My Twin Towers tirade

When two hijacked passenger airliners crashed into the World Trade Center in downtown New York on September 11th, 2001, it was obvious nothing would be the same. There’s no doubt that the whole world changed, not just America. And it didn’t change for the better.

The North and South Towers of the World Trade Center were more than just buildings. They were proof of New York’s belief in itself. Built in the late 60s, when the city’s future seemed uncertain, the towers restored confidence and helped bring a halt to the decline of lower Manhattan. Brash, glitzy, and grand, they quickly became symbols of not just New York, but the whole country. I was lucky enough to have visited the twin towers in 1997, just four years before they were destroyed — the same amount of time it took to build them.

The South Tower featured two public observation areas, one inside and one outside, on its 107th and 110th floors, respectively. You’d enter the building, buy a ticket, pass through security checks added after the 1993 World Trade Center bombing and were then whisked to the 107th floor viewing area at a height of 1,310 ft. Weather permitting, you could then take two short escalator rides up to an outdoor platform on the 110th floor at a height of 1,377 ft. It was beautiful December day with a clear, blue sky. Needless to say, I spent about six hours just looking at the view. On a day like this, you could see up to 50 miles in every direction.

The twin towers were simple, elegant and functional. They fitted nicely in the Downtown aesthetic and even had a hint of art deco in their design. They weren’t the main reason tourists visited New York, but like the Rockefeller Center or the Empire State Building, you’d squeeze them in if you had time. Plus of course, they represented the economic epicenter of the world’s superpower, with many banks and financial institutions having their base there.

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The World Trade Center and Battery Park City circa 1997. Gateway Plaza is on the right, by the river

Osama bin Laden understood this, so when they were destroyed, the USA plunged into monetary meltdown, dragging with it the rest of planet Earth. Naturally, this included the UK, which was already balancing precariously on the edge of the recession precipice. Down it all went, just as bin Laden knew it would. In tactical terms, he had executed an extremely successful strike, unprecedented in its severity.

Combined with the simultaneous attack on the Pentagon, America went into Major Paranoid Mode. Evidence of which is still clear to see today. The Staten Island ferry for example, no longer carries any vehicles of any sort into Downtown Manhattan and most days the ferry even has an armed escort. A little Coast Guard launch keeps a M240 gas-powered, medium machine gun pointed at the ferry all the way from one end of the bay to the other. What good it would ever do, I have no idea.

Since I live in Gateway Plaza, I walk past the site of the twin towers every single day and each time I do I’m reminded not only of how many innocent people died, but also of how it affected me. In September 2001, the UK economy retreated into its shell like a traumatized tortoise after nine months of gradual decline and I was out of a job as result. That sucked. That also prompted me to go back to Australia for a while and that’s another story, but they were suffering too. Every time I look up, I see the new Freedom Tower — a hideously-revolting, gaudy monstrosity that now stands where the giant aluminium-coated columns of commerce used to be. And don’t even fucking get me started on that God-awful transport hub. Honestly, it looks like a dinosaur collapsed and died. Why they didn’t rebuild the towers, bigger, stronger, better is beyond me.

And I’m not the only one who thinks this. Bjarke Ingels, the architect for 2 World Trade Center, said: “My thinking was just to build the towers again the way they were.” There are others too.

In addition to walking past the Freedom Tower — or 1WTC as many, including me, prefer to call it — I often cut through the 9/11 Memorial, past the water features, the Survivor Tree and the museum, to get from West Street to Broadway. I visited the temporary site in 2011 while they were still completing the official exhibition building back when you needed to book tickets to even enter the park and visit the footprint pools, but this week I ventured into the finished 9/11 Museum for the first time.

Staten Island escort

Perhaps this is in case the ferry is hijacked by Somali pirates in New York Harbour

The concept is bold. You enter, go through airport-style security and almost immediately begin descending down steps and then down wide, spacious gentle-sloping ramps. In essence, you’re being guided underground, directly under the water features. Here, the shape of the original — and now exposed — foundations of each tower form footprints, just like the pools above, making up two separate exhibition areas. The space in-between is uncluttered, open and features things like some of the original ironwork, artist’s tributes and the 60ft long Victims’ Quilt. Even the impressive, original slurry wall that separated the foundation from the Hudson River makes up part of the museum, since both towers were built before the land west of the site that makes up Battery Park City and the World Financial Center was completely reclaimed.

Within the South Tower is a memoriam section with portraits of each of the 2,996 victims, plus an education section and a couple more galleries. The North Tower is home to the historic exhibition…and herein lies the problem. This has all the information and rescued artifacts from the attack, from near-flattened fire engines to pieces of the American Airlines aircraft to personal effects found in the wreckage. This section contains all the details from that day, film footage capturing the moments of impact repeated on screens, recordings of phone messages, photographs, models, interesting things that you want to see and read. Thus, this is where all the people congregate. What has otherwise been a pleasant experience up to this point, wandering through with relative ease suddenly becomes a bad day at Bluewater.

