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Useful Notes / The War on Terror

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Tuesday, September 11, 2001; the end of the familiar.

"That was when the 21st Century truly began."
Tom Brokaw on the World Trade Center attacks

The War on Terror is the current setting for a lot of Present Day media, although how much it features in a given work of media varies considerably.

A cornerstone of the United States' central-government policy from late September 2001 till... well, now, sort of. The "War on Terror" is not a war in the conventional sense, but is the collective name given to the US government's attempts — with the help of the US's various allies and participating multi-national organizations, including NATO and the UN — to prevent small groups of private individuals from killing its citizens. The "war" has brought out the uglier side of the US government, given its willingness to use morally dubious means — chiefly the torture, indefinite imprisonment, and execution of (mostly foreign) suspects without trial — and actively kill thousands of other countries' citizens to save her own. The US has lost several thousand soldiers in its much-criticized military expeditions to Afghanistan and Iraq, which when paired with its loss of nearly 3,000 civilians in the attacks on New York City's World Trade Center,note  the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. and the downed aircraft of United Airlines Flight 93 in Shanksville, Pennsylvania on the 11th of September 2001, gives a total of over 10,000 US citizens dead, and an even far greater number of foreign nationals dead, military and civilian.

Some 300,000+ foreign civilians have died during the course of the war, though most of these were not killed by USA or NATO troops or fire-support (artillery bombardments and air-strikes) but rather in the civil disorder which resulted after the Afghan and Iraqi regimes were toppled. The USA's handling of the situation in Iraq — which, under Saddam Hussein's dictatorship, had been an old Cold-War Ally of the USA against Iran — was particularly poor by all accounts; the country essentially went totally ungoverned for several months, and the delicate peace that had been maintained only by the brutality of Hussein's secular police state dissolved amidst violence note  that was not formal or organized enough to merit the term 'civil war'. At least Kurdistan stayed safe.

Given the nebulous nature of the "war", it's hard to say when (if ever) it'll end. The death of Osama bin Laden — in what was considered an illegalnote  commando raid into the USA's old Cold War Ally-turned-distant-friend Pakistan in 2011 — was seen by some as a sign of the war winding down. The "Coalition of the Willing" note , the USA, Britain, and Australia note  withdrew its troops from Iraq in 2011, leaving behind a dysfunctional parliamentary democracy still marred by an unhealthy degree of sectarianism and corruption. Most UN/NATO forces in Afghanistan were withdrawn in 2020 following a peace treaty with the Taliban signed by the Donald Trump administration in the hopes of negotiating an agreement between them and the Afghan government. That diplomatic effort had failed to gain traction before President Trump was replaced by President Joe Biden, leaving the country (whose democratic government quickly fell to the resurgent Taliban forces in 2021) in the hands of the very same group that the initial invasion deposed from power.note 

Although its real end seems far-off, and its nominal end has come and gone, it's hard to say when exactly it started. Though the 2001 attacks were what caused the USA under President G.W. Bush to actively declare a "War on Terror", attacks on the USA's citizens and public servants had actually been happening for a while by that point. In fact the Al-Qaeda organization declared war on the USA as early as 1996, and some of the people who were later involved with that group were making unofficial attacks on the USA as early as 1993 and the (New York) World Trade Center bombing. However, very few people died in these and under Bill Clinton's Presidency efforts to curtail terrorist activity were largely successful. Other attacks included one on the U.S.S. Cole and bombing US embassies in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, and Nairobi, Kenyanote .

Compare with Defcon 5, which has more clearly defined, though ignorantly inverted readiness levels. Contrast with The Vietnam War, for the USA's last experience of "asymmetric warfare", with a much more impressive death-toll (at some ten-plus times greater) to boot. Contrast also the much less bloody Boer War for another good example of an asymmetric war — one that has since been called "The British Empire's Vietnam". note  See also the unsuccessful "war" on drugs.

If you're looking for the actual documentary called 9/11, it's here.


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    Origins: Part 1 — The Fall of the Shah 
The beginnings of the War on Terror can be traced back for decades, but for the sake of brevity, our story will start in 1979. This year brought two major events that would totally reshape the Middle East and South Asia: the Iranian Revolution and the Soviet Invasion of Afghanistan. In both Iran and Afghanistan, the long-reigning monarchs would be deposed, but by differing parties and with differing results.

In Iran, the long-reigning monarch of the country, Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, was overthrown by a coalition of dissenting elements. The shah had faced mounting internal opposition for decades, with one of the stronger voices coming from the exiled Islamic cleric Ruhollah Khomeini. When the Iranian government published a work critical of Khomeini in a newspaper, protesters gathered in the religious center of Qom. Most of the protesters were students at religious universities, studying to become imams. They clashed with police, resulting in an unknown number of deaths. Demonstrations were held throughout the country, leading to more violent suppression and more deaths.

Protests would continue steadily throughout 1978. In August, a major terrorist attack occurred at the Cinema Rex in Abadan. A group of arsonists blocked the exits and set the cinema on fire, killing 422 people. The exiled Khomeini and the protesters blamed the Iranian secret police for committing the act, although it was later confirmed to be committed by a group of Islamic extremists. This incited even more unrest that led to the declaration of martial law in September. 64 more protesters were killed in clashes with the military, in an event known as "Black Friday."

After this, the military started to become less and less interested in firing on its own people. Meanwhile, protests reached their all time high with a general strike being declared. In response, the shah set up a military government. At the same time, Khomeini was exiled from Iraq under pressure from the shah. He fled to Paris, but continued sending messages to his loyal followers in Iran. In December, he ordered a massive protest during Muharram, an Islamic month during which several holidays sacred to Shia Muslims are held. Millions of Iranians marched in one of the largest protests in history, but the protests were surprisingly restrained and organized. This caused morale in the military to decline further, and troops began to rebel against their officers.

In January of 1979, the shah and his family fled to Egypt, setting up a transitional government to maintain order. Free elections were called and Khomeini was invited to return to the country. The secret police were disbanded and prisoners were freed. When Khomeini returned in February, he spoke out against the transitional government and declared his own Islamist government. The military backed down, and by the end of the month Khomeini had taken over the country, renaming it to the Islamic Republic of Iran. Khomeini continued to consolidate his own power and undermine the other members of the revolutionary coalition. Liberals, socialists, and nationalists were pushed aside as Khomeini set up an Islamist government.

The Iranian Revolution caused a domino effect in the rest of the Middle East. The rise of the Ayatollah started (or rather restarted) the longstanding schism between Sunni and Shia Islam, which before the revolution had never been so much politicized since Ismail I's radical evangelization in the 16th century. Iran is by far the biggest country with a majority Shia population and the only one to have power to back it up, but since the ascendancy of the Pahlavi dynasty in the early 20th century, the country had been aligned with the West and the Gulf Arab states. After the Revolution, that alliance abruptly broke down, and the Arab states, chiefly Saudi Arabia, suddenly had to face a regional power who not only adopted the "wrong" kind of dogma, but was also a destabilizing militaristic state (the Shia militant group Hezbollah of Lebanon, whose founders were followers of Khomeini, began operation just six years after the 1979 Revolution).

However, perhaps the biggest impact it had was emboldening political Islam as a force. Islamists, both from the Sunni and Shia sects, were awed by the deposition of the Shah, whom they viewed as nothing more than a Western puppet (which, unfortunately, was not an incorrect assessment), by a grassroots religious movement. Arab nationalism, as spearheaded by Egypt's Gamal Abdel Nasser, was wearing down thanks to the failure of the Arab states to defeat Israel in two major wars. Many Sunni Arabs were looking for other ideologies with which to oppose foreign imperialism. By the 1980s — after the Revolution — there was an Islamic revival in the Arab states, which sought to reestablish mores and practices in accordance with the dogma. Most were nonviolent, but naturally, there were exceptions. Saudi Arabia, an avid follower of puritanical Islam since its creation, had begun a petrodollar-financed religious funding since the early 1970s, and the revival did wonders for the campaign, expanding it to cover the non-Arab states, such as Pakistan. This, of course, was tied directly to the conduct in Afghanistan, where Saudi Arabia handsomely funded the mujahideen, but truth to be told, the influence was felt everywhere, including the rest of the Sunni Arab world. It didn't help that Saudi Arabia was still reeling from the seizure of Mecca's Grand Mosque by an Islamist who opposed the country's relationship with the West (oh, and it also happened in 1979, thus proving why that year changed the world forever). The Islamist was executed along with his followers, but Saudi Arabia decided that the best way to appease radicals from doing things like that again would be more of religious conservatism.

    Origins: Part 2 — The Reds vs. The Holy 
Meanwhile, in Afghanistan, King Mohammed Zahir Shah was overthrown in a coup by his cousin, the Prime Minister Mohammed Daoud Khan, who took advantage of rising resentment against the country's economic conditions to secure power. The communist People's Democratic Party of Afghanistan had been growing in popularity, owing to the nation's high levels of income inequality and the influence of the neighboring Soviet Union. The PDPA was a constant influence on Daoud's government, but after years of persecution by his administration, relations between the two boiled over. The military, which proved to be sympathetic to the PDPA, overthrew Daoud and proclaimed the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan in 1978, placing Nur Muhammad Taraki in power. The new republic was fraught with internal issues including mounting opposition both in the PDPA, which was divided by bitter infighting and factionalism, and from the local tribes who saw the new modernizing reforms as a threat to their traditional Islamic way of life. The government cracked down on both, arresting and murdering tens of thousands of dissenters.

A low-level insurgency had been ongoing in the country at least since Daoud took over, but it exploded with the PDPA's takeover. Mutineers, Maoists and Islamists all turned their guns on the government. The largest faction of insurgents was the Mujahideen, a collective of many different Islamic extremist groups. Many of these groups were initially supported by Pakistan, who had a negative relationship with Afghanistan due to the Pashtun peoples being split across their borders. The two countries previously had a longstanding dispute over the border dating back to when Pakistan declared independence in 1947, with Afghanistan trespassing several times to claim loyalty of the Pashtun tribes living on the Pakistani side. The two signed a treaty confirming the border in 1976, just three years before the Soviet invasion.

In 1979 the first American agents started to enter Afghanistan and meet with Islamist resistance fighters in an effort to start a proxy war. The reasons for this were many: it served as a response to the death of the US ambassador Adolph Dubs, it helped to repair the United States' relationship to Pakistan, and most importantly, it was hoped that it would spur a Soviet intervention and give the USSR "its own Vietnam."

In October of 1979, President Nur Muhammad Taraki was killed by his Prime Minister Hafizullah Amin. The move only drove the country further into chaos, as his impromptu coup resulted in greater opposition to the government. The Soviets had favored Taraki and saw Amin as an unstable variable, so with a full on civil war brewing in the country, the Soviets intervened. Land and airborne forces started streaming across the border while special operatives from the GRU note , dressed as Afghani soldiers, occupied key government buildings in Kabul and killed Amin. The Soviets set up a new puppet government, but opposition was already mounting.

Meanwhile, the insurgency in Afghanistan continued. For ten long, bloody years, the Soviets fought a brutal counter-insurgency war in Afghanistan. Their opposition, the Mujahideen, attracted international support. Money, weapons, and intelligence came streaming in to the Mujahideen from the United States and Pakistan, in an effort to prolong the conflict and give the Soviets a black eye. Some of these weapons, such as the American FIM-92 "Stinger" anti-air system, proved incredibly effective against the highly mechanized Soviet forces. Foreign fighters also started coming to Afghanistan to fight against the Soviets, including a Saudi national named Osama bin Laden who would become important later. With nearly ten years of conflict and almost no results, Mikhail Gorbachev began pulling out Soviet troops in 1987. The US got its wish in the form of a bankrupted and bloodied Soviet Union, while the Pakistanis got their wish in the form of an anarchic, devastated Afghanistan.

Although Afghanistan is neither an Arab state nor located in the Middle East, the outcome of the Soviet invasion proved to be highly influential in that region in terms of ideology. The so-called "Afghan Arabs", who in truth consisted of foreign fighters drawn from many different countries, were hailed as heroes upon returning home. On top of the Iranian Revolution a decade earlier, many became even more convinced that Islamism was the best way to repel Western imperialism.

    The Power of Terror 

"We're due. And we're due for something big. ... Some things have happened in Afghanistan. I don’t like the way things are lining up in Afghanistan. ... I sense a shift, and I think things are going to happen. ... soon".
John P. O'Neill, Former Assistant FBI Director and Counter-Terrorism Expert

On February 23, 1993, a small group of of Islamist terrorists used a rented van to transport a bomb into an underground parking garage beneath the World Trade Center in New York City, and blew it up. The mastermind of the plot, a Pakistani man named Ramzi Yousef, had thought this would destabilize the North tower and cause it to collapse into the South Tower. He grossly underestimated the amount of explosive which would have been required to do that, but the bomb did kill six people and injure over 1000. While this was not the first terrorist attack by Islamic extremists, it was the first in America to gain widespread notoriety. It was also important because it showed how the World Trade Center had become a symbol for the power and alleged decadence of the West, which made it a target for future attacks. New security and emergency evacuation measures were implemented in the World Trade Center afterwards, some of which would help save lives in 2001.

Osama bin Laden, the Saudi militant leader whom we mentioned before, was coming to prominence around this time. He increasingly viewed the United States as the evil power backing both Israel and various governments in the Islamic world which he considered to be corrupt and impious. He felt particularly offended in 1990, when King Fahd of Saudi Arabia turned away his offer of fighters to help secure Saudi Arabia’s border with Kuwait against Saddam Hussein; the King instead hosted American-led coalition troops, whom bin Laden considered to be infidels trespassing on the sacred land which encompasses Mecca and Medina. In 1996, bin Laden formed what would become Al Qaeda (literally, "the base"). From his base of operations in Afghanistan, he issued a fatwa declaring war on the West, and from there a series of terror attacks would elevate Sunni Islamist extremism into the spotlight. The first Al Quaeda terrorist attack to gain notoriety was the coordinated bombings of the American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. President Bill Clinton ordered a campaign of retaliation against Al Qaeda and other militant groups, but this seemed only to embolden them. Membership in Al Qaeda skyrocketed, and some of the new members would be recruited to plan a new attack, one far greater in scope and scale.

The mastermind of what would become Al-Qaeda's biggest attack yet was Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who probably developed the idea from the failed Bojinka airline bombing plot which he had tried to orchestrate with his nephew Ramzi Yousef. KSM fell into the orbit of Osama bin Laden, and proposed to him a grandiose scheme of simultaneously crashing multiple airplanes into important commercial and government buildings in the US. Bin Laden approved the plot after reducing the number of targets to make the attack more feasible, but the problem for them would be recruiting operatives who would be able to learn the necessary English and piloting skills. The solution came in 1999 when several English-speaking militants who had been studying in Hamburg, Germany came to meet with Bin Laden and agreed to be recruited for the plot. They went to the United States to attend commercial piloting schools; at the same time, additional men were recruited to be "muscle hijackers", so that each hijacking team would have one pilot and four muscle hijackers.

Meanwhile, in the year 2000, the USS Cole was attacked while refueling in Aden, Yemen. A group of insurgents had sailed up next to the ship and planted C4, causing an explosion that killed 17 American sailors. The attack really put Al Qaeda on the radar, both for Americans and for many Sunni Muslim radicals, who saw it as dealing a great blow towards Western imperialism. Meanwhile, in the summer of 2001, the terrorist cells in American began taking transcontinental flights, in order to understand the procedures of the flight attendants and determine when would be the opportune moment to strike. As summer started winding down, they moved towards their start positions in Boston, Newark, and Dulles.

Intelligence services had some vague awareness that a big plot was afoot, but where and when it was to take place were as yet unknown. Different agencies including the FBI and CIA weren't sharing information due to their misinterpretation of "the wall" — the rules which restricted the sharing of information between intelligence and law enforcement agencies — so that nobody could put together the disparate pieces of information to reveal the full, alarming scale of what was brewing. As for the airline companies, security screening was flawed, their guard was down because there hadn't been a hijacking in many years, and in the event of a hijacking their crews were instructed not to resist; the assumption was that hijackers took hostages with the intention of bargaining with the authorities for their release, and using the plane as a suicide weapon was simply not imagined.

    "We have some planes." 
On the morning of Tuesday, September 11, 2001, the weather was beautiful over much of North America, with clear blue cloudless skies following a night of heavy rainstorms. In New York City, the primaries for the mayoral election was underway. President George W. Bush was on his way to visit an elementary school in Florida, which his chief of staff said "should be an easy day." Thousands of people went to work in the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center. The US military was conducting a training exercise based on the old Cold War scenario of Russian bombers with nuclear weapons. At the international airports of Boston, Newark, and Dulles, 19 young men from the Middle East were passing through security without incident, with the intention of hijacking their flights.

The hijackers took control of four commercial flights which had taken off from the Eastern United States, bound for California. Their general procedure was to produce small knives or box cutters which they'd smuggled on their persons, subdue the other passengers with the help of mace or pepper spray, take over the cockpit, and announce something to the effect of, "We have a bomb. Do not resist, and nobody will get hurt." The hijacker pilots turned off the transponders, causing air traffic control to lose track of the planes. Interception was unlikely even after the first plane hit: the air traffic controllers, unsure of whether the hijackings were real or an elaborate hoax, took too long to notify the Air Force; the Air Force bases were too far away for their fighters to make it in time; and without their transponders to locate them, the hijacked planes had disappeared into a big sky full of other planes, as if they were needles in a haystack.

Now, the plan was underway, as two of the flights began making their way towards New York City, and the other two started heading towards Washington D.C. At 8:46 AM Eastern Standard Time, in front of millions of New Yorkers who had just started their day, American Airlines Flight 11 flew into the North Tower of the World Trade Center, impacting on the northern facade. The next 17 minutes were fraught with confusion. Many at the time believed it to be an accident, but at 9:03 AM, United Airlines Flight 175 flew into the southern facade of the South Tower, removing all doubt that this was anything but intentional. The planes, still mostly laden with fuel for their long trips, exploded on impact, disintegrating and spraying flaming debris and fuel across several floors, which set fire to the buildings and severed stairways at the impact zone, making it difficult or impossible for people on the floors above to escape.

At 9:37 AM, American Airlines Flight 77 was crashed into the West facade of the Pentagon at the first floor level, causing a partial collapse of that section of the building and starting a fire. 125 workers inside the Pentagon were killed. Although this would have dominated national news if it had happened on any other day, the attack on the Pentagon would be largely overshadowed by the catastrophe of the World Trade Center. One reason is that the disaster of the towers unfolded in front of far more people’s eyes, and the other reason is that the carnage at the Pentagon was mercifully mitigated in comparison. The Pentagon's Western side had been the first to receive a renovation that included structural reinforcement, which reduced the penetration of the plane into the building. Furthermore, the low-rise nature of the Pentagon limited the extent of structural collapse, while making escape and firefighting much easier.

The fourth flight, United Airlines Flight 93, was headed in the direction of Washington, D.C., with the intended target commonly believed to be either the White House or the U.S. Capitol. However, the passengers found out about the attacks that had already happened and decided to fight backnote . They heroically attempted to storm the cabin and retake control, prompting the hijackers to preemptively crash the aircraft into an open field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania at 10:03 AM; as a result, there were no casualties on the ground from this flight, with all fatalities being those on board the plane itself. Meanwhile, the city of New York sent out emergency crews to the World Trade Center to assist in evacuating the buildings. Departments in surrounding communities also began to send their own emergency crews, while off duty emergency workers joined in the evacuation effort.

The scene greeting the emergency crews was pure chaos. Survivors were already streaming from the building, but many more were still trapped inside. Exploding debris and jet fuel had traveled down the elevator shafts, damaging the elevators and blowing out into the lobby, spraying visitors in shards of metal, burning fuel, and glass that caused even more casualties. As NYPD cordoned off the scene and guided those exiting the building to safety, the FDNY set up a command post in the lobbies and began the arduous process of evacuating remaining survivors and fighting the fire. However, the fires presented an unprecedented challenge; so high were they up in the skyscrapers, they were completely beyond the reach of any ladder truck FDNY had to offer. And with the elevators damaged beyond use by the crashes, there was only one way up to the location of the fires: The stairs. Still, the brave firefighters began their climb, with many carrying upwards of 40-50 pounds of firefighting gear on them as they did. While several firefighter squads did reach the floors of the impacts, the next few moments would change everything.

