The day the western world stood still… 11th September 2001

On the day…

Tomorrow is the eleventh anniversary of 9/11. I still remember my own experience of those events clearly.

It was just after lunchtime in the River Path offices. All of us were in the large open plan area, heads bent over our glass topped desks and absorbed in a dozen different tasks.

Then from far side of the office I heard someone say, “turn the television on”… and the next thing consternation from the tiny annex where the tv was, and something like “I can’t believe it…”

We all piled in, and then out and then in again.  It was both compelling and too just appalling to keep on watching.

As details filtered in about the origination of the two planes we realised one of our colleagues had boarded his transatlantic flight in Logan Airport in Boston almost at same time as the plane which had hit the second tower.

This was before Twitter, when blogs were barely heard of beyond a small and active community of mostly US based geeks. Email and bulletin boards were only means to connect with large numbers of people online.

Eleven years is a long time on the Internet…

Back then, no web based conversation on the still unpredictable politics of Northern Ireland would have been complete without a quorum of loud, opinionated often highly intelligent Irish Americans.

But connection based in the US that day quickly choked, and we waited to hear of the well being of our online ‘friends’ in New York…  In the end, none of my virtual companions had been anywhere near harm.

The nearest was a cousin who’d seen the towers fall from a traffic jam on the other side of the Hudson.

Eleven years is a long time in politics too…

No one in the west was ready for the destruction of the Twin Towers…

Michael Moore, who had spent the previous election campaign trying to convince Americans there was no functional difference between Bush and Al Gore, captured the moment the President was told of the attack on the second tower in Farenheit 9/11…

Moore makes great play of the fact that President Bush’s stunned silence, or the fact that had not act on intelligence citing a name, Osama Bin Laden, that was subsequently to haunt American public thought until his death on May 2nd last year…

But the west (and America in particular) had never previously contemplated dealing with its enemies at such close quarters. That attack on the commercial heart of New York  – and later on US military headquarters in Washington DC – changed things and changed them utterly both for the US and its allies.

Within the year, the US and a long tail of allied nations followed up 9/11 with a military invasion of Afghanistan. Not much more than a year after the same military strategy was extended into Iraq.

The lives of many thousands of men, women, children and seemingly endless amounts of treasure have followed, with mixed results.

In that time too, the capacity for ordinary citizens to cross communicate with each without reference to established centres has expanded rapidly too.

A more unstable and complex world…

The last two years have seen the Arab world making use of disaggregated comms systems (originated, for the most part. in the US) and at times descend into deeply unpredictable and bloody chaos.

Civilians, as David Kilcullen (author of The Accidental Guerilla) notes, have ‘rushed the field’. And they won’t be going any time soon. That may make the world a more exhilarating place, but also a more unstable one.

And it looks like we are still a long way from finding a consistent approach never mind means of dealing with it.

Footnote: This week’s #DigitalLunch (Friday, 1pm BST) will try to tease out these themes in more detail… We hope to assemble a panel of broad and diverse opinion and experience.

If you have other ideas about what we should explore in that panel or would like to get involved in some way, email Mick at

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  • Hi, Mick,

    Regarding 9/11, would you care to have a stab at explaining the collapse of another building that day which wasn’t hit by anything and which stars in this short [2:13] video ……

    And have you any idea who was housed and what was stored in that building?

    You appear to have decided to go with the official 9/11 narrative though, which makes the third collapse a tad problematical?

    But hey, so what? …… for all that matters is what is planned for tomorrow, for everyone to react to, for that is how IT works, is it not? And so deceptively simple as to be almost unbelievable.

  • Taoiseach

    I don’t think Michael Moore “captured” anything. It was not his footage – just the nasty, democratic party loving ridiculous twist that he put on it. The story could easily be presented as President Bush remained calm and composed while he was given the news. He stayed until the children were finished so as not to frighten them unneccessarily.

  • salgado

    amanfromMars, there’s no problem – the report found that uncontrolled fires was the cause. And completely ruled out the conspiracy theory of acontrolled demolition.

  • There’s no need for sarcasm, or was that you being ironic, salgado? Uncontrolled fires in a major federal building? They’re ‘avin ‘a larf, mate, and playing the fool and their joker cards. Someone dropped a real clanger planning that ridiculous escapade, for it has allowed everyone to see how things are done … and done very badly.

  • Mick Fealty


    If this turns into a thread that discusses conspiracy theories, I may have to get tough with one or two of you.

    Note, I am not saying these things did not happen, I am ONLY saying they none of them have been proven and furthermore they have nothing to do with the subject of the thread.