You start to think that maybe many of those rescued artifacts are a bit laboured. Perhaps that second burnt out fire engine, pulled from the Pentagon wreckage, seems excessive as space is clearly at a premium here. Was that dust-covered bike rack pulled from Ground Zero really necessary? Given how much empty floorspace there is between the two main exhibit sections and given the designers must have known how many millions of people would visit every year, suddenly it doesn’t seem as well conceived as it might have been. I deliberately went on a rainy Friday afternoon, when I hoped there wouldn’t be too many people. This was confirmed when the nice lady at the ticket booth said it was pretty quiet that day. I believed her too…until I got to the North Tower exhibit. Everyone that was there had gathered here, in this poorly-planned bottleneck, all bunched-up, trying to read everything, watch everything and take it all in. And there’s a lot to take in.

Maybe a bike rack from 9/11 wasn't the best use of space

Maybe a bike rack from Ground Zero wasn’t the best use of display space in the museum

It’s a shame, because this is an emotional experience…which leads to my other grumble; the biggest emotion I felt was anger. No, not anger at all the other visitors wandering aimlessly about, walking in front of me when I’m trying to read something or blocking access ways — all of which would normally drive me insane — but anger caused by the fact that I honestly believe the 9/11 tragedy could’ve been prevented and I don’t think that any facts regarding this important issue are presented here. Entire generations will pass through this museum and learn about America’s tragedy and this is the best opportunity to educate them. Teach them a) that not every Muslim is a terrorist and b) by paying more attention to domestic politics they might not elect a war-mongering moron as their president.

The following is sourced from both The Untold History of the United States by Oliver Stone and The New York Times.

Signs of an impending attack abounded in the summer of 2001. Intercepted al-Qaeda messages suggested that something spectacular was about to happen. Counter-Terrorism Chief Richard Clark testified that CIA Director George Tenet was running around Washington with his hair on fire trying to get the attention of National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice and President Bush. But Defense Secretary Rumsfeld and Rice, a former Chevron board member, were preoccupied with issues concerning ballistic missile defense and reforming the Pentagon. Threat reports with titles like Bin Laden Threats Are Real or Bin Laden Determined To Strike Inside The US were issued, but Bush appeared disinterested and he spent more time away from Washington than any recent president at his sequestered Texas ranch.

On July 24, Bush was notified that an attack was still being readied, but that it had been postponed, perhaps by a few months. But the president did not feel the briefings on potential attacks were sufficient, one intelligence official said, and Bush instead asked for a broader analysis on al Qaeda, its aspirations and its history. In response, the CIA set to work on a brief given to the President on August 6th brief. During this meeting, when the threat of al-Qaeda operatives hijacking planes was discussed, Bush disdainfully told his CIA briefer, “Alright, you’ve covered your ass now.”

Yet with a straight face, Bush told a news conference in April 2004, “Had I had any inkling whatsoever that the people were going to fly airplanes into buildings, we would’ve moved heaven and earth to save the country.”

Rice was equally disingenuous, saying, “I don’t think anybody could have predicted that they would try to use an airplane as a missile.”

In the aftermath of 9/11, Bush officials attempted to deflect criticism that they had ignored CIA warnings by saying they had not been told when and where the attack would occur. That is true, as far as it goes, but it misses the point. Throughout that summer, there were events that might have exposed the plans, had the government been on high alert. Indeed, even as the August 6th brief was being prepared, Mohamed al-Kahtani, a Saudi believed to have been assigned a role in the 9/11 attacks, was stopped at an airport in Orlando, by a suspicious customs agent and sent back overseas on August 4th. Two weeks later, another co-conspirator, Zacarias Moussaoui, was arrested on immigration charges in Minnesota after arousing suspicions at a flight school. But the dots were not connected and Washington did not react.


One could also argue that the signs were there well before September 2001. Firstly, the ‘millennium attack’ plots, which included an attempted bombing of Los Angeles International Airport, secondly, the USS Cole was bombed in October 2000 — all orchestrated by al-Qaeda — but also the fact that he publicly issued two fatāwā against the United States in 1996 and 1998. Granted these received relatively little attention until after the August 1998 US embassy bombings in Tanzania and Kenya, but add all this up and…well, if only the American Government was half as paranoid then as it is now.

I also have a horrible suspicion that many visiting American tourists will leave the 9/11 Museum believing all Muslims are terrorists. And over time we end up with a similar problem to what the world saw after the Charlie Hebdo attack in Paris, since no explanation is given to the radical, extreme reasons why Osama bin Laden wanted to attack the USA.

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December 21st 1997 and 2017 – what a difference 20 years can make

Among the items for sale in the museum gift shop — which has already sparked controversy for ‘crass commercialism’ — was my personal favourite, a book entitled Bedrooms of the Fallen. I don’t care what anyone says, I honestly can’t think of anything worse, aside from possibly selling human remains as souvenirs. While I was browsing through the keyrings, mugs, t-shirts, FDNY-Rescue dog vests and so on, I asked a store employe if they might perhaps sell any books explaining Islam.

She looked at me in slightly odd manner and explained that they have a few books that mention al-Qaeda…to which I replied that not all Muslims are terrorists and perhaps people should be made aware of that. In her defense, she wasn’t stupid and could see where I was going, I think she was just a little shocked at first. As we chatted, she also told me about how the American Atheists organization had tried to sue the National September 11 Memorial and Museum over the installation of the “9/11 cross” in the museum, which I didn’t know about.