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September 11 one year on Friday, 30 August, 2002, 15:21 GMT 16:21 UK
US faces up to uncertain era
US marines in Kabul
Troops were sent in pursuit of US attackers

On the morning of 11 September 2001 President George Bush went to an elementary school in Sarasota on the west coast of Florida to give substance to one of the most effective, if most unrealistic, slogans of his campaign - that "no child will be left behind".

As he was shaking hands with the welcoming party, his chief of staff Andrew Card informed him that a plane had crashed into one of the towers of the World Trade Center in New York. Bush carried on.

A presidential visit cannot suddenly be cancelled without good reason and there was no good reason because there was no good information.

Certainty removed

As the president sat listening to the children in a reading class, Card went up to Bush again, bent over and whispered in his ear. A second plane had hit the Trade Center. Bush's pursed lips were caught by the photographers.

The life of the president - and the American people - had changed.

US President George W. Bush has his early morning school reading event interupted by his Chief of Staff Andrew Card
George W. Bush hears of the attacks

Suddenly the certainty of ordinary life had gone. And America was thrust into a worldwide battle. The attack had the impact of Pearl Harbor 60 years before.

At first, Bush struggled to find the right voice. The remarks he made before leaving the school failed to meet the gravity of the moment. His language, not for the first time, let him down. He referred to the perpetrators as "folks".

But to his staff he declared: "We're at war".

Gradually, George W Bush, a president whose election had been questioned and whose authority had been doubtful, became a leader. And he found a voice.

The war on terrorism came with a domestic price

He declared "a new kind of war - a war on terror". And there was a Bush doctrine to guide it. Governments which "supported terrorists" would now be targets as well.

In a speech to Congress on 20 September President Bush stated in Churchillian tones: "We will not tire, we will not falter, we will not fail."

To the American people he also used less formal words: "We will smoke 'em out."

Homeland Security

The war on terrorism came with a domestic price. Fear remained not far below the surface and sometimes well above. Security measures, and costs, were increased.

The president said it was not a war on Islam, but hundreds of mainly Arabic young men were arrested and held on immigration charges as the net for information was cast widely. Military tribunals were authorised.

The FBI and CIA were accused of "not joining up the dots" before the attack. A department of Homeland Security was set up, its very name unsettling to Americans.

There was even an attack by anthrax, perhaps by a Timothy McVeigh-type indigenous terrorist.

But everyone knew that al-Qaeda might seek to carry out chemical warfare, and even worse. And the attack was deeply destabilising. Supplies of smallpox vaccination were ordered for practically the whole population.

Future threats

And if there was price to pay at home, there was also a price abroad.

The United States used the powers of its might to bring governments around the world into line but failed to use its powers of persuasion to convince all opinion, especially in the Arab world and in Europe, that it was right.

This did not worry George Bush too much. And most Americans reacted either with resignation or resentment.

Indeed, the president developed the Bush doctrine into another phase. Not just terrorists, not just governments harbouring them would be pursued, he announced, but any government which was developing weapons of mass destruction and which might constitute a future threat.

It opened the way for action against Iraq.

A year on, the war on terrorism is by no means over.

New York despatches





See also:

31 Jul 02 | Americas
16 Jul 02 | Americas
16 Jul 02 | Americas
11 Mar 02 | Americas
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