  • Jack2

    Its this generations “Kennedy moment”. Everyone remembers where they were, who they were with.
    I recall when news came of an attack on the Pentagon – thought it was only a short period of time before the nukes would be dusted off.

    A conversation in a Belfast bar a week or so later, everyone was of the opinion terrorism was such a dirty word that any support of it would be gone from NI for a loooooong time.

  • salgado

    Sorry Mick!

    I also remember 9/11 vividly. I was in my early teens, and only heard about it when my mum picked me up from school (the plan was for me to get new school shoes). I thought it was some sort of joke for a moment, it just seemed so bizarre for the times.

    Twelve years is a long time.

  • Mick Fealty

    And I cannot count… it’s eleven, not twelve…

  • andnowwhat

    I remember it so well. I was walking past the Regional Disabilty Service and caught what was happening in the corner of my eye as I passed their reception, which has a television in it.

    This was when only the first plane hit and there was some talk that it may have been an accident.

    Anyway, Brian sums things up well here

  • I was in N.I. when it happened. We were due to fly back to Canada a few days later (we were on the first flight out of Aldergrove to N.America as it turned out).
    Wife and I were out exploring the countryside with the radio off. Only heard about it at 7:00 pm when we went to a filling station to top up. It shook me; I knew that tens of thousands of people worked in the buildings.
    Didn’t it result in a significant decrease in donations to Noraid from Americans of Irish descent?

  • wild turkey

    as I grew up about 25 miles from manhattan, i will keep my personal reflections on 9/11, ah, private & personal.

    9/11 was supposedly a game changer for the ongoing ‘peace process’ in NI.

    American special enjoy Richard Haass to a Mr G Adams

    “‘ …you can fuck off,’ he (Haass) shouted, finger jabbing towards Adams’ chest.

  • I seem to have been the last person in my building to know about it. My first indication was when someone shouted over at me “where exactly is the Pentagon”. So I probably didnt know about the Towers until after the Pentagon.
    Mostly I remember the talk of a large number of planes still in the air and heading for a lot of destinations. I was not in a place where there was a lot of political acumen and most people seemed to be saying “Its the Chinese”, “Its Iran”…….as I recall it for most of that afternoon people were thinking in terms of States rather than Terrorism and there was wild talk of Pearl harbour and World War Three.
    Im curious to know what peoples first reactions might have been as to responsibility.
    In a curious way it seems not very long ago AND a lifetime ago.

  • arsetopple

    I had just walked into McHughs bar & watched with the staff as the second plane hit the other tower. I will always remember one of the staff saying ” that is a declaration of war” prophetic words indeed.

  • sherdy

    Mick, Will you mark the illegal invasion of Iraq with the same solemnity?

  • andnowwhat

    Anyone rememboer the thing with wing dings and putting onen of the plane’s flight number in to it ?

  • Neil
  • Brian

    I had just recently moved to the Washington, DC area and was working at a restaurant in Pentagon City (across the highway from the Pentagon). I had been out late the night before and didn’t get out bed until almost noon. As I left my house to go to the the restaurant for my shift I noticed soon the crazy traffic patterns as all roads leading away from the city were jampacked like I have never seen before or since. People in suits were walking on the side of the road, having abandoned their cars or just deciding that walking was faster than driving or waiting for a bus that would never come. The whole city (or at least those white collar folks who work there but live in the suburbs) seemed to be emptying at once. It was like something out of a movie.

    Needless to say, I soon found out what was happening and there was no work that day or the next for me.

    What a bizarre day. A tragic day, but also tragic in that it unleashed the worst ideologues (NeoCons) on the world as it allowed them to attempt to use military power to remake the Middle East. What a lost decade for the USA in so many ways.

  • qwerty12345


    Wasn’t that Chile and 100 other places?

    Wow, Richard Haass telling Gerry Adams how it is, what a hero.

    Isnt this the same Mr Haass who worked for the department of defence in 1979 – 80 when America was backing the Khmer Rouge against the Vietnamese.

  • While the world stood still that day……the rest of the world has started moving some time ago.
    Last year I was talking online to American friend……..admittedly a “liberal” who thought that the Tenth Anniversary was “over the top” and sooner or later USA had to get over it.
    It is now so much part of the national psyche that it would be near impossible to curb commemorations and totally impossible to end them.
    Certainly going home that afternoon and standing outside Currys Electrical looking at TV, I knew it was very very bad.
    But I honestly dont think the rest of the world is overly concerned.
    I think……indeed I know that many Americans want to draw a line and possibly have more restrained commemoration. Of course no politician dare say that enough is enough.
    11th Anniversary……..17th……..23rd…….42nd…is this how it will always be.
    Is it actually good for future generations?

