I am currently writing an Alternative History story and wanted some opinion on this and have some questions answered.

The story takes place in NY in 2051, fifty years after the 9/11 attack, where in this universe, it is only the north tower of the WTC that is hit and destroyed. The reason for why the south tower wasn't hit is because a simple miscommunication error, which resulted in both planes hitting the other tower. After this, the US department of defense went full terror-phobic and feared that Al-Queda will launch a new attack on the WTC. After only ten days Congress approved the launch of a full force invasion of Iran and Afghanistan, with the intent of destroying the Islamic Terror movement, but the DoD wanted to nuke the parts of the Middle East where the Al-Queda is heavily present, but the UN stopped that plan until 2040, where a former US president is chosen to be the Secretary-General of UN, which promptly resulted in the approval of Nuclear weapons to destroy the Islamic Terror movement, and somehow a holocaust-like event happens, just with Islamic people, resulting in a great hatred for the United Nations and United States. Because of this, in the U.S. anarchist groups becomes the largest political movement, and the Government is now threaten by this, and is now close to break down and start a new Civil War.

My questions is now this:

Would they let the south tower stand? It would still get damaged by the north tower collapsing, but will it still stand, and if it does, Would the Americans let it stand, or bring the tower down? Also after 50 more years?

Would the Americans really react in this kind of manner? I mean, this is a bit extremist, but they have been in bit like this in our universe.

And, could the 2050's America be at the brink of Civil War if this extremist behavior is implemented?

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    $\begingroup$ Nato would be much more credible than the UN in stopping the US from starting a war. $\endgroup$ Oct 2, 2015 at 20:44
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    $\begingroup$ There are some things in your question that are "strange". First, why would they link Al-Qaeda and Iran? Al-Qaeda is a Sunni organization they don't have state support of Iran, a Shia dominated country. Perhaps you meant Hezbollah? The other thing is that, in our reality, it was a partial success too because the WTC was not the only target. The Pentagon was also damaged but not destroyed. And lastly, the UN can't stop the US, they don't have the military strength to do it, and it's just not a possibility. $\endgroup$
    – Vincent
    Oct 2, 2015 at 20:49
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    $\begingroup$ The U.N. Secretary-General is essentially a figurehead, so getting a former U.S. President chosen to that position would have very little impact on getting approval for unilateral U.S. use of nuclear weapons (which would almost certainly be vetoed by Russia and/or China) $\endgroup$
    – Steve Bird
    Oct 2, 2015 at 20:49
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    $\begingroup$ This is all dumb. There's no reason for a slightly less damaging 9/11 to require the USA to react even more strongly than historically. And I don't see any reason for the USA to go to war with each other just because some foreigner doesn't like our overreaction. And the UN stopping us from doing anything for 30 years is a joke. $\endgroup$
    – Oldcat
    Oct 3, 2015 at 0:15
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    $\begingroup$ @Oldcat - Not to mention the US holding a grudge for 40 years to the point of using nukes. That's 2 generations, and we just don't have the patience for it. $\endgroup$ Oct 3, 2015 at 1:11

5 Answers 5


Demolish the damaged tower

I'm with those that say that they'd probably demolish the second tower.

Change the attack order

I think that you're approaching this from the wrong angle. A less successful 9/11 would not, in and of itself, make the response stronger. If you want a stronger response, you should change how it proceeded. Instead of going in the actual order, change it to

  1. White House
  2. Pentagon
  3. World Trade Center North Tower
  4. World Trade Center South Tower

The first three succeed and the fourth fails (as really happened). So Bush, most of the cabinet, and the top generals are dead. Cheney is President. Cheney panics and lights off nukes.

This may not be realistic. Cheney may not be quite that bad. But it's believable. Changing the responder from Bush to Cheney could change the response in a way that more moderate changes in circumstances could not.

Add a second attack

Another possibility. Make 9/11 less successful and weaken the response. Yes, I know that you want to strengthen the response. We'll get there.

There are a number of ways to make the attack less successful. A quick example would be to change the result of the presidential race. President Gore may have read the Tom Clancy book that inspired the 9/11 attacks and made the single change necessary to prevent them: lock the plane's cabin door and not open it for any reason. Perhaps this only works in three of the four attacks, so the North tower is still destroyed but the other targets are not hit.

With an unsuccessful 9/11, we could expect the same kind of results as the previous failed attack on the World Trade Center in 1993. I.e. pretty much nothing. With a partially successful 9/11 where the only success is a failure in a mostly effective system, it's quite possible that the response would have been smaller. Particularly if we combine it with a different President.

With a less powerful response, it seems quite possible that there would have been another attack. Put it in late 2003 or early 2004. After the failure of the previous response, the President has to respond much more strongly. Or put the response in 2005 with a new President.

Again, this may not be realistic but is believable. It is a possible result of Gore beating Bush in 2000 which could be explained as simply as eliminating the butterfly ballots in Florida. No butterfly ballots and Gore almost certainly wins easily without recounts. Why no butterfly ballots? A Republican was angry about how they caused Dole to lose votes in 1996. Of course it didn't affect the result in 1996, but a suitably anal-retentive personality might not have cared. A small butterfly change could have led to a big change in 2000. Entirely in line with chaos theory.

