“Today,” the French newspaper Le Monde announced on September 12, 2001, “we are all Americans.” People around the world agreed: The terrorist attacks of the previous day had felt like attacks on everyone, everywhere. They provoked an unprecedented expression of shock, horror, solidarity and sympathy for the victims and their families.
Citizens of 78 countries died in New York, Washington, D.C., and Pennsylvania on September 11, and people around the world mourned lost friends and neighbors. They held candlelight vigils. They donated money and goods to the Red Cross and other rescue and relief organizations. Flowers piled up in front of American embassies. Cities and countries commemorated the attacks in a variety of ways: The Queen Mother sang the American national anthem at Buckingham Palace’s Changing of the Guard, while in Brazil, Rio de Janeiro put up huge billboards that showed the city’s famous Christ the Redeemer statue embracing the New York City skyline.
Meanwhile, statesmen and women rushed to condemn the attacks and to offer whatever aid they could to the United States. Russian president Vladimir Putin called the strikes “a blatant challenge to humanity,” while German chancellor Gerhard Schroeder declared that the events were “not only attacks on the people in the United States, our friends in America, but also against the entire civilized world, against our own freedom, against our own values, values which we share with the American people.” He added, “We will not let these values be destroyed.” Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien denounced the “cowardly and depraved assault.” He tightened security along the border and arranged for hundreds of grounded airplanes to land at Canadian airports.
Even leaders of countries that did not tend to get along terribly well with the American government expressed their sorrow and dismay. The Cuban foreign minister offered airspace and airports to American planes. Chinese and Iranian officials sent their condolences. And the Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, visibly dismayed, told reporters in Gaza that the attacks were “unbelievable, unbelievable, unbelievable.” “We completely condemn this very dangerous attack,” he said, “and I convey my condolences to the American people, to the American president and to the American administration.”
But public reaction was mixed. The leader of the Islamic militant group Hamas announced that “no doubt this is a result of the injustice the U.S. practices against the weak in the world.” Likewise, people in many different countries believed that the attacks were a consequence of America’s cultural hegemony, political meddling in the Middle East and interventionism in world affairs. The Rio billboards hadn’t been up for long before someone defaced them with the slogan “The U.S. is the enemy of peace.” Some, especially in Arab countries, openly celebrated the attacks. But most people, even those who believed that the United States was partially or entirely responsible for its own misfortune, still expressed sorrow and anger at the deaths of innocent people.
On September 12, the 19 ambassadors of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) declared that the attack on the United States was an attack on all of the member nations. This statement of solidarity was mostly symbolic–NATO did not authorize any specific military action–but it was still unprecedented. It was the first time that the organization had ever invoked the mutual defense section of its charter (intended to protect vulnerable European nations from Soviet invasion during the Cold War). NATO eventually sent five airplanes to help keep an eye on American airspace.
Likewise, on September 12 the United Nations Security Council called on all nations to “redouble their efforts” to thwart and prosecute terrorists. Two weeks later, it passed another resolution that urged states to “suppress the financing of terrorism” and to aid in any anti-terrorism campaigns.
But these declarations of support and solidarity didn’t mean that other countries gave the United States a free hand to retaliate however, and against whomever, it pleased. Allies and adversaries alike urged caution, warning that an indiscriminate or disproportionate reaction could alienate Muslims around the world. In the end, almost 30 nations pledged military support to the United States, and many more offered other kinds of cooperation. Most agreed with George Bush that, after September 11, the fight against terrorism was “the world’s fight.”