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An occasion for reflection


The 20th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the United States has brought back sad memories for people in many parts of the world including New Zealand but has also been an occasion to consider where the world is now.

Waking up just after the attacks, New Zealanders could not believe what they were seeing.

Images of the two planes striking the twin towers are something anybody who saw it will never forget and they have become some of the most iconic images of this century.

The attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, which would have been unthinkable until they actually happened, left nearly 3000 dead and were a major blow to Western liberal civilisation.

They led to two disastrous wars, the invasion of Iraq and the “forever war” in Afghanistan, which has just ended in a devastating defeat for the United States and its allies.

While it's impossible to know just how many people died in the post-9/11 military operations, which reached across the Middle East to Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria and elsewhere, scholars at the Costs of War Project at Brown University's Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs have been working on estimates since 2010. They put the human toll at more than 890,000, including armed forces on all sides of the conflicts, contractors, civilians, journalists and humanitarian workers.

That grim total of course includes 10 New Zealanders killed in Afghanistan.

While the heroism of the first responders in New York will always be something to be honoured, most people would now say that the wars launched in response to 9/11 were mistakes.

In Saturday's Herald columnist Gwynn Dyer says that nothing has changed as a result of the wars.

He points out that in Europe no year has gone by without terror attacks and nothing much has really changed in the Arab world, where most regimes are absolute monarchies or military dictatorships.

New Zealand's prime minister at the time Helen Clark says that ideally the 20th anniversary, coming hard on the heels of the chaotic evacuation from Afghanistan, would be an occasion for reflection in the West on the past two decades of focus on the “war on terror” rather than on long-term support for inclusive, sustainable and peaceful development which over time has the best prospects for draining extremist groups of the foot soldiers they need to carry out their murderous acts.