HolyCoast: The 9/11 Attack Was a Failure

Sunday, September 11, 2011

The 9/11 Attack Was a Failure

I'm reprinting some posts from the past that reference the 9/11 attacks.  This one was from 2010:
First, let me give you Ted Koppel's opinion about the 9/11 attacks:
The attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, succeeded far beyond anything Osama bin Laden could possibly have envisioned. This is not just because they resulted in nearly 3,000 deaths, nor only because they struck at the heart of American financial and military power. Those outcomes were only the bait; it would remain for the United States to spring the trap.

The goal of any organized terrorist attack is to goad a vastly more powerful enemy into an excessive response. And over the past nine years, the United States has blundered into the 9/11 snare with one overreaction after another. Bin Laden deserves to be the object of our hostility, national anguish and contempt, and he deserves to be taken seriously as a canny tactician. But much of what he has achieved we have done, and continue to do, to ourselves. Bin Laden does not deserve that we, even inadvertently, fulfill so many of his unimagined dreams.
I disagree. I think the 9/11 attacks were a dismal failure when compared to what they might have been had the tactics been just a little bit different.  You can argue all you want about what's happened in the nine years since, but I believe the attacks themselves failed to accomplish what had been planned.

After watching numerous shows recounting the sights, sounds and actions of that terrible day it's clear to me that the radical Islamists made some significant errors in their attack planning. The death toll, while horrific, was probably only 5% or less than what it might have been.

The fact that they hit the World Trade Center near the top of both buildings tells me they didn't really understand what would happen next. It's my belief that they though that a fully loaded airplane striking at high speed near the top of the structure would have caused a levering effect that would have caused structural failure somewhere near the bottom, thus causing the building to collapse sideways onto adjoining structures. Had that happened nearly everyone in the WTC buildings and many hundreds more in the adjoining area would have been lost.

However, the building proved to be far more resilient to the crash than they probably planned. As a result thousands of people below the impact areas were able to escape before the fires and structural damage finally caused the pancake collapses that occurred.  We're terribly lucky they hit the buildings up high as they did.

Had the buildings been struck at much lower floors, which might have been tough due to surrounding structures, everyone above the impact would likely have been lost and the collapses would have occurred much quicker given the extra weight above the damaged section.  Those buildings might have come down in minutes instead of lasting as long as they did.

An even worse outcome might have occurred had the buildings been hit at lower levels by a plane that was in a high speed dive.  A plane striking the building in a 30-45 degree dive would have slashed through the supports for several floors and created a weak side on the building, much like a lumberjack taking a hunk out of the side of  tree.  Something like that might have caused a building to topple over with a terrible loss of life.

A second factor was the day they chose. Whether intended or not, the attacks were launched on election day when the city would be choosing their new mayor. Consequently, buildings that would normally have been completely full at 8:46 in the morning were not because many workers had chosen to vote before going to work that morning - like this guy.

Finally, choosing the Pentagon as a target might have been a symbolic victory for the terrorists, but it was a terrible choice given the other options available in Washington D.C.  The Pentagon structure itself held up well given the impact it sustained, and the loss of life was somewhat limited because there weren't that many people in the area hit.  Symbolically, a strike at the White House or Capitol Building would have had a much more devastating impact on American morale and spirit.  Chances are United 93 was headed to one of those locations, but thankfully the passengers were able to stop that attack.

Having said all this, the death toll, as terrible as it was, could have been 50,000+ with a slight change in tactics.  Given the potential for destruction of human life, this attack was a failure.

There was one other failure in the nine years since, but it was New York's failure - the failure to rebuild.  The Empire State Building was constructed in 18 months at the height of a Depression.  Nine years and there's still basically a big hole at Ground Zero.  We should have had that place rebuilt long before now, but the grief builders have to go through these days is absolutely ridiculous.

I think it was Jerry Seinfeld who once suggested that  we should have built four buildings with one of the middle ones significantly taller than the others.  And pointed the whole thing toward Mecca.
UPDATE - these numbers from the UK Guardian underscore my point that the loss of life on 9/11 could have been so much higher:
Number of companies housed in the WTC: 430

Number working in World Trade Centre on average working day prior to 11 September: 50,000

Average number of daily visitors: 140,000

Number killed in attack on New York, in the Twin Towers and in aircraft that crashed into them: 2,823

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