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Behind the 9/11 White House Order to Shoot Down U.S. Airliners: ‘It Had to be Done’

September 9, 2019 in History

By Garrett M. Graff

The harrowing decision was made during the first hour after the attacks—by Vice President Cheney.

It’s hard to imagine an American leader authorizing the shoot-down of civilian aircraft. But in the first hour following the , I interviewed dozens of top U.S. officials who were with the president and vice president that day—as well as culled official oral histories conducted by the Pentagon and other institutions in the wake of 9/11—to create one of the most detailed pictures yet of the national decision-making that unfolded that morning.

One particular moment of that first hour in the bunker would prove among the day’s most controversial moments: that order from Cheney authorizing fighter jets to shoot down hijacked airliners. Did he actually have the authority to give the order? And did he and President Bush connect before or after Cheney ordered the fighters into battle?

READ MORE: 9/11 Timeline

The scramble to safety

Vice President Cheney with senior staff in the President’s Emergency Operations Center (PEOC), the Cold War-era bunker under the White House.

The White House bunker, known officially as the Presidential Emergency Operations Center (PEOC), dates back to World War II, when officials set up a modest bunker for Franklin D. Roosevelt in the event of a surprise German attack on the capital. Harry Truman expanded the facility dramatically for the Cold War as part of a large White House renovation during his presidency. In the years since, the bunker has been updated technologically; and while officials and presidents had used it as part of drills and exercises, it had never been used for its intended purpose—until 9/11.

READ MORE: Inside the Government’s Top Secret Doomsday Hideouts

Still, the facility is staffed 24 hours a day, and that morning the team on duty had been gathering for its normal Tuesday morning staff meeting when the towers were struck. Within minutes, Vice President Cheney and other officials arrived. Navy Commander Anthony Barnes was on duty that morning, and in his first-ever interview, he recalls that he looked around and saw National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice, White House Communications Director Karen Hughes, Cheney aide Mary Matalin and Secretary of Transportation Norman Mineta: “Mr. Mineta put up on one of the TV monitors a feed of where every airplane across the entire nation was. We looked at that thing—there must have been thousands of little airplane symbols on it.”

Barnes, who served on 9/11 …read more

Source: HISTORY

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How the Pentagon's Design Saved Lives on September 11

September 9, 2019 in History

By Dave Roos

On 9/11, 125 people in the Pentagon were killed. The losses were devastating, but it could have been even worse.

At 9:47 a.m. on September 11, 2001, a 62-year-old Pentagon employee and retired Air Force communications specialist was sitting in traffic west of the Pentagon when a roaring jet engine passed so low overhead that it clipped the radio antenna of the car behind him.

The airplane, the hijacked American Airlines Flight 77, sliced through three light poles in the Pentagon parking lot before it slamming into the first floor of the building and exploding in a fireball, instantly killing 125 people inside the Pentagon plus all 64 passengers onboard, including the five hijackers.

While the act was horrific and all the losses on that day were devastating, structural damage analysis revealed that the death toll at the Pentagon could have been far worse, if not for some critical engineering decisions made 60 years earlier.

In this handout provided by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, first responders are shown on scene following an attack at the Pentagon on September 11, 2001 in Arlington, Virginia. American Airlines Flight 77 was hijacked by al Qaeda terrorists who flew it in to the building killing 184 people.

View the 12 images of this gallery on the original article

Construction of the Pentagon began, ironically enough, on September 11, 1941. While America had not yet entered World War II, President Franklin D. Roosevelt knew he needed a home base for impending military operations near the nation’s capital. Wartime urgency meant that the Pentagon was completed in record time—just 16 months using 15,000 construction workers.

Steel was rationed for the war effort, so the Pentagon was built almost entirely of reinforced concrete, including 41,000 concrete pilings and concrete ramps instead of stairs connecting the building’s five floors. Completed in 1943, the Pentagon remains the world’s largest low-rise office building with 6.5 million square feet of office space containing up to 26,000 workers.

When the Pentagon was built, no one knew that it would become an iconic monument to U.S. military power—or a target. In fact, the architects thought it would be abandoned after the war and turned into a massive record storage depot. Their prediction was wrong, but fortuitous.

Thinking the Pentagon would need to store heavy caches of records for the long haul, the U.S. Army Corps of …read more

Source: HISTORY

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Joan of Arc is born

September 9, 2019 in History

By History.com Editors

Joan of Arc, the “Maid of Orléans,” is born on January 6, 1412. She lived only 19 years, but she would become a Roman Catholic saint and a national hero of France for her pivotal role in the Hundred Years’ War.

Joan was born to Jacques d’Arc and Isabelle Romée in a small town in northeastern France. At the time of her birth, the English and their allies controlled much of France, including Paris, Bordeaux, and Reims. In addition to the English threat, a faction loyal to the Duke of Burgundy challenged the right of the Dauphin (heir apparent), Charles of Orléans, to the French throne. Joan claimed that she first received divine instruction at the age of 13, in her father’s garden, when Saints Michael, Catherine, and Margaret told her to drive the English from the country. At age 16, she correctly predicted the outcome of a battle to a French commander, who then agreed to take her to Charles.

READ MORE: How Long Was the Hundred Years’ War?