At 9:59 AM, several Port Authority boats monitoring the situation began to report with alarm that the South Tower was beginning to buckle from the fire and structural damage. Seconds later, the structure collapsed completely as the South Tower fell in on itself. At 10:28 AM, the North Tower also collapsed, and its debris would cause another building in the World Trade Center complex to collapse as well. Many thousands, including emergency personnel sent to evacuate, were still trapped inside. Damage to the surrounding area was severe, and air traffic in the US was grounded for three days.note 

A tremendous relief effort began to dig through the rubble left behind in the wake of the attacks, in an effort to find survivors. The city of New York deployed a massive civil service effort, but they were not alone. Off-duty firefighters, EMTs, and other professionals began to supplement the search crews. Ships evacuated people off of Manhattan Island while supplies and fresh water were hauled in.note  Relief efforts streamed in from across the country. Searchers rescued 11 people from the rubble on September 12.

In less than two hours, the world was changed forever. 2,973 people (not including the 19 hijackers) were killed directly as a result of the attacknote  and one of America's greatest symbols was destroyed. The psychological impact of 9/11 around the world cannot be overstated.

The attack would have major consequences for Americans domestically, as it led to a massive expansion of government power, particularly in surveillance. Hate crimes against American Muslims also increased, and other groups such as Sikhs, Hindus, and non-Muslim brown people were affected, up to, and including, being murdered,note  due to their resemblance to stereotypes of Muslims. To this day, the social and political ramifications of the attack are still being felt.

    War in Afghanistan 
In response to 9/11, the United States invoked Article 5, calling all of its NATO allies to respond to this act of aggression. Three days after the attack, the US Congress passed the Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Terrorists (which was signed into law by George W. Bush in September 18, 2001), officially starting the war on terror. However, this was already proving to be difficult to enact, seeing as these terrorist cells are non-governmental entities operating underground. The US would deploy forces across the globe, alongside its allies. The most visible of these deployments, however, was the US invasion of Afghanistan.

Afghanistan had been in a state of civil war since the Soviet withdrawal. The years following the Soviet withdrawal in 1989 saw the collapse of the communist government, followed by total anarchy. Roving gangs of militants fought in the streets, and various groups began to squabble. The group to come out ascendant from all this was the Taliban, which by 2001 was effectively in charge of Afghanistan. The Taliban had a strong base in the Pashtun parts of the country, namely the southeast. They were, however, opposed by the Northern Alliance, but the alliance had been bottled up in the northwestern part of the country and was on its last legs.

On the 20th of September, the US sent an ultimatum to the Taliban demanding that they surrender Osama bin Laden. The Taliban responded demanding evidence of Bin Laden's involvement in the 9/11 Attacks, and that he be tried in an Islamic court. The US-led Coalition responded with a massive bombing campaign in October, followed by a swift ground invasion. The Northern Alliance, despite being Islamist militants themselves, saw the Enemy Mine situation and sided with the Coalition. In what is most certainly not a coincidence, their leader, Ahmad Shah Massoud, had been assassinated just two days prior to 9/11. Although the Taliban offered a conditional surrender that included handing over Bin Laden, this was rejected by the Bush administration, which wanted the organization wiped out.

Within two months, the Taliban had been driven back into the mountains, where they continued to wage an insurgency. Hamid Karzai, an Afghani Pashtun living in Pakistan, was sworn in as President of the transitional government on December 22. Karzai had originally supported the mujahideen, and even supported the Taliban at one point, thinking they'd finally bring peace and stability to his ailing country. However, after the Taliban were blamed for the death of his father, he turned on them and started drumming up international support for the Northern Alliance. He would win the 2004 election, becoming Afghanistan's first democratically elected leader.

However, the transitional government he led had little real power, and both inside and outside of Kabul, the war was still going on. Even after Karzai's tenure ended in 2014, replaced by Ashraf Ghani, the War in Afghanistan continued to rage, with the Taliban insurgency growing from their traditional bases of power in the Pashtun tribal regions and the mountainous regions of Afghanistan. The Coalition forces maintained a presence in the country for decades, and the course of the war flowed back and forth. An Afghani army and police force was equipped and trained by NATO forces in an effort to support NATO withdrawal, but these forces had questionable results and NATO forces routinely had to step in to fight back Taliban offensives.

The most significant victory since the initial invasion was set in motion in late 2010, when US intelligence found out that Osama bin Laden was hiding at a compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. Operation Neptune Spear, carried out on May 1-2, 2011, saw a force of U.S. Navy SEALS fly from Afghanistan to Abbottabad by helicopter without notifying Pakistani authorities. They raided the compound, killed bin Laden, and left with bin Laden's body as well as a cache of potential intelligence. After the identity of his body was confirmed, bin Laden was buried at sea within 24 hours of his death. Although Pakistan complained that its sovereignty had been violated, and the legality of the killing was debated, the news was celebrated in the United States where it served to provide some closure. President Obama announced, "To those families who have lost loved ones to al-Qaeda's terror, justice has been done."

Despite bin Laden's death, the war would continue on through the end of Obama's presidency and beyond. In 2020, the Donald Trump administration reached a peace deal with the Taliban, announcing U.S. troops would be withdrawn from Afghanistan by May 2021. This would be slightly delayed by the succeeding Joe Biden administration to August 31 of that year. The Taliban quickly returned to power in Afghanistan, seizing control of the outlying areas before conquering Kabul in August 2021. The last US military flight left Afghanistan on August 30, 2021, bringing an end to the nearly 20-year war with the Taliban once again ruling the country.

    Back to Iraq 
Initially, Saddam Hussein was considered as being a potential accomplice to the 9/11 plotters, and at one point around 7 out of 10 Americans believed that he was connected to the hijackers. However, it was later revealed that he had no role in the attacks, and even in 2001 President George W. Bush had rejected action against Iraq, believing that they were not involved. Not that it mattered, for Iraq would be invaded in 2003 anyways, and it became one of the most iconic battlefields of the War on Terror.

Iraq and the United States have had a troubled relationship in the past. The nation had been led by the nationalist Ba'ath Party since the 1950s, which Saddam Hussein would take over in 1979. Iraq became a belligerent, military state under Saddam, constantly lashing out against its neighbors. He attempted to invade Iran in 1982 in a flagrant attempt at conquering that nation, but the war ended in a stalemate. Saddam had become indebted to the Arab monarchies due to the war, and was in no position to pay. Furthermore, the war exposed Iraq's major strategic vulnerability: it had only one major port, Basra, and it was not an effective deep water port. To rectify this, Saddam Hussein next invaded the small but oil-rich country of Kuwait in 1990, having accused it of taking Iraqi oil resources along the border. He quickly overran the military of Kuwait, and annexed the country.

Saddam had erroneously thought that the US would not take issue, due to America's past support of his regime during the Iran-Iraq War and some vague and poorly worded statements exchanged between foreign ministers. He also thought that even if they objected, the Soviets would veto any plan of US aggression. Both turned out to be wrong; not only did the US condemn the invasion, but the Soviets actually backed the United Nations resolution calling for Iraq to get out or face war. When Saddam failed to withdraw, the US under President George H. W. Bush gathered a massive coalition of troops across the border in Saudi Arabia, while initiating a bombing campaign. In January of 1991, the coalition forces stormed across the border and soundly defeated the Iraqis in a Curb-Stomp Battle, driving them from Kuwait in a little over a month.

The defeat was bad news for Saddam. Bush Sr. had spared him, choosing to go no further than the Iraq-Kuwait border, as he feared that ousting Saddam would create a power vacuum that would devastate the region. Saddam struggled internally in his own country, as the Kurds and Shia Muslims both attempted uprisings which he swiftly, and brutally, crushed. He also found himself increasingly isolated, as the invasion of Kuwait, a neutral Gulf Arab state, caused even Iraq's traditional allies to shun it for the rest of the decade. The United States would lend support to opposition forces to try and topple his regime, and the US and UK would launch a joint campaign of airstrikes against Saddam in 1998 with the intent of crippling his forces and inciting rebellion.

Backed into a corner, Saddam started to try to appeal to Islamic radicals, adding "God is Great" to the Iraq flag and making gestures towards Sunni radical groups. Of course, these appeals fell flat and were correctly surmised by most Islamic extremists to be disingenuous, but none-the-less it made Saddam the target of suspicion following the September 11 attacks.

Donald Rumsfeld, the US Secretary of Defense under the Bush administration, had tried to use the 9/11 attacks as a pretext to make war on Saddam, but President Bush wasn't convinced and decided not to go to war... yet. He did, however, increase pressure on Saddam, appealing to the UN for a regime change and making a great deal of fuss about potential weapons of mass destruction. The UN only agreed to continue sending inspectors to search Iraq for weapons, which they did not find.

Despite this, the Bush administration started to drum up domestic support for an invasion, leading the majority of Americans to believe that Saddam had Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMDs). In October of 2002, Congress authorized the use of military action against Iraq. The Secretary of State, Collin Powell, gave a speech to the UN showing the evidence for WMDs in Iraq and Saddam's ties to Al Qaeda, both of which were later discovered to be lies, based on an unreliable asset of the CIA.

In March of 2003, the United States and its "Coalition of the Willing"note  invaded Iraq. Protests against the war broke out around the world, but in the United States, resistance to the war was small. Few were willing to challenge the Bush administration so soon after the disaster of 9/11, and many were convinced that Saddam had WMDs and was in some way responsible for the attacks, despite there being zero evidence for either.

Over a quarter of a million troops participated, including around 70,000 Iraqi Kurds. The Iraqi military was defeated swiftly in conventional battle, but they engaged in guerrilla warfare which proved to be a bit more effective against the Coalition. Still, the Coalition annihilated the Iraqi Armed Forces and had captured Baghdad in a little over a month.

An insurgency started to grow, initially supported by Republican Guard guerrillas and Ba'ath loyalists, but later by Sunni radicals. A provisional government was set up, but it was largely ineffective. Iraqis were incredibly hostile to the occupying forces, especially in Ba'athist strongholds. In the city of Fallujah, militants killed some American private military contractors, and the local people mutilated the bodies in a show of resentment towards the American forces. In response, the US engaged in the nightmarish Battle of Fallujah. The brutal urban house-to-house fighting was comparable to Stalingrad, and to this day it remains one of the most iconic battles of the War on Terror.

The US did little to garner love from the Iraqi people and the international community. The use of the painful and deadly white phosphorous munitions was condemned internationally, and abuse towards Iraqi prisoners also gained notoriety. These same prisons would become instrumental in forming the next wave of radicals that would form the Islamic State.