  • Comrade Stalin

    I was at work, a few months into my first job since graduating. The dot-com bust made life seem tenuous, at that time, and I wasn’t sure whether I would still have a job a few months later. Aside from that, it was an ordinary day.

    Around lunchtime, our Internet connection to the USA went down, an important development since we relied on the link to keep in close contact with the development teams on the west coast of the USA. The tech support guys sent around an email saying that there was some kind of network fault in the US and they were investigating. A short time later rumours went around of a plane hitting one of the twin towers. I thought it was a joke, but went to the BBC news website to check. The BBC site was very slow but eventually confirmed the terrible news.

    Very little work was done that afternoon as the news dripped in – the second plane; the Pentagon; the towers falling. In particular I remember the various reports that there were many planes still in the air, with which contact had been lost and which were believed to be heading for other targets. There was a general sense of panic and of the situation being out of control. We know now, of course, that the whole thing was over within a matter of two hours – the first plane hit at 8:46AM and the last, in Pennsylvania, at 10:03AM. But nobody knew what other attacks might have been planned.

    I remember feeling the general sense that the attack on the WTC was not that surprising given that, a few years before, there had been an attempt to blow it up from beneath, an attempt which was very nearly successful. But the scale and brutality of the attack left everyone reeling. When I left work to catch my bus back to North Belfast, at City Hall, there was a generally subdued feeling, people were talking quietly and rushing to get home. I think everyone was trying to take it all in.

    I still think the headline on Le Monde on September 12, 2001 said it best – “Today we are all Americans”.

  • Comrade Stalin

    To bring things into focus today, though, there are a couple of things to say.

    I think it was hard for Americans to get their heads around the idea that their country was not as impregnable as they thought it was, and I wonder to what extent this realization informs modern US foreign policy. That said, I think another 9/11 is pretty much impossible to accomplish. This is not because of any of the major security measures that have since been introduced, but for simple reasons. During the attacks the operatives presented themselves as hijackers with demands, which led people to believe that their best path to survival was co-operation. Had it been known that they were planning to crash the plane there is no way they would have been allowed into the cockpit no matter how many crew or passengers they killed with box cutters; and there is no way that the passengers would have allowed them to control the plane.

    I wince a little bit when I hear people talking about how the “world changed forever”. This is a very USA-centric view of things and, to be honest, I am not sure that it changed that much, and I’d scratch my head to think of what was really different. For sure, air travel is no longer what it was (I was in the USA in 1998, internal flights were extremely slack security-wise compared to subsequent years – the public could walk all the way through the airports including right up to the gate without a ticket, for example). As I am sure FJH and others will confirm, the security restrictions faced by Americans are nothing like the kind of surveillance and security faced in Northern Ireland during the troubles. Aldergrove Airport was practically a fortress and searches and explosives checks up there were routine for pretty much everyone.

  • ..the security restrictions faced by Americans are nothing like the kind of surveillance and security faced in Northern Ireland during the troubles..

    True. The first Department store we entered on our second day in Canada, a man held the door open for my wife and she handed him her handbag to be searched. The man didn’t know what to do!

  • Mark

    My abiding memory of that day were the people who jumped to their deaths from the Towers . It was a taboo subject then and it’s a taboo subject now . I remember listening to an interview from a local describing the thud as the bodies hit the concrete . The guy being interviewed said that sound would stay with him forever .

    And the faces of the firemen as they entered the burning buildings ……

  • Yes, Mark. I didn’t cry until I saw those people jumping.

  • Yes I think I agree with Comrade Stalin on Belfast Airport Security. Indeed I still remember the first time I ever flew (Leeds/Bradford 1972) …it seems a lifetime ago and almost “did that really happen?”.
    He is also right about the American-centric nature and while “we are all Americans now” was a real enough feeling, it only lasted for a very short time. USA basically lost support very quickly.
    Indeed here in Belfast people from both communities…unrepresentative certainly…….but I think those of us who were adult in 2001 heard variations on “USA deserves it” either because they had not properly “understood” Terrorism here or because they had been “uneven” in the Middle East.
    Indeed the guy who sat neraest to me in work kept whispering “I hope theres more” he was very pro-Palestinian and just anti-American.
    Its also uncomfortable to recall that first BBC Question Time after 9/11 (the next night?) the US ambassador was given a very unpleasant time.

    At the height of personal tragedy there is no time for a nuanced approach. Rather like sympathising with the parents of a teenager who has been killed in a car crash, it would be inappropriate to disagree with a parent who said their son was “always so careful and never reckless” but after a while its best to just say nothing.
    In 2001, I had very little internet experience but quickly learned that few Americans appreciated a nuanced conversation….even after a time lapse to allow for grief.

