A mixture of shock, horror and incredulity. These words best describe the reaction of most of the world’s population to the heinous mass terror attacks of 11 September 2001 on the Twin Towers in New York City. Along with the attack on the Pentagon in Washington DC, these were assaults on symbols of the power of US capitalism and imperialism, yet its victims were predominantly civilians and working-class people. The death toll on the day was 2,996, with 2,753 casualties in New York.

In the days following this atrocity, the forerunner of The SocialistThe Voice wrote:

“In opposing this atrocity and sympathising with the thousands of ordinary people who became innocent victims we stand apart from George Bush and other spokespersons for the ruling elites across the world whose statements of condemnation are pure hypocrisy.”

Ruling class hypocrisy

The hypocrisy of then-President Bush and other representatives of the US ruling class flowed from their own state’s history of mass terror inflicted on the world’s poor and oppressed, which easily dwarfed the attacks of 9/11. The history of the US ruling class is blood stained—the genocide of Native Americans in the 19th century, the dropping of nuclear bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, and its murderous and bloody war against the Vietnamese people in the 1960s and early 70s are only three of many examples that testify to this. Indeed, US foreign policy in the Middle East and Afghanistan, had helped fuel the rise of the extreme, right-wing groups such as those led by bin Laden and their ultra-reactionary interpretation of Islam.

Another crime of US imperialism evokes a sense of grotesque irony at the events of 9/11: on 11 September 1973 a CIA-backed coup in Chile, against the leftist government of Salvador Allende, brought to power the murderous dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet. In the proceeding weeks and months, thousands of Chilean workers and young people, socialists, and trade unionists were rounded up to be tortured and/or executed.

The war on terror

The events of 9/11 were immediately and cynically exploited by US imperialism to launch its Orwellian “War on Terror”. The Bush administration sought to capitalise on the shock and anger that came with Al-Qaeda’s terror attacks to establish its fantasy of unfettered US power.

The self-styled “neo-conservatives” in this administration, namely Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld and Paul Wolfowitz, had been members of the “Project for New American Century”, a Dr.Strangelove-like think tank founded in 1997. Its aim was to maximise US hegemony and ensure that it remained unchallenged in the post-Stalinist era. Among other things they were also clearly conscious of the rise of China as an economic and military force and determined to mitigate it.

Key to their plans were those of “regime change”, deposing those regimes globally that were not compliant with the diktats of US imperialism. Top of their list was Iraq, ruled by Saddam Hussein (a dictator that the administration of Ronald Reagan had armed in the 1980s), whose regime possessed two-thirds of the world’s known oil reserves. Having quickly deposed the Taliban in Afghanistan in late 2001 (although, as subsequent events would prove, it was far from defeated), they quickly set their sights on invading Iraq, doing so in March 2003.

The total costs of wars waged by the US since 2001, notably in Afghanistan and Iraq, have come to $6.4 trillion. The scale of human suffering that imperialism has visited upon their populace is immeasurable. An estimated 801,000 have died as a direct result of these conflicts, but the cost to human life is likely to be much greater than this. For example, the reputable medical journal, The Lancet, estimated the number who died because of the war in Iraq to be 1.2 million, based on a sharp rise in the death rate in the aftermath of 2003. Added to all of this, an estimated 21 million have been displaced from wars waged by western imperialism since 2001, creating an almost unprecedented refugee crisis. 

Unlike the victims of 9/11 and their families, the heartbreak and suffering brought by these wars is seldom acknowledged by mainstream capitalist media in the US and Europe. Implicit in their warped and racist logic is that people are not victims of terror if it’s carried out by powerful and heavily armed imperialist states.  

Repression and torture

It was not just military invasions that were unleashed by the “war on terror”, blatant use of torture became effectively legalised, euphemistically referred to as “enhanced interrogation”. This was notoriously the case in Guantanamo Bay, where prisoners or “detainees” (a label used due to the carefully constructed legal limbo they were in) captured in Afghanistan were subject to horrific torture techniques such as waterboarding, sexual assault and sleep deprivation.

This was combined with significant attacks on civil liberties and democratic rights, notably the Patriot Act, rushed through the houses of Congress with little opposition. One of the many draconian provisions in this legislation was the ability of the state to find out what library books one had taken out.

The last 20 years have also seen a marked rise in Islamophobia and demonisation of Muslims in the US, Europe, India, Israel and China. This was implicit in the war-mongering rhetoric surrounding the “war on terror” and the racial profiling that accompanied the introduction of the above repressive legislation.

Humiliation of imperialism

The 20th anniversary of 9/11 could not have come at a worse time for the US ruling class and their allies. Last month, the last of the United States’ occupying forces were forced to carry out a final and inglorious withdrawal from Afghanistan, and two decades after they were toppled the Taliban are back running the country. Along with the disaster of Iraq, this illustrates that the limitations and constraints on the power of US imperialism are all too real. The plans of the neoconservatives circa 2001-2003 are a distant memory. This humiliation comes at a time of heightening tension with China, with which it is locked in a new cold war. 

Over 100 years ago, during the slaughter of the First World War, James Connolly wrote:

“War is a relic of barbarism only possible because we are governed by a ruling class with barbaric ideas.”

The wars since 2001, and the torture, racism, and suffering that have accompanied them, reinforce the profound truth in these words. Let’s not forget that the arms industry has reaped trillions in profits in the context of this slaughter, or that in the context of the Afghanistan war alone, that banks have amassed $500 billion from the interest payments on loans used to fund it.

Working-class and oppressed people across the globe, regardless of their religion, nationality, gender, race or sexuality, have a common interest to unite and overthrow this capitalist system. We must fight for a socialist world, where all resources and wealth are publicly owned and democratically and equitably used in the interests of all. By “beating swords into ploughshares” and using science and technology in a rationally planned way we can redirect the expenditure of weapons and wars to abolish poverty, want, and tackle climate change.

Such a world, built on peace and solidarity, would truly be worthy of the name of ‘human’ and it is one we must fight for today.