The attacks on the world Trade centre might be seen as the most successful terrorists event ever from the distorted point of view of the perpetrators, but were they?
How successfully did the terrorists target the buildings during September 11?
During the Second World war The Germans planned The Blitz, a series of coordinated air raids to bomb England into submission. The nearly continuous bombing ran for 57 days straight and was centred on a number of English cities and in particular London. It was psychological warfare.
St Paul’s Cathedral stood tall among the wreckage night after night. It became a symbol for weary londoners as they trudged out of air raid shelters to see the Cathedral’s domes still standing amongst the terrible fires and devastation. Winston Churchill was well aware of the positive effect on morale of the Cathedrals survival and called for an extraordinary effort from his fireman. Their task was made difficult by streets blocked with debris and sporadic water supply, the same problems that dogged New York fire fighters in the aftermath of the World Trade Centre attacks.
On December 29 1940, as yet another attack was in full swing and over 30 bombs fell on and around St Paul’s, one pierced the lead lined dome and got wedged in the roof timbers. American reporter Ed Murrow reported in a live broadcast to the U.S.:
‘The church that means most to London is gone. St Paul’s Cathedral is burning to the ground as I talk to you now.’
As he spoke specialist fire crews were crawling through the cathedral roof timbers toward the bomb. In scenes to be reenacted on Sept 11 they risked their lives in service of their countrymen. Molten lead began to rain down threatening further fires in the wooden choir stalls. Dramatically the bomb burned through its supporting timbers and crashed heavily to the nave, where it was extinguished. The germans failed to achieve their objective on that night or any other. St Pauls Cathedral still stands and in subsequent years Winston Churchill was laid to rest there.
The September 11 targets were three fold, the World Trade Centre, the Pentagon and the White house. Of these three the White House and Pentagon are clearly iconic buildings. For more than 200 years, the White House has been the home of US Presidents and their families. Throughout the world, it is recognised as the symbol of the President, and of the United States. The White House is one of the best known buildings in the world.
The Pentagon houses the Department of Defence. Apart from being one of the worlds largest office buildings its unique shape makes it instantly recognisable. Whilst the Pentagon was struck with the loss of a few hundred lives the white House was untouched. On this front the Pentagon and White house attacks can be seen as near total failures.
In the days following September 11 we all looked at tall city buildings and airliners wondered about their potential danger. I remember standing a few blocks from Melbourne’s Rialto building ( then the tallest building in Melbourne) and trying to imagine the devastation thats its collapse would bring. But we don’t love the Rialto building.
Australians would universally be more effected by an attack on the Sydney Harbour bridge. Indeed the Bridge or the Opera House would probably rate higher in our collective hearts than on our Parliament House. The bridge has been an icon of this country since it was first started in the 1930s, and its place as a centrepiece of Sydney harbour and our annual New Year celebrations is undisputed. It is a true part of the Australian psyche.
Indeed the choice of the WTC as the focus of the attacks may be due to the rude fact that the twin towers were the easiest buildings to identify.
The World Trade Center is clearly not the icon of American freedom that the White House is. Indeed the choice of the WTC as the focus of the attacks may be due to the rude fact that the twin towers were the easiest buildings to identify. A true tall poppy. The twin towers are now be seen by many americans as an icon of their struggle for freedom, but I don’t imagine that prior to the 911 attacks they considered the buildings as an icon of American business. Can you picture the World trade centre in any setting except the 911 attacks? They formed a significant part of the New York skyline but do you know any corporations operated from there? The Chrysler building is remembered in song, the Empire State is remembered in folklore but frankly apart from their sheer size the WTC buildings were pretty pedestrian.
In no way do I wish to impugn the lives lost on September 11 but the terrorists made a poor choice and Americans have come together as a nation since in a way they could never have predicted.