    It IS politicised. Conservatives/Fox News wont tolerate nuance. And Democrats are afriad of nuance.
    And the truly appalling thing is that this will be how it is for years.
    A further thought. My journey home was about 55 minutes …a period when I was effectively without news but my recollection is that even quite late into the evening the TV News seemed to be reporting probable deaths of around 25,000. Have I got that right?
    For the comparatively small total, we should be grateful.

  • Mark

    I think the total for the Towers was just short of 3000 civilians . I doubt we’ll ever know the total civilian dead in Iraq and Afganistan .

  • andnowwhat

    I remember years befor the attack being on a seminar by a guy called Rick Faye. I was training with his assistant who was a former embassy marine ( pretty sure that was the term but pretty sure I may have it wrong) but who was now an air Marshall. I raised the issue of attacks from the middle east and he scoffed and said some nonsense about sending them off to their virgins. I just thought, what an eject.

  • fitzjameshorse,

    There were probably close to 25,000 people who might have been in the buildings at their busiest. When I first saw it on TV I said to my brother that there might have been 10,000 in each building.

  • Alias

    If online networkers are to take and be given credit for their roles in promoting revolutions such as the so-called Arab Spring, shouldn’t they also take and be given due blame for those roles when the regime change turns into a case of plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose? Given that hundreds of Christians have been murdered and tens of thousands have fled persecution during this Christian Winter, shouldn’t these vanity networkers who fancy themselves as digital revolutionaries be asked to account for that outcome?

  • tacapall

    “amanfromMars, there’s no problem – the report found that uncontrolled fires was the cause. And completely ruled out the conspiracy theory of a controlled demolition.”

    Really, So did the BBC just guess this then, do newsreaders just say what they like or do they have to read from a prepared script.

  • salgado

    Mick has said to avoid that sort of discussion in this thread, so I will of course obey. However I have seen these claims before and I remain satisfied with the evidence for the standard version of events.

  • tacapall

    Mick didn’t want any conspiracy theory talk Salgado but the above link actually happened millions heard it and saw it being reported. I would loved to hear your views on how the BBC were able to report the collapse of WTC 7 30 minutes before it ‘suddenly’ collapsed.

  • Mick Fealty

    Tac, really? The problem with all these nine eleven conspiracies is you have to come to them with an a priori belief in order for them to hold any water.

    There’s the Saloman Building large as life, whilst BBCers merrily talk about its collapse. Great conspiracy!

    Whoever came up with that one has never reported from a foreign war zone, let alone one where there’s widespread civilian panic.

    I have my own irrational beliefs, so I am not going to berate anyone for holding to their own intuitions, especially where power is concerned.

    Trouble is you cannot rationally discuss these with others if you have no qualified proof that they are anything more than beliefs.

  • tacapall

    Mick all Im asking is how the BBC were able to report the collapse of the Saloman building almost 30 minutes before it suddenly happened, that has nothing to do with conspiracy theories its not a belief about anything its just a simple question that remains unanswered unless of course the BBC had prior knowledge or reports that the building was on fire and there was a possibility it would collapse.

  • Mick Fealty

    Exactly… you are only asking. yuan only ask the question in the same wayan evangelical can only ask you if you have found god. You have to believe in the conspiracy in order to go the long way round and ignore the bleeding obvious.

    Come back with something more than rhetorical questions and we’ll talk. andnowwhat, I blame you!

  • tacapall

    Fair enough then Mick that’s that enigma rationally explained.

  • Brian

    ‘Of course no politician dare say that enough is enough.
    11th Anniversary……..17th……..23rd…….42nd…is this how it will always be’

    I just read an article (I think it was the Washington Post) about how many commemorations are toned down and smaller than in the years past. Hopefully it will continue this way except for major anniversaries…

  • Kevsterino

    I remember that day very well. I was writing software for the USAF at Scott AFB at the time. Just about everybody around me were retired Air Force officers. When the report came of the plane crashing into the Pentagon it seemed like everybody in the building was in the conference room (it had the biggest TV). The priority to those men was to ground every civilian aircraft until somebody could say what the hell was going on.

    On my way home, I drove past Lambert (St. Louis’ airport). The quiet was sad and intimidating at the same time.

  • One imagines that area around the Pentagon is covered by hundreds of video cameras and they must have been told of an incoming aircraft ……. and yet has anyone seen any footage of a plane flying practically at ground level on its way to the target, or even recognisable aircraft debris after hitting the Pentagon?

    Now the absence of footage there is most definitely weird and mightily suspicious?