The US attempted to set up a democratic government, but it was hampered by the historical ethnic and religious divisions of Iraq, as well as the distrust of the occupying forces. The US severely crippled its efforts to establish a stable, legitimate government early on when it passed Coalition Provisional Authority Order 2 in 2003, which disbanded Iraq's military. Instead of using the defeated military to help restore order to Iraq, the newly-unemployed regime personnel now flocked to the ranks of insurgent groups, with many joining ISIS/ISIL over a decade later. By wiping out Iraq's military expertise and traditions, they further enraged the Iraqi people note  and required the US to rebuild Iraq's armed forces from the ground up, with decidedly poor results. The war would ebb and flow, with the US redeploying troops to counter every surge. In practice the country was locked in a state of low-intensity civil war, one that is arguably still ongoing.

This radicalised yet more people, exploited by Al-Qaeda, resulting in further terror attacks, both on the US and on other members of the "Coalition of the Willing". These included the 7/7 London Bombings in 2005, with four suicide bombers attacking the London public transport network during the rush hour. 52 people were killed, bombers not included, and over 700 were injured. It was the deadliest terrorist attack on British soil since the 1988 Lockerbie bombing.

The war would outlive the Bush administration, following Barack Obama into office. Obama had campaigned on the idea of withdrawing from Iraq, but he initially deployed thousands more soldiers to the country to help the failing regime. The withdrawal finally commenced in 2010, and all combat personnel left in 2011. The US had reportedly offered to extend their stay, but the Iraqi government refused.

The Iraqis would quickly find a new ally in the Iranian regime. The Sunni government of Saddam had been replaced by a largely Shia one under the Americans, with concessions granted to the Kurds including regional autonomy. The US withdrawal from the country created a power vacuum that caused a surge of violence. The insurgency ballooned into a full scale civil war in 2014, when Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, a former internee at an American prison camp, led the forces of the Islamic State on a campaign of violence across the nation that spilled over into neighboring Syria. IS attracted international attention for their sheer brutality, as they massacred religious and ethnic minorities and were known for their harsh methods of enforcing their version of Islamic Law.

By mid 2014, IS had nearly defeated the Iraqi government, driving back both the Kurdish Peshmerga and the Iraqi army. They nearly reached Baghdad, but were stopped with the intervention of an international coalition. The US and allies note  launched a massive air campaign against IS, while the Iranians deployed thousands of soldiers to help Iraq. IS was defeated as a territory-holding conventional military state in December 2017, when Iraq recaptured its last bastion on the border with Syria. However, it still poses a problem today, as it has resorted to its previous hit-and-run tactics to undermine the Baghdad government.

The Iraq War has a controversial legacy, but its geopolitical ramifications for the region can be quite easily seen in the Syrian Civil War. Moreover, the power vacuum the US has left has heightened the proxy war between the Iranians and the Arabs, giving Iran a much needed ally in the region. Iraq today has to manage the delicate balance of its relationship with Iran and the United States, especially since Donald Trump became US president in 2017.

    A World in Terror 

Although Iraq and Afghanistan remain the most well known and commonly depicted battlegrounds of the War on Terror -mostly due to direct American involvement- many other fronts existed. The next most well-known battleground of the War on Terror is Syria, which collapsed into civil war in 2011 after the Assad regime cracked down harshly on peaceful protests by ordering them shelled with mortars and shot with live rounds. This resulted in a popular uprising, backed up by a mutiny within the ranks of the Syrian Arab Army as many soldiers refused to fire on their own people. These early militants formed the Free Syrian Army, a nominally secular and democratic movement, which was given limited support by the US and other Western nations. The rebels rapidly took ground over the course of 2012 and 2013. However, the aforementioned emergence of the Islamic State would more-or-less cause the disintegration of the FSA, as al-Baghdadi's cross-border invasion of Syria in 2014 saw IS rapidly take territory from both the Assad government and the rebels. The FSA began to splinter after that, with most of the militia members rejecting calls for a secular and democratic Syria and instead turning to Islamism as a solution. The US ended their (already quite limited) support of the FSA in 2016, as the organization had become a shadow of its former self, with most of the rebels joining Islamic militias like Tahrir al-Sham or al-Nusra or becoming Turkish para-militia in support of said countrys own invasion of Syria. The Islamic State would be defeated in conventional warfare by a broad international coalition of "strange bedfellows," with the US and NATO, Syria, Iraq, Iran, the Kurds, and Russia all on the same side, although only by happenstance.

The protests against the Assad regime were part of the broader Arab Spring, an eruption of civil unrest and attempted revolution across the Middle East. While not all of these spiralled into civil war, some did, with the two most prominent ones behind Syria being Libya and Yemen. The former had been ruled by the quasi-socialist regime of Muammar Ghaddafi for decades, and had operated very much as a tinpot dictatorship in the vein of other Middle Eastern leaders. Incensed by government inaction to the worsening economic situation in the country, and by the government's heavy-handed responses to criticism (which usually entailed lengthy sentences in some of the region's most notorious prisons), the Libyan people began protesting, with the largest and most successful protests being in Libya's second largest city of Benghazi. When police and military personnel were sent in for the crackdown, the protesters took up arms and seized the city by force. As in Syria, Libyan soldiers defected to the rebels en masse rather than fire on their own people, and before long the protests had escalated into civil war. The NATO nations brought a resolution to the floor on the United Nations and effectively forced it through, greenlighting a massive air campaign meant to target forces loyal to Gaddafi. Gaddafi had long been a thorn in the side of the West, known for supporting acts of terrorism against Western nations and occassionally skirmishing with them militarily, so they were quick to jump on the opportunity to remove him from power. The rebels rapidly swept over the country in 8 months, finally besieging Tripoli. Gaddafi attempted to evacuate via Sirte, but he was forced to shelter by NATO bombing raids, and he was captured and executed by the rebels.

The war, however, didn't end. The rebel coalition -known as the National Transitional Council- quickly collapsed in the ensuing power vacuum, launching Libya into yet another period of civil war, or perhaps even better phrased as anarchy. As of 2022, there are still 3 major factions fighting for control of the country, with various sides recognized by different powers. The dominant one is led by Khalifa Haftar, a former Gaddafist military general, who has recieved support mostly for being the only declared secular force in the war. The US and co. recognize the Tripoli government, however. The ensuing chaos has allowed Libya to become a major haven for militants, with Libyan extremists being responsible for a considerable number of terrorist attacks from 2011-onward. Most of the country remains effectively ungoverned.

As for Yemen, their story is even more complicated. Yemen had initially been split in the Cold War, with the southern part of the nation being a British dependency and the northern part remaining independent. Both North and South Yemen had revolutions, witht the former installing a new government based on Nasserite principles of Arab Socialism, and the South kicking out the Brits and forming a communist state supported by the USSR. The two would fight on-again-off-again border wars while also battling insurgencies in their own respective states, and it can be said that Yemen as a whole hasn't known peace since the days of the Ottoman Empire. The country would reunify in 1990 under Ali Abdullah Saleh, but his administration proved to be corrupt and highly inefficient. Even before the outbreak of civil war 2014, Yemen was still notoriously poor, underdeveloped, and fractionalized, with the central government wielding little authority.

The civil war in Yemen is said to have began in 2014, but fighting between the major factions had started as early as 2004 -not more than a decade after the previous civil war in the country. The Zaidi cleric Hussrein Badreddin al-Houthi had started a broad, vaguely Islamist political movement with the aim of ending the corrupt Saleh regime. When the regime tried to have him arrested, he became a martyr, attracting many thousands of supporters. Those supporters took up arms and began an insurgency against the government. In 2011, the Arab Spring protests reached Yemen and Saleh was removed from power but he was far from gone. In an attempt to retake his country he then proceeded to strike an alleged pact with the Houthis who, taking advantage of the power vacuum and along with dozens of other militias, began taking over vast swaths of the country. The Houthis alongside those forces still loyal to Saleh seized Sana'a, the capital, while groups like Al Qaeda and pro-South Yemeni Independence militias seized coastal towns in the south. This has prompted both a complicated set of shifting alliances between the Yemeni rebels and foreign intervention from the Arab Gulf states that didn't even end with Salehs death following his execution by the Houthis after allegedly getting cold feet about the whole affair. As of 2022, the Houthis have successfully consolidated control in the former North Yemen, and attempts by Saudi Arabia and co. to dislodge them have largely met with failure. The government clings to the port city of Aden, but the rest of South Yemen has disintegrated into chaos. An ongoing famine in the country -exacerbated by Saudi-coalition airstrikes- has already killed tens, if not hundreds of thousands of people.

Beyond the Middle East, insurgent groups have been striking in Africa and Southeast Asia. In the Philippines, a group known as the Moro Islamic Liberation Front has repeatedly launched attacks on the government in order to break away Mindanao's Muslim population from the Philippines and create an Islamic nation. In Nigeria, an Islamic radical group named Boko Haram -literally "Western education is forbidden"- launched an uprising in the Northeast of the country, and attracted international attention for their kidnapping of schoolchildren (mostly schoolgirls, as their extremist interpretation of Islam says that women should not be educated, although they also kidnapped schoolboys as well to "prevent them from being taught in a Western style" or somesuch nonsense). Similar insurgencies have erupted in Mali and Niger, although both are complicated as those nations are also seeing pro-independence movements from ethnic minorities in the Sahel that are not necessarily Islamic extremists. Somalia -stuck in a state of near-perpetual civil war since 1988 when the first rebellions began against the regime of Said Barre- has become the capital of Islamic terrorism in Africa, with its poverty and lack of a strong central government providing a fertile recruiting ground for organizations like the Islamic State. Speaking of, it can be discernably said that IS has taken over Al-Qaeda's role as de facto leaders of the Islamic extremist movement, as the latter's strength greatly diminished after the death of Osama bin Laden, while the former has barely been impacted by the loss of their leader, al-Baghdadi.

While most of these conflicts are still ongoing, none of them have reached the levels of violence that occurred in 2014. In most cases, government forces have managed to suppress the Islamic militants or minimize them. With the Americans withdrawing from Afghanistan in 2021, and the French withdrawing from Mali in 2022, it seems that the Western nations are handing the reins to local governments to do most of the fighting.

Even with the end of US operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, the War on Terror is still ongoing, and it has thus far been the seminal conflict of the 21st century. It has expanded throughout the globe, with the revolution and low-intensity civil war in Libya, the civil war in Yemen, the insurgency in the Philippines, the insurgency in Egypt, and the Syrian Civil War all providing a hotbed of insurgent activity. It seems that the "war" is far from over, and that Sunni Islamist extremism continues to be seen as a compelling force for fighting the West in regions traditionally disaffected by Western imperialism.

