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Review of 2001 Tuesday, 1 January, 2002, 10:36 GMT
2001: Historical turning point?
Ground Zero
Devastation at Ground Zero has become an enduring image

The assertion has been made many times since 11 September - the attacks on America have changed the world.

The sight of the twin towers of the World Trade Center crashing down stunned a global television audience.

Watching those images in disbelief, millions must have had the same thoughts. What does this mean for the world, for my country, and for my family?

In the space of a few minutes we seemed to have entered a new age of uncertainty. We instinctively knew things were different, even if we were not sure why or where we were heading.

The extent to which the world really has changed depends on where you are in the world and your perspective on global politics.

Nation traumatised

Clearly, feelings are strongest in the United States. The nation was traumatised by an act of calculated mass murder. The fact that the attack took place on its own soil also had a profound effect on the nation's psyche.

It was an event so momentous that it seemed to shake many of the old certainties about life in America.

Much has been said about the way in which a nation's people have come together in the face of overwhelming tragedy. Visiting the United States, you feel a sense of common purpose.

The American flag is everywhere, flying from homes and office blocks, and draped across the windows of shops and bars. Often it is accompanied by a simple message: "United We Stand".

US flag at Ground Zero
The importance of the flag is evident everywhere
That slogan is a conscious echo of the other great trauma of modern America.

Another surprise attack, on Pearl Harbour, propelled the United States into World War II.

Following that crisis, dozens of American magazines featured the Stars and Stripes on their front covers. The campaign was called "United We Stand". Sixty years on, the message and the images have been rediscovered.

Hearts and minds

In 1941, the United States ended years of isolationist policies as it took on Japan, Germany and Italy. In a war between nation states, the goals were clear and victory was easy to define.

Today's enemies are more nebulous networks of international terrorists, who disappear into the night and hide in sympathetic states. Any military response by the United States is complicated by diplomatic considerations.

President Bush may have declared a "war against terrorism" but it is a war in which ultimate success may depend on winning over world opinion.

Military strategists at the Pentagon are now talking about "asymmetrical warfare" and the new tactics needed to take on enemies who play by different rules. Is this the model for global conflict in the 21st Century?

President George Bush at the Pentagon
President Bush faces new challenges in fighting terrorism

For much of the second half of the 20th Century, the United States fought a cold war against the Soviet Union. Nuclear deterrence created an uneasy balance of power between the two superpowers.

Only once, during the Cuban missile crisis, did they go to the brink of global war.

Mostly they fought out their ideological battles in regional conflicts throughout the world.

Addressing hostility

In the end, the Communist bloc succumbed to internal pressures. Now, as the world's one remaining superpower, the United States faces different enemies in a changing world.

The Gulf War demonstrated the difficulty faced by Washington in projecting its power overseas - in regions where it is viewed with suspicion, if not outright hostility.

Ten years on, in its response to the events of 11 September, the United States is experiencing similar problems. Beyond the immediate military response, it has to address the question of why it is so reviled.


Can we add 11 September 2001, to the list of dates that changed the world? It is a judgement that will have to be left to the historians.

Military might is no longer enough, it has to attack the roots of terrorism, and win hearts and minds.

The rise of religious fundamentalism is one of the greatest challenges facing the world in the 21st Century. It a threat faced not just by Western democracies but by governments of many nations in the Middle East, Africa and Asia.

The United States and its allies have to find a way of combating the fanatics who plot terror, while avoiding any perception that this is a conflict between cultures and religions.

The world may well have been changing before the attacks on the United States but the issues now appear in sharper focus.

So can we add 11 September 2001, to the list of dates that changed the world?

It is a judgement that will have to be left to the historians.

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