  • “Brian”
    I believe you are right about this.
    Since I made this comment on another (American) site I have had a lot of replies suggesting that this year has been toned down.
    Its a difficult “balance”. And cant indefinitely lead the national mood.

  • amanfromMars,

    Yes. I have seen footage. Fleeting but it’s there. I’m sure you can find it on youtube if you have the time or the inclination. I don’t believe there was any significant aircraft debris found at Ground Zero either.

  • In case you didn’t know, almost anything not already burned will burn if you get it hot enough. That includes the aluminium framework on a ship off the shore of the Falklands.

  • Comrade Stalin

    9/11 conspiracy theories are all complete bunkum and have all been comprehensively debunked many times over. Nonetheless the bullshit, lies and smears continue to surface. I saw a year or two ago a TV interview where one of the 9/11 truthers told a family member that he could not possibly have received a phonecall from his relative who died a short time later. It is a remarkable thing about how the obsession with the conspiracy they believe in leads to these people completely abandoning their humanity and compassion.

    The WTC7 conspiracy is the funniest of the lot. Apparently, the big plan was to pack the building with explosives, blow it up coincidentally on the same day as the 9/11 attacks (which those planning to destroy WTC7 apparently knew about) and then allow the BBC to broadcast the plan. Not a single shred of supporting evidence is required for the faithful to continue spouting this ridiculous theory.

  • tacapall

    Well Comrade the BBC was part of the whole media circus that drip fed us the WMD conspiracy about Iraq, I nearly forgot about them peddling the propaganda lie about McGurks bar too but sure everything you hear on the TV and read in the papers thats fed to us by the government is true, remember those innocent people who were murdered on Bloody Sunday, it was only recently that they were classed as innocent civilians by the same people.

  • Mick Fealty


    We have evidence for those things you mention regarding the British. In the case of Bloody Sunday, an awful lot of evidence.

    All the 9/11 conspiracies that have ever had legs are based on wild extrapolations from TV footage. And, literally, nothing else!!

    No witnesses, no material evidence. Nothing. Getting hidden messages from the TV is a worrying sign.

    All I ask is you keep the conspiracy noise down to those things you can actually prove.

    As to others, certainly go out and check these cases if you must, but please do not bring any of it back here!!

  • tacapall

    Of course Mick apologies but you mean we have evidence now about those matters regarding the British, it was always there but was withheld from us until the lie could no longer be maintained.

  • Reflecting on the thread title, not only did the world stand still, but think about all that happened afterwards. The invasion of Afghanistan (justified I believe) and still not ended. The invasion of Iraq (not justified, I believe), the “West” has gone but still horrible things happening. The American people willingly, for the most part, surrendering freedoms to the Patriot Act (much abused, I believe). Most of us alive today have not gone through such a life changing event. (Our eldest had WW11). The “Arab Spring” might not have happened. We have no idea what’s coming.

  • andnowwhat

    Anyons know how many Afghans have personally attacked the West on western soil?

  • andnowwhat,

    When Al Queda attacked the USA, they were based almost entirely in Afghanistan and, apparently, under the aegis of the Taliban, virtually controlled the country. That’s why I said I believe the invasion was justified.

  • Greenflag

    @ mister joe ,

    Agree with both your posts above. As to ‘we have no idea whats coming ‘ indeed . Arab springs may end in nuclear winters:(

    Once the dogs of war are unleashed anything can happen and nobody knows where it might or how it will end .

  • Greenflag

    And now another side to so called Iraqi ‘democracy ‘ 🙁

    More like Sharia law I would think .:(

  • Religion and the Arab world


    The black propaganda, the psyops, that the western intelligence and political agencies promote centres on Arab = Muslim (Arabs meaning anyone living in the Middle East or North Africa!). And Muslim = Fundamentalist.

    The Muslim Brotherhood’s taking of Presidential power in Egypt is rightly regarded with utmost suspicion by the great mass of the Egyptian population.
    Events are followed very closely and the words and deeds of the government do not go without being closely monitorerd by the masses who fought to bring down Mubarak.

    The slaughter in Libya and Syria is also seen as an Imperialist intervention – and the alliance between fundamentalists and the western powers is seen for waht it is.

    What is missing in Egypt is the same as what is missing here, a voice and a leadership that articulates the aims of the oppressed and exposes the rotten and violent nature of the cabal that joins together to keep the rich rich and the poor poor.

    Islamist thugs attack Tunisian unemployed workers’ protest in Sidi Bouzid…tuni-a29.shtml

    “Syria’s “eerie parallel to Afghanistan” and the pro-imperialist pseudo-left”