THIS Saturday is the 20th anniversary of one of the most horrific events in our lifetimes. For those of us old enough to have watched it live on that date now etched into our memories – September 11th 2001 – it was undoubtedly the most frightening piece of television we will have ever seen. And we hope it will never be surpassed.
That was the day that changed America – and indeed the whole world – forever.
When the first plane hit the north tower, nobody was quite sure what had happened. It was thought, initially, it was a light engine plane that had suffered a fault and crashed.
Because of the enormity of the tragedy, even at that early point, cameras were trained on the towers after the first explosion.
And so when, 18 minutes later, the second plane came ploughing into the south tower, the world’s cameras were aimed directly at the point of impact.
It was methodically planned by the terrorists so the whole world would be watching this second horrific event, even if they had missed the first.
Within the hour, another plane had plummeted straight into the seat of American military intelligence – the Pentagon.
And if the sight of the twin infernos in New York and a gaping hole in the Department of Defence HQ in Washington DC was not enough to contend with, the world then watched as both towers came crashing down before 10.30am.
Meanwhile, a fourth plane crashed into a field in Pennsylvania at 10:10am, after brave passengers fought the hijackers. No one is sure, to this day, what would have been the target of that plane.
A total of 2,996 people were killed in the attacks, including the 19 hijackers.
While many critics of then-President George Bush slammed his lack of a visible presence in the hours immediately after the attacks, it has emerged since that he was battling his security staff who wanted to protect him, believing he could be targeted at any minute.
He eventually won the battle and broadcast an address to America at 9pm, two hours after he was finally allowed to return to the White House, that evening. He made a controversial comment about treating any nation that harboured the terrorists, as terrorists themselves. It was a change of tack that wasn’t altogether supported by his backroom staff, but he was determined to come out fighting.
And therein launched a war that saw only one part of its conclusion with the withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan last week – almost exactly two decades later.
As the Taliban claimed to have overtaken the last opposition in the country, just days after America’s departure, it was a frightening reality check for the world: two decades of war had achieved nothing.
Some observers have said that we are in an even more precarious state now than we were just prior to 9/11 – that the Taliban are stronger, better equipped than Al-Qaeda ever were (thanks, largely to the massive arsenal left behind by Western forces) and have learned how to use Western-style propaganda and social media tricks to their advantage.
Others say the Taliban have no interest in reaching beyond Afghanistan, but their real threat is their embracing of other terrorist groups who have their sights set on creating more havoc in the West.
We can only hope and pray that another 9/11 is not visited upon the West. And that the countries most under threat can combine their forces and intelligence in a bid to combat any potential attacks.