Terror attacks occur on-and-off in the West, and the political topography of the West is changing as a response. Western governments have taken on a decidedly more authoritarian bent than before, upping their surveillance and law enforcement measures at the cost of civil liberties. Right-wing politics is surging in the West largely as a response to Islamist extremism and the perceived failure of traditional left and moderately-right governments to take meaningful action against it. A number of hyper-nationalist extremists have taken things even further, by carrying out violence and mass killings against Muslims and other out-groups. Time will tell if this surge is permanent or not.

As for the Middle East, the wars generated by this conflict are ceaseless, but the nature of the conflict has changed dramatically. Many conflicts are now simply proxy wars for the various parties, with the Syrian Civil War largely being a US, Saudi Arabia vs. Turkey vs. Russia and Iran proxy conflict and Yemen being an obvious Saudi Arabia vs. Iran proxy conflict.

There are multiple levels:

    open/close all folders 

    Terror Alert Level Green: It's not really there 

The situation isn't really mentioned at all. It's either not relevant (as in the Speculative Fiction genre), or it's pretended it's not happening. This does not bar the show from making comments via metaphor though.

Anime and Manga

  • In Death Note, the Twin Towers can be seen in the New York City skyline, even though it's 2012. Also, there doesn't appear to be strict airport security.
  • Ai Yazawa stated in the linear notes of Nana (which began serialisation in May 2000 so was already in progress at the time of the attacks) that she delibrately and consciously decided not to include the events of 9/11 into the narration, as certain characters had ties with the United States and the tragedy would have had a deep emotional impact on them, and thus affected the narration in unpredictable ways.
  • An image of bin Laden and the burning Twin Towers appears in chapter 71 of the Neon Genesis Evangelion manga as Seele discusses their desire to initiate Third Impact with Kaworu. There's no other mention in the manga (and none in the anime), but both describe the years after Second Impact (which occurred on 2000 September 13) as a very difficult time for humanity, so it's possible that the 9/11 attacks and subsequent War on Terror were some of the many events that made those years so difficult.

Comic Books

Live-Action TV

  • The Stargate-verse. They've got bigger problems to deal with, such as the Ori and the Wraith. Occasionally a character will flashback to being in it though.
    • Stargate SG-1:
      • In a Reality Subtext, there was a period during season seven when Samantha Carter temporarily changed weapons from the SGC's standard FN P90 to a kitbashed submachine gun dubbed the "Carter Special" in order to conserve P90 blanks. The show's armorer had run short because the factories had had to switch from making blanks for TV shows to making real bullets for fighting wars.
      • Cameron Mitchell has a Sympathetic Murder Backstory where he bombed a refugee convoy which intel had thought was insurgents, with control telling him to hold fire seconds too late. It's not stated to be the Afghanistan War, but his age and the timing make it a reasonable assumption.
    • Stargate Atlantis: John Sheppard, the only main character who has been part of the US Armed Forces, has several references in the story about his time as an Air Force pilot in Afghanistan (he hadn't been let in on The Masquerade yet, which is why he was bothering with the less important conflict in the first place). In "The Runner", Sheppard asks for clarification when Caldwell mentions "Code Orange and above", suggesting that even a veteran of The War on Terror can be confused by the terror alert color system.
  • The new Doctor Who. See Stargate. Maybe less so, Doctor Who being British. The public, in general, doesn't care for the War on Terror and has reached a point of indifference about it, unless a family member is involved, and would have more concern for the giant eye ready to incinerate the Earth, or a visit from the Daleks. Spinoffs Torchwood and The Sarah Jane Adventures, having more limiting methods of Time Travel, mention Iraq, but never higher than Alert Level Blue. Doctor Who, on the other hand, involves frequent use of time travel, on top of having had just nine out of 32 episodes substantially set on present-day Earth between 2009 and 2011 note .
  • Farscape subverts the "Green" level, even lampshades it: Crichton's father mentions to John that it's a different world than the idealistic one they believed in when he left, what with the War on Terror going on. Crichton is obviously not impressed and is almost glad that's their biggest concern, in contrast with all the atrocities he's seen and felt "out there".
  • Power Rangers Wild Force, which began principal photography a few months after 9/11, uses the slogan "united we roar". It's a fairly likely reference to the slogan "united we stand", which became a popular symbol of solidarity after the attacks. (It should ne noted the previous season had to be hastily edited because of 9/11, especially awkward given the Big Bad, Ransik, was outright called a terrorist.)
    • Otherwise, however, these kinds of issues don't really seem to exist in the franchise at large, mostly stemming from the fact that most PR villains are aliens, robots or other non-humanoid creatures with little relation to real-world situations; during their ownership, however, Disney tightened the restrictions on exploding buildings, missiles and even fire (with fire often being recolored in shades of purple!); the Saban Brands and Hasbro eras of the show, on the other hand, have generally been a tad looser (except for the usual Family-Friendly Firearms).

Films — Live-Action

  • Just about completely ignored in The Taqwacores, to the point where it gets a lampshading, because despite what certain news channels would tell you it's really completely irrelevant to the American Muslim's day-to-day life.

Puppet Shows

  • Sesame Street had a grease fire and a trip to the firehouse in its first season premiere after 9/11.

Western Animation

  • Arthur and his friends all deal with emotional responses to a fire at their school. The attacks are alluded to with the episode title, "April 9th". Police cars and fire trucks show up at the school.
  • Hey Arnold! The Jungle Movie: The film's approximately one-year Time Skip from the events of the main series (implied to be set during The '90s, when a majority of episodes aired before this movie was released in 2017) appears to ignore the War on Terror while still featuring technology and other cultural setpieces from the Turn of the Millennium and The New '10s. Airport security is much more lax than it is following 9/11, with families accompanying their children on the airport tarmac seemingly without having to have undergone intensive security screening in order to do so and Grandpa Phil even following Arnold onto the plane (despite being promptly escorted off when he was delaying its takeoff), after which he and Grandma Gertie hijack an airstairs vehicle without any onscreen consequences (the latter of which was admittedly probably just for comedic effect). However, this is later followed up by Grandpa and Grandma attempting to "hitchhike" to San Lorenzo on the airport tarmac without any airplane ticket (which the Transportation Security Administration would almost certainly require them to have to get past the terminal these days), "Big Bob" and Miriam driving their Humvee right onto the tarmac to reach their rented plane (also seemingly without having to undergo much, if any, security screening), and Abner and the snake that was stalking him boarding a flight from San Lorenzo to Hillwood without getting any tickets in advance (okay, that last one was probably just meant to be funny as well).

    Terror Alert Level Blue: It gets cursory mentions 

The thing is there in the background, it's acknowledged it's happening, it affects the plot somewhat, but ultimately doesn't directly affect the plot on a day to day basis.

Films — Live-Action

  • In Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit, Ryan joins the Marines not too long after 9/11.
  • Mentioned indirectly in Jurassic World:
    • Hoskins wonders how Owen Grady's raptors would have done better in Tora Bora. He is referring to the bombing of the Tora Bora caves in December 2001 in Afghanistan in which the United States dropped several bunker buster bombs on the cave system believed to be hiding Osama Bin Laden. Despite the amount of ordnance dropped, the coalition forces failed to kill/capture Osama Bin Laden.
    • The ACU trooper beside Masrani states he served in Afghanistan before joining the ACU.


  • The Family Tree Series: 9/11 occurs during Georgie's fifth day of first grade, shaking up her school day. Her father works in NYC; her grandmother, aunt, and uncle live there; and her best friend and next door neighbor Leslie Jordan's father works in the Twin Towers. Everyone in Georgie's family is okay but Francie, who still hasn't faced her own paranoia, insists that they move the whole family to Maine rather than stay in Princeton. Leslie's father dies, and Leslie's family moves away in June to Colorado before Georgie moves to Maine.
  • The Jennifer Morgue mentions rather offhandedly that "Saddam's magical disappearing chemical weapons" were the result of a faulty prediction of the future by the Laundry's Predictive Branch.

Live-Action TV

  • Alias is the prime example of this. While the increased world tensions are mentioned, people get threatened with the Patriot Act and there's one trip to Afghanistan, the rest of the series is chock full of non-Islamist terrorists and there is never a direct "Al-Qaeda" plot during the entire show. A notable incident is a case in Series Two, where Sydney, as part of a disguise, is wearing a heavily metal-studded shirt. Her comment: "When I last went through JFK, they literally made me take off my shirt". Guess what ends up happening...
  • Comedies like It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia like to dig joke material out of it, but that's as far as it goes.
    • Community: 9/11 was pretty much the 9/11 of the falafel business.
  • One of the final episodes of Becker sees the titular Dr. Jerk deal with an old woman asking for directions and getting annoyed with her until she reveals she'd come to town because her son was among those who died during 9/11 and can't bring herself to visit the site. Needless to say, he calms down and holds her hand after this.
  • CSI: NY has the main character's wife dead on 9/11, and early on it gets painfully reminded every other episode like it was some new (to be fair, to the irregular watchers, it is new... until they stop being irregulars) heartbreaking thing that didn't happen soon-to-be over 10 years ago. Milked for all it's got, but that's usually as far as it goes, except rare random terrorist involving plots.
  • The War on Terror has tangential effects in The Wire. Mainly, the local Baltimore police discover that drug trafficking has fallen off the FBI's priority list and they can't get Bureau assistance in their anti-drug cases anymore. (Although in Season 3 sympathetic Agent Fitzhugh hooks them up with an expedited wiretap by registering "Stringer" Bell as a homeland security threat named "Ahmed".)
    • They do manage to crack one case with the help of equipment granted to the Baltimore PD by a Homeland Security grant. Hilariously, none of the cops knew what it was or how to use it, so it was buried on a back shelf for years.
    • There's also one seen in the Western District squad room where a federal agent is trying to train the police officers in how to deal with terrorist threats only to have the police officers crack jokes about how Baltimore is already a war zone or how the city's drug gangs would scare off any potential terrorists.
    • There's also the fact that due to all of the FBI's resources being aimed toward terrorism, a lot of cases where the Baltimore Police would get additional help and resources from the Feds now has to be handled by the local cops alone. Considering the apathy, incompetence, and lack of resources the Baltimore cops are plagued with, this makes life a lot harder for anyone trying to do something about the big cases.
  • White Collar often mentions how traditional tactics used by crooks have had to change in a post 9/11 world.
  • Scrubs has an episode featuring an Iraq veteran with the entire hospital siding in heated debates. Another episode has J.D. becoming a makeshift US flag due to a shortage of them in wartime.
  • Dr Watson from Sherlock is, as in the original, a veteran who fought in Afghanistan. We see him having a flashback to it in the beginning of the "A Study in Pink" episode and, as in the original, Sherlock comments upon it when they first meet, but that's about it.
  • The Sopranos: The Feds lose interest in The Mafia after 9/11. It comes up a few times, notably in the final season when Chris debates whether to sell guns to two Arab men and Tony tries to offer information (violating his Omerta) on terrorists.
  • David Kelley's shows mention it from time to time. Ally McBeal's therapist mentioned that after 9/11, casual sex has become more common because people just felt like they needed some connection they could turn to during that trying time. Alan Shore dealt with the ramifications of the war on terror frequently, even butting heads occasionally with the very conservative Denny Crane.
  • Dean and Sam in Supernatural pretend to be Homeland Security agents. In addition, Jake was fighting in Afghanistan before he woke up in Cold, Oak. Amelia was married to a man name Don Richardson, who was thought to have been killed while in service in Afghanistan.
  • In the Farscape episode "Terra Firma", Crichton's dad blames 9/11 for ruining the optimism he once felt about humanity and for why the world is so suspicious of Crichton's alien friends. (Farscape premiered in March 1999, the episode aired in January 2003.)
  • Edgar, one of the main characters of You're the Worst, is an veteran of the war in Afghanistan and many of his subplots involve him trying to process everything that's happened to him and dealing with the bureaucratic hell that is the Veteran's Assistance programs. On occasion, he makes reference to more than a few Noodle Incidents to his time in the war that go between genuinely horrifying to Crosses the Line Twice Black Comedy.