Why an alternate history?

If you want a strong response in 2040, why do you need people to respond more strongly in 2000? You don't seem to need a change in 2000 to justify the world that you describe in 2040. So why bother? Make things happen in 2016 and later. You have twenty-five years to build the world that you want. Why do you need another fifteen years of changes first?

The kind of changes you're trying to put into 2000 would be more likely to cause a nuclear war in 2004 or 2014 than 2040. If 2051 is the tale you want to tell, then tell that. Because we don't know what's going to happen in 2016-2040, any changes you want to make will seem more realistic.

Civil War

I'm not clear on why nuking Afghanistan would cause a Civil War in the US. A Civil War based on foreign policy seems unlikely. More likely would be an increasing number of domestic terror incidents and the domestic responses to them. You could set that anywhere.

The US is already (in the real world) increasing in polarization. It seems quite possible that the blue states and the red states might split on how to respond to domestic terror incidents. They already have very different opinions on things like the Patriot Act, surveillance, and the meaning of religious tolerance.

Note that parts of what we think of as blue states might stick with the red states. Examples: upstate New York; Pennsylvania outside Philadelphia, inland California and Washington. The more liberal voters are concentrated in urban areas of the US. For certain states, taking the urban areas out of the equation would change the state's lean. New York City and Philadelphia are examples of cities that could switch out of their existing states easily because they fit the adjacent states better. Eastern Washington might fit better with Idaho than Seattle.

This has a historical basis. In the real US Civil War, West Virginia split off from Virginia to join the North.

  • $\begingroup$ "Bush, most of the cabinet, and the top generals are dead." W was 960 miles from DC at the time of the attack. $\endgroup$
    – RonJohn
    Dec 11, 2017 at 4:12

I don't think the United States would react this way because Iran had nothing to do with 9/11 as far as I know. First, the US would invade Afghanistan, and then Iraq, as happened in real life.

I don't see the US using nuclear weapons to eliminate Al-Qaeda and later ISIS, the latter of which would form regardless of the status of the second tower. America wouldn't nuke ISIS because: ISIS is in Syria, Syria is an ally of Russia, and Russia has nuclear weapons. America wouldn't nuke Al-Qaeda or the Taliban because: The Taliban is in Pakistan, Pakistan has nuclear weapons, and nuking this close to India (which is already in a Cold War with Pakistan) could lead to a three-way nuclear war.

The United States couldn't nuke Al-Qaeda in the Middle East for the same reason it's having difficulty suppressing Al-Qaeda, ISIS, and the Taliban circa Real World, 2015, because Al-Qaeda, ISIS, and the Taliban are political movements. Religious, fundamentalist, extremist political movements, yes, but still political movements. Trying to destroy them is the equivalent of Russia invading the US with the intention to destroy democrats. In the 1770s, the British couldn't destroy the idea of an independent America, even though they had the advantage over the colonists in every way. In the 1960s, the United States couldn't destroy the idea of communism in Vietnam, even if America was the world's superpower at the time. And in the 2000s, it's a nightmare to try to destroy the idea of a Levant returning to its roots in Islam, even with nuclear weapons. You can't throw nukes at an ideology and expect that ideology to not grow stronger.

Finally, it seems unlikely that in the 2050s the political situation will look similar to the way it does now. The Middle East is currently going through a period of political upheaval, yes.

But in 1950, the United States was allied with Persia, recently renamed Iran after the conclusion of its civil war and invasion during World War II. Israel was two years old, and Hamas was a fledgling notion in the minds of refugees. The Korean War was in progress, and the US was in the process of fighting communism and socialism, not radical Islam. Brown v. Board of Education hadn't happened yet. The Space Race hadn't even happened yet, and man would not fly in space for 11 years.

Some things haven't changed, though. Relations with Russia, for instance, remain tense. Currently, relations with China are looking downwards even as the nations become more alike. If you're looking for a way to put the United States on the verge of a civil war or an armed conflict in the 2050s, I recommend setting it in the middle of a NATO/U.S.-China Cold War, a NATO/U.S.-Russia Cold War, or, if you really want the U.S. to be the bad guy and shake things up, U.S./a few allies-rest of NATO cold war after some truly heinous policy decisions on the part of the United States. If you really love the situation you have now, though, simply push it back a few decades to make it more realistic to how politics evolve over time... perhaps twenty-five years after 9/11 instead of fifty?

TL;DR: I don't see an unsuccessful (if a terrorist attack can indeed be put in terms of success) 9/11 leading to the scenario you described, nor can I see the scenario you described taking place in 2051 due to the changing nature of politics. The premise of a futuristic U.S. on the verge of a civil war has promise, however, and if you really love the alternate history you've built, feel free to take everything I've said with a truckload of salt grains. Ultimately, it's your world.

