Where were world leaders when they heard about 9/11?

Twenty years later, here’s how some of the world’s most prominent leaders experienced that day

Nathan Place
New York
Thursday 02 September 2021 11:21
comments

Donald Trump says he has ‘tallest building’ in downtown Manhattan hours after 9/11 attack

Everyone who lived through 11 September, 2001 remembers where and how they learned of that day’s terrorist attacks – including political leaders.

George W Bush was reading a book to schoolchildren. Tony Blair was in a hotel room preparing a speech. Donald Trump was looking out of his window from Trump Tower.

Twenty years later, here’s a look back at how some of the world’s most prominent leaders experienced that day.

George W Bush

Mr Bush’s 9/11 story is particularly infamous. On that September morning, the relatively new president was at a photo-op with first-graders at a school in Florida, participating in a reading exercise called The Pet Goat (often erroneously referred to as “My Pet Goat”).

Before Mr Bush entered the classroom, he was told that a plane had crashed into one of the Twin Towers – although at this point many believed it was an accident. As Mr Bush listened to the children read, an aide whispered in his ear that the second tower had been hit. It was now clear that the country was under attack.

Mr Bush stayed in his seat and finished the reading exercise, sitting there for seven minutes. Then he spent some time complimenting the children on their reading skills and took some photos with them and their teachers. When a reporter asked if he’d heard about the attacks, he replied, “I’ll talk about it later.”

Three years later, this muted reaction became a political liability for Mr Bush when Michael Moore included footage of it in his 2004 documentary, Fahrenheit 9/11.

Mr Bush has said he was simply trying to show strength.

“I didn’t want to rattle the kids,” he said. “I wanted to project a sense of calm.”

Tony Blair

Britain’s then-prime minister Tony Blair was in a hotel room reading through a speech he was due to deliver to the Trades Union Congress when his advisor Alastair Campbell burst in, insisting that he turn on the television. As the news reports showed, a plane had crashed into the north tower of the World Trade Center. The south tower was hit 17 minutes later.

According to Mr Campbell, the prime minister grasped at once that what he was seeing was seminal, a pivotal moment in world affairs. Whatever the United States did, Mr Blair decided, the United Kingdom must back them up.

“TB said that we had to help the US, that they could not go it on their own, that they felt beleaguered and this would be tantamount to a military attack in their minds,” Mr Campbell recorded in his diary.

Later that day, Mr Blair promised in a speech that “we here in Britain stand shoulder to shoulder with our American friends”. This solidarity later became the basis of his support for the Bush administration’s invasion of Iraq.

Hillary Clinton

In 2001, Hillary Clinton was a junior senator from New York. She had just left her DC home for work when she heard that the World Trade Center had been attacked. By the time she arrived at the Capitol, it was being evacuated.

“So I gathered up my senior staff. We were just looking at each other with such total pain and confusion,” Ms Clinton told CNN years later.

Soon afterwards, they learned a second plane had smashed into the other building.

“I got to a TV as quickly as possible to begin monitoring it,” Ms Clinton recalled. “It was just a sickening experience.”

Ms Clinton flew to New York City the next day, where she visited survivors and spent time with first responders at Ground Zero.

“We saw this curtain of black smoke that was stretched across the island,” Ms Clinton said.  “Occasionally it would be broken by a firefighter coming out. I remember one image so indelibly, dragging his axe, and it was as close to a depiction of hell that I’ve ever personally seen.”

Donald Trump

Mr Trump literally told his 9/11 story on 9/11, calling into the TV station WWOR on the day of the attacks.

“I have a window that looks directly at the World Trade Center and I saw this huge explosion,” the future US president said, apparently referring to his view from Trump Tower. “I was with a group of people. I really couldn’t even believe it.

“And even, I think, worse than that, for years I’ve looked right directly at the building. I’d see the Empire State Building in the foreground and the World Trade Center in the background. And now I’m looking at absolutely nothing. It’s just gone. And it’s just hard to believe.”

Later in the interview, Mr Trump oddly turned his attention to the height of one of his properties, which he falsely claimed was now the tallest building in downtown Manhattan thanks to the Twin Towers’ collapse.

“Well, it was an amazing phone call,” Mr Trump told WWOR. “I mean, 40 Wall Street actually was the second-tallest building in downtown Manhattan. And it was actually – before the World Trade Center – was the tallest. And then when they built the World Trade Center, it became known as the second-tallest, and now it’s the tallest.”

As multiple fact checks later pointed out, this was not true.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

View comments