The Causes of Terrorist Attacks on America

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The Causes of Terrorist Attacks on America


Luis Fernandes & Edward Folgar

HSS 212-003

Dr. Priscilla Oguine

October 11, 2001

The recent terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City and the Pentagon in Washington DC were caused by the very same reasons experienced in the expansion of Europe during the 15th and 16th centuries. The economic, political, and cultural conditions present in each of these periods in history, although hundreds of years apart, are still very much alike. The same desires for money, relations between different countries, and differing religious views are what caused this tragedy and similar conflicts during the expansion of Europe. By examining these causes in the present as well as in the past, Americans might have a better understanding of the current situation and come up with some ways to prevent such a tragedy in future..

The exploitation of many of the native peoples in the New World during the period of European expansion can be seen to have been centered on greed. According to the class film Conquest of Paradise, Columbus’ goal even before he set out on the expedition was to find a shorter trade route to the Indian Ocean. He thought that by sailing west he would eventually hit India, thereby avoiding the long trip around Africa (Bulliet et al. 430). Columbus’ voyage, however, resulted in the discovery of a new continent when he reached the islands of the Caribbean in October of 1492. The voyage of Christopher Columbus had “laid the basis for Spain’s large colonial empires in the Americas… these empires promoted, among the four Atlantic continents, the growth of a major new trading network whose importance rivaled and eventually surpassed that of the Indian Ocean network” (Bulliet et al. 431). But this trading network, however, was not gained without a great loss of human lives and great animosity against the imperialists. America, therefore, inherited this animosity when it became an imperialist country.

The expedition of Hernán Cortés and the conquistadors, one of Spain’s later voyages, showed that a common cause for mass violence and tragedy is found in the human desire for wealth. Cortés’ main goal was at first just to develop trade with the Mexican mainland. But when he learned of the rich Aztec empire and their gold, he began to exploit and conquer them (Bulliet et al. 437). Cortés accurately portrays the human desire of greed in the following quote taken from the class film Conquistadors, “Do you have more gold? For we're troubled from a disease of the heart that can only be cured by gold.” This was just the beginning of the problem. As soon as the Aztecs had brought the conquistadors gifts of gold as a symbol of peace, Cortés and his men had already set out to overthrow the Aztecs. “Despite Cortés’s initial promise that he came in friendship, Moctezuma quickly found himself a prisoner in his own palace. His treasury was looted, its gold melted down. Soon a battle was raging in and about the capital between the Spaniards and the Aztecs” (Bulliet et al. 438). The greed initiated at this period in history has been copied by the terrorists.

Similar to the conquest made by Cortés, the attack on the World Trade Center was also said to have profited the terrorists. The way in which they accomplished this was by selling their stocks right before the day of the attack and then buying them back for a cheaper price afterwards. In fact, “the Secret Service has begun tracking financial records at brokerage houses to determine if anyone illegally profited from knowing about the Sept. 11 attacks beforehand” as stated by Meyer. Already the United States has frozen over $100 dollars in assets around the world since the attacks. Nearly 6,000 people where killed just to profit these terrorists. Not to mention the large blow to the US economy and the stock market. So the targets of the terrorists are economically motivated.

In fact, the World Trade Center was a symbol of the United States’ as well as the world’s economy. Just as many of the early European explorations were a large blow to the economies of the conquered nations, the recent terrorist attacks directly affected the U.S. economy and will for some time to come. The economic effects of the terrorist attacks are not caused so much from the damage they caused, but according to Krugman, “the possibility that nervous consumers and investors will stop spending.” This is especially apparent in the airline and travel industries, where the attacks had the greatest impact. In an attempt to recover the economy, President Bush is now trying to “pass an economic stimulus package of up to $75 billion driven by a new round of tax cuts” (Anderson and Ross 8).

Political conflict as well as a poor economy exting in many terrorist countries is usually a cause for violence. For instance, the political conditions in Spain during the 1500’s, and also most of Europe, were constantly in turmoil. “Huge debts for foreign wars drained bullion from Spain to its creditors” (Bulliet et al. 457). This was part of the reason for Spain’s interest in the Aztec gold and silver and also was the reason for sending out the conquistadors. Spain also needed money “to purchase manufactured goods and even food” (Bulliet et al. 457). This was why they were expanding to the Americas with the desire to establish trade as well as feed off of whatever American resources they could get a hold of. The recent attacks on America have the same motives.

“The Spanish and Portuguese monarchies had similar motives for expansion” (Bulliet et al. 435). The Portuguese wanted to expand their empire to foreign lands near the Indian Ocean in order to impose their political policies. Their major reason for doing this was to gain from the riches found in Indian Ocean trade and its neighboring nations. An example of this development of trade is seen in a series of Portuguese negotiations with coastal Africans to establish a trading point in 1482 (Bulliet et al. 431). The main goal of the Portuguese was to make the Indian Ocean “Portugal’s sea, the private property of the Portuguese alone, which others might use only on Portuguese terms” (Bulliet et al. 433).

Afghanistan, like Spain in the 16th century, also experiences much political turmoil to this day. They have no form of democracy in their government. “The military has remained the dominant institution, and while it has failed in its three wars with India, it has had repeated success in overthrowing its own democratically elected governments,” as stated by Bearak. Any country that is full of so much corruption and poverty really has no other choice than to be aggressive. In a military government guns are more of a common than refrigerators. The only way they can see to get out of their state of bankruptcy is by focusing on war with India and committing senseless acts of violence like the terrorist attacks on the United States. This is one of the immediate causes of this tragedy.

The people of these countries may see the United States as a possible threat trying to overthrow their government. Because of this, they attempted to hurt the U.S. by breaking down its defense, economic, and political structure. That is why, according to King and MacCaleb, one of the planes that luckily did not reach its supposed target was headed toward the White House. If this plane were successful, it could have possibly killed or injured many U.S. politicians or maybe even the President, destroying our nation’s political leaders.

In addition, religion is an important factor in this tragedy. For instance, one of the most influential aspects of violent attacks is almost always centered around some religious aspect. For example, Cortés and his men saw the Aztecs as heathens, believing in false gods and even offering them human sacrifices. According to the class film Conquistadors, Cortés was extremely offended when he was taken to the Aztec shrine of the war god. When he saw all the human hearts that had been offered to the gods, he saw it as an act of the devil and offered to put a cross in the room. This was a very extreme insult to the Aztec king Moctezuma. Using religion as an excuse, Cortés was able to motivate his men into fighting a religious battle.

Henry the Navigator also used religion as a reason for expansion and conquest. In fact, his main reason for exploring was for “converting Africans to Christianity” (Bulliet et al. 425). This increased the animosity felt by the natives toward the explorers. The natives did not like the fact that the explorers were claiming their land, but now they started seeing “them as rivals or enemies” (Bulliet et al. 431). This conflict of religions resulted in the death of many.

Pakistan has also been divided and is motivated from a religious point of view as seen in the following excerpt by Bearak on the website:

The country is polarized. On one side stand sympathizers with the West who have felt increasingly marginalized in recent years and believe that the current turmoil may be a rare stroke of fortune that halts the ‘Talibanization’ of Pakistan, a drift toward the fundamentalist Islam of neighboring Afghanistan. On the other stand the holy warriors, the hope of the country’s myriad dispossessed.

They have hundreds of religious schools, known as the madrassahs, where students are taught “the moral requirement to fight holy wars.” This is where much of the violence is originated. Young students after chanting their afternoon prayers are taught to make threats, such as “Death to America! Let Americans come here to be buried,” as stated by Bearak.

In order to prevent such acts of terrorism in the future, Americans as well as the rest of the world should take measures to prevent feelings of racism. A yearly conference should be held by a distinguished organization like the United Nations, where countries would discuss their differences in a peaceful manner. Afghanistan may never have retaliated against the United States with such a violent act of terrorism if they knew that we were out there to help their current conditions. They see the United States as such a powerful nation compared to their own and feel it should not meddle in the affairs of other nations. A yearly conference where different nations could discuss such matters would only serve to help the current feelings of tension.

The terrorists’ attacks on the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon in Washington DC, were indeed the result of animosity that has been building up between people of different religions and parts of the world. These attacks were also the result of political, economic, and cultural differences between the countries of the Middle East and the countries of Europe as well as the United States. Although, this animosity has built up over time, terrorist attacks such as those of September 11th are never going to solve or do any good to reduce the differences between people of different cultures. This only leads to retaliatory attacks like those that the United States and Great Britain are carrying on right now against Afghanistan. All of the people and countries involved should look back to the past and learn from history that attacking each other will never work. The truth is that attacking each other did not work back in the 15th and 16th centuries, did not work on September 11th, and will never resolve anything. Terrorist attacks are only an example of humanity at its worst. These people should instead, try to put all of these differences aside and work together toward a common cause such as finding ways to work out their differences with their heads instead of weapons.
Works Cited

Anderson, Curt and Sonya Ross. “Bush Seeks $75 Billion to Jolt Economy.” The Star-

Ledger 4 Oct. 2001: 8.

Bearak, Barry. “In Pakistan, a Shaky Ally.” New York Times on the Web 2 Oct. 2001.

3 Oct. 2001


Bulliet, Richard W., Pamela Kyle Crossley, Daniel R. Headrick, Steven W. Hirsch,

Lyman L. Johnson, and David Northrup. The Earth and Its Peoples: A Global History. 2nd ed. Boston New York: Houghton Mifflin, 2001.

Conquest of Paradise. Dir. Ridley Scott. Perf. Gerald Despardieu. Bravo Special

Presentation. Class Film. HSS-212-003. Fall Semester, September 6, 2001.

Conquistadors. Dir. David Wallace. Narr. Michael Wood. Maya Vision. PBS

Presentation, 7 Aug. 2001. Class Film. HSS-212-003. Fall Semester, September 13, 2001.

King, John and Ian C. MacCaleb. “White House, Air Force One possible targets.” 12 Sept. 2001. 9 October 2001 .

Krugman, Paul. “The Fear Economy.” New York Times on the Web 30 Sept. 2001.


Meyer, Josh, and Carol J. Williams. “$100 Million in Suspect Assets Frozen.” Los

Angeles Times on the Web 3 Oct. 2001. 3 Oct. 2001 /news/printedition/asection/la-000079106oct03.story?coll=la%2Dnews%2Da%5F


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