  • $\begingroup$ We went into Afghanistan first. $\endgroup$ Oct 3, 2015 at 1:04
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    $\begingroup$ "I don't think the United States would react this way because Iran had nothing to do with 9/11 as far as I know" Neither had Iraq. $\endgroup$
    – jona
    Oct 5, 2015 at 8:45
  • $\begingroup$ @jona Very true. What I meant was that Iran would be even more unlikely to be behind 9/11. Iran is Shia, Al Qaeda, ISIS, and the Taliban are Sunni... given the nature of religious fundamentalism, it would be bizarre for Sunni militants to even consider cooperating with Iran. Then again, the US State Department has reacted weirdly before. $\endgroup$ Oct 5, 2015 at 19:41
  • $\begingroup$ "What I meant was that Iran would be even more unlikely to be behind 9/11" Iran would be less likely to be behind 9/11 than not being behind 9/11? $\endgroup$
    – jona
    Oct 5, 2015 at 22:44

If the south tower wasn't hit by planes, it would at least have experienced structural damage when the north tower collapsed. If structural damage jeopardized the integrity of the building it would most likely be demolished. Since we didn't get a chance to inspect the level of damage, I don't think we can conclusively speculate either way. In any case, with one tower in ruins that entire area would still be closed off and a massive investigation and cleanup would still be required. The building would stand empty for months due to that factor alone.

Would the south tower be at risk? Not any more than any of the other skyscrapers in Manhattan or other cities around the US. It would probably become a symbol of survival and persistence. After the cleanup there might be some structural reinforcements made and it might be difficult to convince people to return to work there, but it will eventually be reoccupied.

I don't see any reason why a less successful terrorist attack on 9/11 would lead to a stronger (or more irrational) response. The string of events you're proposing are highly unlikely -- using nuclear weapons to combat an ideology that has permeated many other areas outside the middle east would be folly, not to mention the utter destruction of US global diplomacy.


Would they let the south tower stand? It would still get damaged by the north tower collapsing, but will it still stand, and if it does, Would the Americans let it stand, or bring the tower down? Also after 50 more years?

It's plausible that one tower might have survived, but it would have been damaged. I think it's very possible that it might have been damaged enough that it would be decided to take the other down in controlled demolition, but my expectation would be that it would have been salvageable, and that it wouldn't be taken town just because the other one fell.

Would the Americans really react in this kind of manner? I mean, this is a bit extremist, but they have been in bit like this in our universe.

No, they wouldn't. In particular "the DoD wanted to nuke the parts of the Middle East where the Al-Queda is heavily present" is fairly ridiculous. Now, there ARE ridiculous Americans like this, but in general the DoD is not like this, and there are also some sane Americans. Also, the US government is largely controlled by corporations who aren't particularly interested in nuking areas of the world in order to deal with some terrorists. I would say that, crazy as American politics are, no one near decision-making problems really thinks that nuclear weapons are a sensible way to persecute terrorists. Even if you were playing a game where the goal was to remove terrorists, it would not be an effective strategy. It's be about as good an idea as burning down your neighbor's house to get the wasps you think are living in their roof. The game the DoD actually plays is quite aware of the political results, as well as all sorts of other consequences, of using various types of force. One of which is that sloppy use of force creates enemies (terrorist and otherwise) and using nuclear weapons on terrorists is about as sloppy as you could get.

And, could the 2050's America be at the brink of Civil War if this extremist behavior is implemented?

Sure, even without it. More likely some sort of revolution than civil war, though. I don't see states lining up to pick sides and fight a civil war as in the historical American Civil War. More like some sort other form of everyone being fed up with the government and corporate corruption, and changing a lot of things.


Using nuclear weapons would not be a rational response against any sort of terrorist attack (regardless of what sort of attack happened or how successful it was) simply because a terrorist organization isn't a concentrated target which could be destroyed by nuclear weapons.

Nuclear weapons were used in war to destroy entire Japanese cities in a total war scenario, with the implicit threat that Imperial Japan would be subject to this level of destruction should they not surrender. Later, as the US and USSR came to see each other as existential threats to the existence of the other, developing more and more powerful city busters was seen as the initial response (destroy the entire society that threatens you). Even this sort of thinking became outmoded quite quickly, the United States rapidly developed much smaller, more accurate nuclear weapons to threaten the Soviet nuclear forces and took civilians mostly out of the equation.

However, even a modern, highly accurate 300KT warhead is far too much to expend on a random terrorist training camp in the middle of the desert, and certainly not suitable if the terrorist cell is hiding out in an urban environment (what would you do if the cell which directed the 911 attacks was housed in Brooklyn, for example?).

The current paradigm of toppling regimes which have or may have supported terrorist organizations while taking action against the various networks that make up the organization is the most likely means of retaliating. One could make arguments about the ratio of "direct action" (i.e.. bombing and SoF raids) vs non kinetic action (i.e. dismantling financial networks and mounting counter propaganda campaigns) which is needed to succeed, but fighting dispersed networks is far different from fighting nation states.


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