Newspaper Comics

Video Games

  • Deus Ex: Invisible War's tagline was "The Future War on Terror". Other than that, it has next to nothing to do with the actual War on Terror, being set some 70 years in the future.

Web Comics

Western Animation

    Terror Alert Level Yellow: It turns up in a few plots 

A common one for the Cop Show that otherwise has to deal with its third Serial Killer of the season. This includes attacks on veterans, possible involvement of someone in Islamist terrorism and asylum seekers.

Anime and Manga

  • CIA Agent "Hex" in Jormungand lost her fiance in the 9/11 attacks, and as a result she hates everything to do with terrorists with a passion, putting her on a near-constant Roaring Rampage of Revenge against terrorists as a whole, which eventually puts her at odds with the protagonists.

Comic Books

  • Frank Castle in The Punisher MAX once has to deal with a situation in Afghanistan (though it's with Russians) and occasionally calls in favors to hitch a ride on a CIA flight (no questions asked, but avoid being allergic to Pakistani prisoners).
  • The Boys is an Alternate History where a superpowered attempt to prevent 9/11 ended up sending the planes into the Brooklyn Bridge. The main character is shocked to learn this, and the fact that the intended target was the World Trade Center.

Films — Live-Action

Live-Action TV

  • Without a Trace is an example here. In one case, an Iraq veteran went missing, some of the team headed to Iraq[!]... then it turned out the guy was killed while doing an armed robbery and the war was nothing to do with it whatsoever. Also had a guy mistakenly shot dead because they thought he was a terrorist by virtue of the books in his library and the fact he looked like he had a gun.
  • The Bill is in this category. It's an interesting example. Despite being set in an area with a considerable number of Muslims, it has not yet done a straight Islamist terrorism story ("Moving Target" was a vendetta over Iraq artefacts).
  • Law & Order has seen a couple of episodes come and go with both attacks on veterans and a (white) Islamic extremist murdering a women's rights activist.
  • NCIS has had several plots featuring Islamist terrorists, most notably Ari's attempt to use a target drone as a cruise missile to attack a crowd at a crew homecoming. When that plot failed he killed Kate Todd. Later seasons have introduced more elements which connect to the Islamist terrorism, and the ending of season 6 very strongly suggests it will be a major part of stories in season seven.
  • The West Wing falls into this category due to the infrequent, but heavy-hitting episodes involving Islamic extremists and the fictional nation of Qumar.
  • In NUMB3RS, Colby is an Afghanistan veteran, and there are a few terror-related episodes, but most of the episodes are close-to-home.
  • In The Amazing Mrs Pritchard, a plane comes down and extremists are suspected.
  • Arrested Development has both major and minor references to the war on terror. At first glance, the war only seems to get a passing, satirical treatment. However, upon closer inspection, it becomes clear that the War on Terror is a central element in this show and that it is actually behind the premise of the series. Such references run the gamut from Maeby offhandedly mentioning that school let out early because an Arabic student parked too close to the gym to Michael, Gob, and Buster actually going to Iraq to clear their father's name after he supposedly built houses for the Hussein regime.
  • Blue Bloods has several mentions: Frank and Henry were WTC first responders, along with many other cops, and Danny fought in Fallujah. In Season One, the NYPD's Intelligence Division has infiltrated a splinter cell and prevents a major terrorist attack.
  • Series 8 of Doctor Who uses the War in Afghanistan as a large part of Danny Pink's story arc.
  • In Golden Boy, Don Owen's That One Case is a murder he was investigating the morning of 9/11 that went cold while NYPD was responding to the attacks. The last episode has a flashback to it: Owen is right under the path of United Airlines Flight 175 as it heads for the South Tower.
  • The Punisher (2017):
    • Frank Castle was part of an unsanctioned CIA black ops unit that was committing war crimes during the war in Afghanistan.
    • In the second episode, we have a scene where Dinah Madani and Sam Stein converse about the War on Terror and its affect on people of Middle-Eastern descent, like Dinah herself. Even more importantly, they're having this conversation while walking around the reflecting pools at the 9/11 Memorial.
  • Daredevil (2015): A few 9/11 parallels are made after Wilson Fisk's bombings in Hell's Kitchen, with Foggy even pointing out how the masked man (Matt) doesn't seem to have a cause, compared to Al-Qaeda. Likewise, in season 2, when Karen visits the Bulletin to talk to Ellison, there's a framed front page on the wall about the 1993 World Trade Center bombing.

Tabletop Games

  • Space 1889: A few plots, such as “Anarchy in the Ether” from Tales from the Ether, are about the struggle against 19th century terrorists, mostly anarchists and Fenians. Late 19th century is sometimes considered the birth of revolutionary terrorism. Some of its methods, theories and ideologies come from this time: such as Bakunin’s ideas about “propaganda of the deed”. So it is sort of a prequel to the modern war on terrorism.

Video Games

Western Animation

  • South Park, being the topical show it is, has done plenty of episodes on the war:
    • The first, "Osama Bin Laden has Farty Pants", aired less than a month after 9/11. It exaggerated post-9/11 paranoia with everyone wearing gas masks, security checkpoints every ten minutes, and people camped out in their living room, utterly catatonic from all that's going on in the news. It also shows the negative effects of the war on Afghan innocents, who are also shown to have stronger morals and values than most Americans. The climax had Cartman kill Osama bin Laden Bugs Bunny style (although a soldier delivered the final shot).
    • The later episode "I'm a Little Bit Country..." sees the town divided between those who support the war and those against it. Cartman, to ease his way out of a school assignment on the Founding Fathers, tries to flashback to 1776, and learns there was a divide between pro-war and anti-war sentiments then as well. Benjamin Franklin decides that the two opposing opinions both help America by giving it a Martial Pacifist appearance; those against war show that America strives for peace, while those for it show America is willing to be strong and fight if need be. (Though being the show it is, they refer to it as "saying one thing and doing another" and "having your cake and eating it too".)
    • "The Mystery of the Urinal Deuce" tackles the subject of 9/11 being a Government Conspiracy. As it turns out, 9/11 conspiracies are conspiracies in themselves, as "a bunch of pissed-off Muslims" crippling America the way it did doesn't reflect well on Ol' Dubya.

    Terror Alert Level Orange: It turns up a lot 

Islamist terrorists turn up a lot, but there are other people as well.

Fan Works

  • Marijuana Simpson. Lisa identifies 9/11 as the beginning of the Simpsons' woes, and Bart is drafted to fight in the Iraq War (a conflict which Homer eventually ends after smoking with George W. Bush).

Films - Live Action

  • Much of the plot of Brothers (2009) focuses on Sam coming back home after his fourth tour of duty in Afghanistan to discover that his brother Tommy is having an affair with his wife Grace. This also applies to the original 2004 Danish film Brødre, of which Brothers was a remake.


  • This Is How You Die: Obvious in the background of the story "Meat Eater", which is about the United States Department of Homeland Security using the Machine's death predictions to find people who might be threats to national security.

Live-Action TV

  • Spooks (MI-5), the first example of "terror TV"- a series explicitly set post-9/11.
  • Rubicon
  • Later seasons of JAG had the War on Terror taking a central role in the story arcs. Very justified, as the show centers around career military officers. Notably, the show made a point of depicting at least a few of the Taliban and Al Qaeda fighters as being similar, with Bud managing to gain vital information from a prisoner while they bonded over a common interest in Star Trek.
  • Person of Interest has the events of 9/11 as the explicit inciting incident for the creation of the Machine, which drives the plot of the series, and several major characters have backstories relating to the War on Terror as well as the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. More generally, the series is a pretty good representation of the technologic, post-9/11 surveillance state.
  • A recurring element in Madam Secretary, a Government Procedural set in the US State Department with the Secretary of State as its protagonist.
    • The second episode, "Another Benghazi", has Liz dealing with nasty demonstrations against the US embassy in Yemen, as well as some Private Military Contractors whom she hires for added security after the Senate won't spring for Special Forces.
    • "Collateral Damage" has Liz host the new Iraqi prime minister, then break up a sectarian political fight between Sunni and Shi'a members of the government by threatening to pull support altogether and back the Kurds for statehood. Also deals with the US use of torture during the 2000s.
    • "Catch and Release" has an American-born ISIS propaganda hero dubbed "Jihadi Judd" as the Monster of the Week. Also, Liz's brother is a Doctors Without Borders surgeon working in refugee camps around Syria.
  • The Brave begins with a mission to rescue a Doctors Without Borders volunteer from the al-Nusra Front in Syria. Anti-terrorist missions are a core of the show, but several plotlines occur that have nothing to do with terrorism (mostly involving Russia).
  • SEAL Team is very similar to the above, having many plotlines related to anti-terrorist efforts, but a good chunk of the missions in the show deal with other non-state outlaws such as the Eastern mafia and piracy.

