iraq in the same breath until all of America became convinced that Saddam Hussein, and not the Saudis, was behind the attacks.
We all know the legal term by now: cui bono? Literally, it means Who benefits? but figuratively, it means Follow the money, and in Cheney’s case there was an awful lot of money to follow as a result of his war. The man who had been Chief Executive of Halliburton only three years earlier was now launching a war which would ultimately enrich that company beyond its most extravagant imaginings. Halliburton’s core business is drilling-mud, the thixotropic substance they pump down boreholes when drilling for oil. And yet, Halliburton managed to secure all the logistics contracts in support of the military. They did all the catering. All the transport. Everything. They flipped the burgers in the Green Zone. The supplied the drink. They delivered the entertainment. They hired the bands. They paid the bouncers. For all I know, they might even have recruited the hookers.
Here’s the nice bit — it was all paid for with Iraq’s money.
Of course, the whole adventure was ultimately paid for in lives and suffering too. Iraqi lives but also American, and all these people died, not to defend the United States from attack, since Iraq had never threatened the US in the first place, but to make Cheney and his buddies even more obscenely rich than they already were. Iraqis always knew this, but lately, it seems Americans are also beginning to realise that their sons died in Iraq not to defend their country but to make Cheney richer.
What did it all achieve?
Iraq, a formerly secular country, is now radicalised and filled with resentment towards America. Afghanistan will continue to treat foreigners with contempt, wearing them down over generations and eventually expelling them as it did the Huns, the Russians and the English. It will revert to its tribal, Islamic intolerance despite anything we in the West think. The United States is no safer and no more in danger than it ever was, despite the paranoia generated by Bush’s simplistic meanderings and the nonsense of Fox News, but the whole mindless upheaval managed to create the most moronic political movement ever seen in America — the Tea Party. More dangerous certainty.
Well, Dick Cheney’s Halliburton was the big winner, but there are many more, including the private army formerly known as Blackwater and run by a Christian fundamentalist. Everywhere we look, we see fundamentalism.
Israel was a clear winner, since the entire world was aligned against Muslims of whatever stripe, and this is probably the reason we have heard so many conspiracy theories suggesting that Mossad was behind the Twin Towers attacks.
Who else? How about GW Bush, whose family has such strong associations with Carlton, the world’s biggest arms dealer? Every Cruise missile fired under Dubya’s leadership has to be replaced sometime. Maybe not today, but eventually, and who makes the profit when the replacement is delivered? That’s right. GW Bush. Is it any wonder he’d be in favour of Shock and Awe? Fire as many expensive missiles as you can and let’s not be too worried about boots on the ground for now. No long-term money in boots on the ground.
It’s the tenth anniversary of 9-11, an atrocity in which a civilised city was assaulted by maniacs running on certainty, ignorance, anger and fire in their bellies, hell-bent on inflicting suffering. And yet, if you interrogated any of these young men, I suspect they were not the sort who might assault you in the street, or steal your property or even drop litter. I suspect that they were well-brought-up young men, imbued with a sense of their absolute religious certainty who managed to avoid thinking about the men and women they were going to kill. The wives, husbands, sons, daughters whose lives they planned to extinguish.
I often wonder how many of those people I met in the World Trade Center lost their lives on 9-11. They couldn’t all have survived. I often wonder if the bereaved families feel a sense of connection with those who lost loved-ones as a result of the wars initiated by GW Bush to distract attention from the involvement of the Saudis. Maybe not. Maybe they just think of these people as the bad guys. Who knows?
That’s what happens when dangerous, cynical ideologues send young men out to kill, whether those young men happen to be religiously-driven fanatics murdering New Yorkers, or unquestioning grunts in fatigues killing Arabs in the cradle of civilisation.
It’s always wrong.
Previously on Bock: