spiked-bites, 2 November

What is the true death toll of 11 September?; Seeing possible terrorist targets everywhere.

Various Authors

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Topics Politics

Numbers unknown

More than 50 days after the terrorist attacks on the USA, one thing remains uncertain: how many people were killed?

In the hours after the Twin Towers collapsed and while the Pentagon was still burning, the worst was feared – newspaper headlines screamed ’20,000 dead in New York’ and ‘Up to 800 dead’ at the Pentagon. But the figures were quickly revised downwards, to ‘about 5000 dead’ in New York and ‘about 150 dead’ at the Pentagon.

The number of British dead also fell in the weeks after the attacks. UK foreign secretary Jack Straw’s claims that the number of dead Britons could be in the ‘upper hundreds’ made the headlines in the days after the attacks – while on 27 September the UK Guardian was still saying that we ‘lost almost 200 British citizens’ (1). The most recent statement from the UK Foreign Office now puts the figure at ‘fewer than 70’.

The official death toll for New York now stands at 4167 ‘dead or missing’ – but even this is disputed. According to the New York Times and USA Today the death toll for New York is closer to 2950 (2). The NYT says that the American Red Cross ‘figured that it would hear from most of the families and so far has 2563 people as missing’ (3). Other newspapers, basing their figures on the numbers of employees listed as missing by companies that were based in the World Trade Centre, put the New York death toll at ‘about 3000’.

Yet even now – four weeks after New York city officials set the death toll at 4167 and a week after the US media reported the 3000 figure – some in the UK media still refer to 6000 dead. On Wednesday 31 October, the UK Sun implored us to ‘never forget’ the ‘6000 who died’ (4) – but seems to have changed its mind by the following day, referring to the ‘kamikaze jet attacks which killed 5400’ (5).

Yesterday in the UK Mirror, Tony Parsons wrote of 11 September’s ‘slaughter of the innocent six thousand’ (6) – while BBC News Online seems to have settled on the figure of 5000, which, even if you accept New York City’s figure of 4167 and add those who died on the aeroplanes and those who died in the Pentagon, is still 500 more than the highest official estimates.

So was it 6000, 4000 or 3000? No doubt there are difficulties establishing a final figure – only 454 bodies have been recovered in New York, and it’s unlikely that any more will be found. But even 3000 deaths would be a terrible toll – so why the need to talk the numbers up? BON

(1) Guardian, 27 September 2001

(2) BBC Online, 26 October 2001

(3) New York Times, 25 October 2001

(4) Sun, 31 October 2001

(5) Sun, 1 November 2001

(6) Mirror, 1 November 2001

Chancing it

If you must take the risk of going to the USA, stay away from…tall buildings, aeroplanes, Halloween parades and now, suspension bridges. But don’t panic!

No wonder people are confused.

Today we hear reports of ‘credible’ information that the Golden Gate bridge in San Francisco, California, could be targeted for attack during rush hour between 2 and 7 November. It’s an intelligence improvement on the announcement by US Attorney General John Ashcroft on 30 October, just before I left the USA, that there could be more terrorist attacks on the USA, or American interests abroad, over the next week. The FBI had ‘specific and credible’ information to this end; but there were no details of what the targets of terrorism might be.

Speculation resounded throughout New York City – would the attack be on the Halloween parade in Greenwich Village, or the New York marathon taking place this weekend? But then, even such unhelpful speculation seemed more intelligent than the situation Americans have been living in since 11 September, in which they are constantly reminded of the possibility of another attack at some time, in some place.

We cannot dismiss the possibility of another terrorist attack – for the reason that it will always be a possibility. But nor can we organise our lives around such an ephemeral possibility. The ongoing panicked reporting of chances, possibilities of and opportunities for future attacks only leads to mass insecurity – with no guarantee of safety. Political leaders in the West recognise that life has to go on, and so hector the public about the need not to panic – yet at the same time, they cover their backs by continually warning about possibilities of danger.

They fail to realise that people are worried because they sense the fear and anxiety emanating from the top – and that for political leaders to urge the public to go about their business as usual is no comfort when, at the same time, we are being encouraged to jump at shadows.

For example, New York’s Halloween parade – clearly a major annual event – was given the go-ahead by political leaders and law enforcers encouraging people to have fun, yet to remain vigilant at all times. For security reasons, people were told not to bring bags, and additional police were out in force. Fun? All this anxiety is enough to spook anybody. JB

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Topics Politics