The illiterate farm girl made a strong impression on the Dauphin, enough that she began to travel with him and advise French military leaders. It is unclear what exactly her role was in the subsequent campaign, but it is clear that it was more than merely symbolic. She carried a banner rather than a weapon, and later testified that she never killed an enemy soldier, but French leaders credited her as a major factor in lifting the siege at Orléans. The liberation of the city shocked the English and put the French on the offensive for the first time in years. With Joan’s advice, foresight, and charisma aiding his advance, Charles’ forces expelled the English and Burgundians from the Loire Valley. The French re-took Troyes and liberated Reims, the traditional coronation site for French monarchs, where the Dauphin took his crown.

A short time later, Joan was captured in battle with the Burgundians. She was put on trial by the English, who were determined to prove that her inspiration had come from the devil. Accounts of the trial feature prominently in her mythos, as she evaded English attempts to trick her into admitting heresy. In one such attempt, Joan was asked if she knew she was in God’s grace. According to doctrine, answering “yes” would have been heresy because no one could truly know the answer, but saying …read more

Source: HISTORY

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Marvin Gaye's hit single "What's Going On?" released

September 9, 2019 in History

By History.com Editors

January 20, 1971, sees the release of Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On?” In addition to being a massive hit, the song marked a turning point in Gaye’s career and in the trajectory of Motown.

Gaye achieved popularity in the 1960s with songs like “How Sweet it Is (To Be Loved by You)” and “I Heard It Through the Grapevine,” prime examples of the “Motown Sound” which blended soul, rock, and pop and is often credited with a leading role in the racial integration of popular music in America. Gaye’s record label, Tamla, was an imprint of Motown Records, and as such Gaye’s work was guided and supervised by legendary Motown founder Berry Gordy. Gaye’s early music, like that of many Motown artists, was innovative and increasingly sensual but hardly political.

“What’s Going On?” originated with Ronaldo “Obie” Benson, a member of the Motown group the Four Tops, who penned an early version after witnessing police violence against anti-Vietnam War protesters in Berkeley, California. Benson took the song to Gaye, whose brother had recently returned from the war and whose cousin had died in it, and Gaye made it his own. The song’s lyrics both implicitly references the violent rifts in American society (“Mother, mother/ there’s too many of you crying”) and explicitly questions the war (“We don’t need to escalate … war is not the answer/ for only love can conquer hate”). These lyrics made it ripe for controversy, enough that Gordy discouraged Gaye from recording the song, saying “Don’t be ridiculous. That’s taking things too far.”

Ultimately, Gaye went on a recording strike to force Gordy to release “What’s Going On?” Not many artists had the gumption or the clout to stand up to Gordy, and as such the single’s release foreshadowed his future disagreements with Gordy and eventual split with Motown. The single reached number 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and would go on to be named the fourth-greatest song of all time by Rolling Stone. The album What’s Going On, released the following May, was a concept album that further explored Gaye’s opposition to the war as well as other sensitive topics like poverty and drug use. The song “Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology)” is one of the earliest examples of environmentalist messaging in mainstream pop music. Critics continue to rate the album and its title track among the most influential recordings in modern musical …read more

Source: HISTORY

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Benito Mussolini declares himself dictator of Italy

September 9, 2019 in History

By History.com Editors

Similar to Adolf Hitler, Italian Fascist leader Benito Mussolini did not become the dictator of a totalitarian regime overnight. For several years, he and his allies worked more or less within the confines of the Italian constitution to accrue power, eroding democratic institutions until the moment came for them to be done away with entirely. It is generally agreed that that moment came in speech Mussolini gave to the Italian parliament on January 3, 1925, in which he asserted his right to supreme power and effectively became the dictator of Italy.

Mussolini had been a schoolteacher and an avowed socialist, but after World War I he became a leader of the nascent Fascist movement. Like much of Europe, Italy was rife with social turmoil in the wake of the war, with paramilitary groups and street gangs frequently clashing over their competing visions for the new political order. A close confidant of Mussolini formed a Fascist paramilitary group, known as the Blackshirts or squadristi, as Mussolini led the political party, and they found that government fears of a communist revolution allowed them to operate without state intervention. By 1921, Mussolini had been elected to parliament as the leader of the growing National Fascist Party.

Soon after Mussolini’s election, armed Blackshirts marched on Rome, demanding that the king install Mussolini as Prime Minister. In a decision that utterly changed the course of Italian and European history, King Victor Emmanuel III ignored Prime Minister Luigi Facta’s pleas that he declare martial law, leading to Facta’s resignation and Emmanuel’s invitation to Mussolini to form a new government. The Fascists and their moderate allies set about dismantling Italy’s democratic institutions. He was proclaimed dictator for a year and increasingly merged his party and its paramilitary wing with the state and the official military. He also undertook a program of privatizations and anti-union legislation in order to assure industrialists and aristocrats that fascism would protect them from socialism.

Despite these reforms, many Fascists felt Mussolini was moving too slowly. In 1924, assassins with ties to Mussolini killed socialist leader Giacomo Matteotti, leading most of the parliamentary opposition to boycott Mussolini’s legislature. The Fascists felt that their moment had come. On December 31, they issued an ultimatum to Mussolini. Three days later, he addressed the remainder of parliament, declaring “I, and I alone, assume the political, moral, and historical responsibility for all that has …read more

Source: HISTORY