Video Games

  • Army of Two is mostly you vs. Al-Qaeda. However You also get to fight the Chinese military and SSC.
  • Though Alpha Protocol encompasses a far greater scope than just the War On Terror, the initial part of the game involves fighting an Al-Qaeda Expy named Al-Samaad who were supplied missiles by a US weapons contractor to touch off tensions allowing them to sell more weapons to everyone. Later on in the game, exploiting fears of terrorism is the entire point behind Conrad Marbug's plan in Rome to bomb the city.
  • Broforce centers around fighting terrorism in a much more awesome way- assembling a team of iconic 80’s heroes. Later, they also fight aliens and a demonic invasion.
  • Postal 2: Paradise, Arizona has an absurd number of Islamic terrorists living or at least operating in and around the town (to the point that the "Tora Bora" complex can be reached from an underground sewer complex within the city limits), but beyond them taking over the church on Tuesday and the National Guard taking out one of their training camps in the expansion, they're just another group of people for you to kill with reckless abandon.
  • WinSP:MBT, a Fan Remake of Steel Panthers II, includes a number of scenarios set in this. The majority are based on actual events in Iraq and Afghanistan, but there's a few hypothetical scenarios as well, including a campaign where Al-Quaeda tries to run operations in the Netherlands and the player has to root them out.
  • The Super Mario Bros. fan game Super Mario World Dark Horizon has a 'world' equivalent where Mario fights his way through the War on Terror singlehandedly. It's a mix of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan (with both a nuclear weapons facility in the former and an area involving a fight with Osama Bin Laden in the latter), and features Mario blowing up militants left and right guns a blazing (as well as them being affiliated with Hitler and Those Wacky Nazis). a video of part of the level

    Terror Alert Level Red: It's the entire point of the work 

See also Post-9/11 Terrorism Movie.

Comic Books

  • Sensation Comics Featuring Wonder Woman: The story "Rescue Angel" is set in the conflict. It follows a pilot while she visits a new school for young girls that's just been opened and whose convoy is ambushed and hit by an RPG on their way out of town. She ends up with the Call Sign "Wonder Woman" for her determination to get her fellow soldiers off the street and out of the line of fire.
  • Amazing Spider-Man vol. 2 #36, part of The Amazing Spider-Man (J. Michael Straczynski). The Marvel Universe at large belongs in the Green section (no mentions of 9/11 at all), but that would be an egregious case of Reed Richards Is Useless, as most comics are set in New York and starred by superheroes who would have the power to stop precisely this kind of shit from happening. So they made a single issue focused on 9/11, to avoid that. And... what about the thing with superheroes not stopping 9/11 from happening? Where was Spider-Man, why didn't he stop it? The author takes a Refuge in Audacity: a random civilian asks him exactly that, and Spider-Man concedes that he has no answer to that question.

Films — Live-Action

  • Dear John follows a Special Forces veteran as he decides to re-enlist following 9/11, despite the strain he knows it will put on his personal relationships.
  • Team America: World Police takes place during the War on Terror, lampooning both sides of the American political spectrum for it.
  • Four Lions, a Black Comedy about four Jihadi suicide bombers.
  • This is the story of United 93 and Flight 93, After the collision of two planes against the World Trade Center and one against the Pentagon, the passengers and crew of United Flight 93 decide to struggle against the four terrorists to take back the control of the airplane.
  • Fahrenheit 9/11, the Michael Moore documentary, was made to critize the War on Terror and the manner in which the Bush administration handled it.
  • Zero Dark Thirty, about the hunt for Osama Bin Laden.
  • Tiger Cruise, a 2005 Disney channel live-action movie about a military family event taking place on a US aircraft carrier during the attacks. Ends with the unfurling of a giant American flag on deck; needless to say, it's controversial, and has fallen into obscurity nowadays.
  • Lone Survivor, 2013 film about a SEAL team that attempts to capture a Taliban leader. The title makes it perfectly clear how many of them survive.
  • The Messenger (2009) is about a casualty notification team during the war(s).
  • The Kingdom, which is about a group of FBI agents investigating a terrorist attack on a softball game.
  • American Sniper, all about Chris Kyle's numerous deployments to Iraq.
  • World Trade Center, Two Port Authority police officers become trapped under the rubble of the World Trade Center.
  • Vantage Point, which is about a terrorist bombing at a political summit told from the perspectives of different characters.
  • Olympus Has Fallen and its sequel London Has Fallen, both of which involve a Secret Service agent against an entire army of terrorists.
  • Collateral Damage is about a Los Angeles firefighter who travels to Colombia to seek revenge on a terrorist who killed his family in a bombing. This movie was actually affected by the 9/11 attacks.
  • White House Down is another "Die Hard" on an X movie set in the White House about another Secret Service agent fighting against Western Terrorists, though it's a more lighthearted work compared to others on this list.
  • In the Loop is a satirical comedy film about the build up to the Iraq war, and the shady politics behind it. Curiously, it's never actually mentioned by name.
  • Traitor is an unflinching portrayal of how far both terrorists and counter-terrorists will go to achieve their ends, as FBI agents try to figure out the plans of Sudanese-born Arms Dealer-turned-terrorist Samir for another terror attack on US soil. Nobody escapes with a clean conscience by a longshot.
  • 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi is about the terrorist attack on the American consulate at Benghazi, Libya that ended up with 4 dead Americans, including U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens. Notable for being a very hot potato topic given that the film was released in the heat of the 2016 presidential election, with the Benghazi incident being one of the major points of contention.
  • Patriots Day is based on the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing, with Mark Wahlberg playing a fictional police officer who sees the entire incident from beginning to end.
  • American Assassin follows Mitch Rapp who has a personal vendetta against terrorism in general after his girlfriend was killed in a terrorist attack.
  • The Report depicts the 2012 Senate Investigation into the CIA's use of torture as part of the War on Terror.
  • Official Secrets is a biopic about Katharine Gun, a GCHQ translator who leaked an NSA memo trying to get the Brits to help the US blackmail UN Security Council delegations into signing off on the invasion of Iraq.
  • Redacted is loosely based on the 2006 Mahmudiyah Rape and Killings.


  • Debatable on the point, but My Year of Rest and Relaxation ends on 9/11. There's a great deal of Foreshadowing and Dramatic Irony: the main character's pretty despicable on/off boyfriend works at the World Trade Centre, and by the end of the year, so does her best friend. Her best friend is killed on 9/11.

Live-Action TV

  • 24 is usually cited when people use the term "terror TV" and Islamist terrorists feature in six of the eight seasons thus, while the third season has a Big Bad annoyed over US foreign policy. However, the first season was conceived pre-9/11 and has the Kosovo War as its Backstory (the S3 big bad is partly motivated by the fact he was left to be captured there). Season 2's second part involving "three Middle Eastern countries" now appears to be a rather heavy-handed, slightly inaccurate, but pretty prescient metaphor on what was then the approaching Iraq War (the Bombers on the Screen use is great, though).
  • Generation Kill is a 7 part miniseries based on the book of the same name by Evan Wright, a journalist who was embedded with the 1st Reconnaissance Battalion during the initial invasion in 2003. Created by David Simon.
  • The Grid was a Mini Series on an Islamist plot to explode a gas tanker near Chicago.
  • Homeland is about a returned POW from the Iraqi War whom a CIA agent fears has been turned by an Islamist terrorist group.
  • Quantico's present-day storyline deals with a bombing of Grand Central Terminal in New York, openly described as "the worst terrorist attack on US soil since 9/11". Among other things it calls out the racism against Arabs and Central Asians that has cropped up since 9/11, with the half-Indian protagonist Alex Parrish, who was framed for the bombing, calling it the same old story: "They blame the brown girl."
  • Six is a Ripped from the Headlines military drama about a group of Nigerian schoolgirls who are kidnapped by the Boko Haram terrorist group and a former Navy SEAL who is taken along with them, while the U.S. Navy and members of his old SEAL team try to rescue them.
  • Valor centers around a failed U.S. special forces mission to Somalia which ends with two U.S. Army soldiers captured by a local Somali jihadist group who are planning to hand them over to ISIS. The plot is divided between the stateside efforts to rescue them and the POWs' struggles to survive.


  • Sabaton's "In the Name of God" is a general Take That! to religiously motivated terrorism.
  • The Vaporwave album News at 11 by 猫 シ Corp. is directly about 9/11, as it uses soundbites from morning news shows on 9/11...but the twist is that all the clips used are only from right before any news of the terror attacks is announced. The album effectively turns the attacks themselves into the Elephant in the Living Room.
  • Bruce Springsteen's 2002 album The Rising is an attempt to document and process the grief and fear that many Americans felt in the immediate aftermath the September 11th attacks. Several songs are explicitly from the perspective of first responders, or the loved ones of those lost in the collapse of the World Trade Centers, while others deal more generally with resilience and healing in the face of grief. Notably, Springsteen refrains from much of the jingoism and calls for retribution that dominated public discourse after the attacks, even including "Paradise", a song told from the point of view of a suicide bomber. He has stated that he was inspired to write the album when a random person shouted "we need you, Bruce" out the window of their car shortly after the attacks.

Tabletop Games

  • The second edition of Delta Green updates the original 90s setting into a post-9/11 world and ties it heavily with the War on Terror since Player Characters are government agents. Delta Green is reactivated and brought back into the US government as a Special Access Program that uses the War on Terror as a cover of the fight against the Cthulhu Mythos. The 2016 Agents Handbook and 2019 The Complex enters in details on the inner workings of many law enforcement, intelligence, military, and public safety agencies on their counterterrorist activities, specially the ones that interest Delta Green such as JTTF (Joint Terrorist Task-Forces) and surveillance programs of the CIA, NSA, FBI and NCTC.
    • The scenario Khali Gati is set during the withdrawal of troops during the War in Afghanistan.
    • The camapaign Iconoclasts is set in 2016 during the war against ISIS. It is divided between parts where the players are a group of low-level ISIS foreign fighters and afterwards as special operators and CIA spooks investigating what the previous group found.
Video Games
  • The Arma II expansion Operation Flashpoint is a fictionalized version of the War on Terror. The dictador of Takistan (a Saddam Hussein Expy) threatens its neighbour countries with WMDs, so a NATO coalition led by the United States who deposes him and later, along with the "New Takistan Army", has to fight local islamist and loyalist insurgents. Takistan itself is a mishmash of both Iraq and Afghanistan, as the history of the country and reasons for war are more similar to Iraq, while the country's geography and population is more similar to Afghanistan.
    • The expansions British Armed Forces and Army of the Czech Republic even add the BAF, the ACR and German KSK special forces acting in Takistan in a similar manner to the ISAF.
    • The expansion Private Military Company touches on the more shady reasons for the Iraq War. The main characters are PMC contractors who have to escort UN inspectors investigating Takistan's old nuclear arms program. It turns out the nuclear material was given by the People's Republic of China. Fearing that that the revelation of China's support for the Takistani nuclear program would wreak havoc on the global market, the PMCs are hired by the western nations to ambush the UN inspectors in a False Flag Operation.
  • Full Spectrum Warrior's universe has a fictional continuation of it taking place in Qurac after Iraq and Afghanistan. The parallels are very obvious too.
  • Command & Conquer: Generals is a three-way war involving the USA (after a SCUD missile was shot down over the Atlantic), the rebel-manipulating GLA and an expansionist China. What's interesting is that the real war was still more or less only on-paper when the game came out.
  • Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare is more or less a fictional, slightly-future counterpart to the Afghanistan and Iraq invasions, though with some noticeable changes such as the Saddam/bin Laden analogue having access to a nuke with which he kills 30,000 American soldiers - not to mention that he gets caught the day after that, and ultranationalist Russians also playing a quickly-growing part in what happens afterwards.
  • The 2010 version of Medal of Honor basically thrusts you into it, specifically Operation Anaconda in early 2002.
  • Target Terror, which has received So Bad, It's Good infamy by making a goofy terrorist shooter directly riding off of the War on Terror, at a time where almost everybody else was hesitant to make any references to it at all.
  • Spec Ops: The Line deals heavily with themes of American Interventionism in the Middle East and the lionization of the conflicts in that section of the world, alongside the effects it has had on the soldiers fighting it. By the end it is a pretty damning condemnation of these types of themes, as nothing was saved, everyone dies or will die soon for nothing, and the main character went on a Protagonist Journey to Villain due to a self-aggrandizing power fantasy that he fell into head over heels due to a need to be "the hero."

Western Animation

  • Were it not for 9/11 and the War on Terror,note  we wouldn't have American Dad!. Nowadays, the show vacillates between Blue and Orange.
    • "Which means something might go down somewhere in some way in some point in time, SO LOOK SHARP!"
    • An additional bit of trivia: Seth MacFarlane was almost a victim of the attacks himself. He was scheduled to board American Airlines Flight 11 and was saved by both a hangover and incorrect info from his travel agent that caused him to be late to the airport. He makes several 9/11 jokes in reflection on the matter. There was even a Family Guy joke about Osama bin Laden smuggling Weapons of Mass Destruction around a year before 9/11 even happened!

The full-scale conflicts


Quite a few TV and film examples, including a number of Afghan ones. The only one to break out so far is 2013's Lone Survivor, which is notable for taking a highly American patriotic view of war. Lions for Lambs went down badly with critics and the public alike, as well being criticized for the title being an apparent misquote of the World War I expression "lions led by donkeys." Studio 60 featured Tom's brother being kidnapped in Afghanistan in its closing five-parter, then ended in Fairy Tale style.

An Afghanistan D20 role-playing board game has been published, doing a fairly serious job with describing the early stages of the post-9/11 war in Afghanistan. Times have changed however, and today (this is written in Kabul in the autumn of 2008) the war looks quite different.

"The Road to Guantanamo" is a 2006 docu-drama about the detention in Guantanamo of three British men picked up in Afghanistan in 2001. It won the Independent Spirit Award for Best Documentary Feature, and the Silver Bear for Best Director at 2006 Berlin Film Festival. Contains archive news footage from the period, and recounts the men's experiences from their travels into Afghanistan to their capture and imprisonment.

And then there's the new Medal of Honor video game that has you as both a soldier and a Tier 1 Operator fighting in Afghanistan. It semi-accurately depicts the war, centering on a fictionalized version of Operation Anaconda, with, in true Medal of Honor fashion, everyone who isn't American (Or in this case, Afghan) conveniently excised.


  • A War, about a Danish platoon on the front lines fighting the Taliban, and how their commander makes a fateful decision under pressure.


  • Outlaw Platoon, a non-fiction account of a young officer's sixteen-month deployment to Afghanistan.

Live-Action TV

  • Bomb Patrol Afghanistan: A US Navy Explosive Ordinance Disposal unit sweeps the roads of bombs in Afghanistan at least once an episode.


Outside of Iraq itself, movies and TV (there's a few novels out there and a number of computer game mods on the conflict, the latter of which raises the moral issue of playing games involving an ongoing war) that directly deals with the conflict and is actually set in Iraq is few and far between. The first attempt at a TV series in the US, Over There, was critically acclaimed, but ultimately cancelled (some speculate it was cancelled for "political reasons"). In contrast, the 2008 HBO miniseries Generation Kill is based on the 2004 book of the same name about an embedded reporter's experience with his unit of Marines and has at least one character played by his real-life counterpart (Sgt. Rudy Reyes as himself).

All the movies are pretty obscure and have effectively flopped at the box office, with some commentators arguing that "war movie fatigue" on the part of the public was responsible. On the other hand, some have argued that "anti-war movie fatigue" is responsible.

One exception would be The Hurt Locker, which won an Oscar for Best Picture. However, it should be noted that it was also the lowest-grossing film to win that award at the time (it would later be "surpassed" by Nomadland, which opened amidst the COVID-19 Pandemic and simultaneously on Hulu). Then, in 2014, American Sniper was released to both massive critical and financial success, and was nominated for half a dozen Oscars, including Best Picture and Best Actor. It wound up winning the Best Sound Editing award.

A good past example that may serve as a guide for the future (due to general perception, accurate or not, on the Iraq War) is The Vietnam War. It took four years after the fall of Saigon for the first widely-known (Go Tell The Spartans isn't that well known) period and area set film to come out and that, Apocalypse Now, is also Heart of Darkness in Vietnam. Full Metal Jacket wasn't until 1986. On the other hand, during previous American conflicts films were produced expressing a pro-war position (if not quite actual propaganda). During World War II Hollywood was essentially co-opted by the US war department to produce pro-war films and cartoons (although every country did the same thing, except, ironically, Germany, which mainly produced period films). During the Vietnam War films in support of the war like The Green Berets (with John Wayne) were made, and the vast majority of 80s action films were supportive of the Reagan administration's foreign policy. In contrast, the War on Terror hasn't produced many films or TV shows that expressly support it (with the possible exception of a Post-9/11 Terrorism Movie or two).

Appears as Backstory quite a bit, especially in Brothers & Sisters, where Blonde Republican Sex Kitten Kitty, trying to prevent her brother going to Iraq, tries to bribe the Senator she later gets engaged to and performs on an on-camera volte-face. One can't help feel someone's going Strawman Political on this one (supporting a war until it directly affects you). Justin eventually goes of his own free will anyway and is seriously wounded there.

Films — Live-Action

  • Home of the Brave, about four National Guardsmen who deal with various hardships after returning home from the war in Iraq.
  • War Dogs is about two arms dealers who make millions off government contracts during the Iraq War, including one disastrous tip to Iraq itself (which didn't happen in real life).


  • Most of Tom Kratman's "Okuyyuki" takes place during the Second Gulf War, following a soldier through the invasion and early occupation.

Live-Action TV

  • In The Unit, Jonas Blaine's daughter Betsy is kidnapped while serving in Iraq.


The War On Terror, IN SPACE

There are a couple of shows out there that use their settings and plots to make points, usually rather anvilicious, on the War On Terror:

    Anime and Manga 
  • Mobile Suit Gundam 00's setting is very obviously inspired from the political climate at the time it was written, with the world as of 2307 being split between three global superpowers fighting proxy wars in the middle east over resources and energy, with terrorism (including from the main characters) being a major geopolitical issue.

    Comic Books 
  • The Ultimates 2 (and other works from the Ultimate Marvel universe) is about the whole crisis over the WMD, except that it uses superheroes as a Person of Mass Destruction. The United States has most of them and uses them to impose their agenda, the European Union is building up their own superheroes, and third world countries manage to get their own ones to counter-attack.

    Fan Works 
  • The second season of Children of Time has the conflict surrounding cryptnosis, a program used by the British government to sentence most criminals. Cryptnosis effectively reprograms the brain to "reform" criminals. There are many people who question the morality of this method, including the protagonists, Sherlock and Beth Holmes. In the third episode, their case involves one group of anti-cryptnosis extremists who threaten to destroy entire cities if cryptnosis is not ended. In the next episode, the Framing Device is a hearing in Parliament to discuss the issue.
  • The Daredevil (2015) fanfic What They Wouldn't Do has a scene where Matt Murdock and Sarah Corrigan talk about where they were during "The Incident". It has all the feel of a "Where were you on 9/11?" conversation, and this is intentional on the author's behalf because, like 9/11, "The Incident" affected all New Yorkers in one way or another and caused a ton of destruction and loss of life while the rest of the nation/world watched.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • 300 sparked an enormous amount of controversy from all corners of politics on release because of its plot involving asymmetrical warfare, swarthy Mediterraneans, Freedom,™ extremely stylized history, and even disagreement about its real subject matter between co-creators. Not least of its problems is that some people are still very fussy about the historical figures it portrays, and Greece and Turkey are still going at it.
  • On a related note, many movies about treacherous regimes and war, such as Harry Potter, and V for Vendetta couldn't help but slip in allegory of varying subtlety (or lack thereof) about The War on Terror.
  • 9th Company is a strange example: The events in the film predate the War on Terror by nearly two decades, as it focuses on the Soviet Union's war in Afghanistan. That said, it was made in 2007 and there are numerous, subtle parallels to the current war. It is almost as if the director was saying "We went through that hellhole. Now it's your turn".
  • Star Wars:
    • In Episode III: Revenge of the Sith, the newly-corrupted Anakin says to Obi-Wan "If you're not with me, you're my enemy!". Whether that was meant as a reference to George W. Bush or not is debated, though George Lucas says it is unintentional, since he has stated that Star Wars is inspired by World War II and the Vietnam War (which was happening at the time the originals were envisioned), not the War on Terror (Lucas started writing the Prequel Trilogy in the mid-1990s, long before George W. Bush was elected president and the 9/11 attacks took place). Anakin briefly accusing Padmé of being a Separatist sympathizer for having concerns about the state of the Republic, along with her observation that liberty dies with thunderous applause, seem like other potential parallels to what was happening in the United States at the time the movie was being filmed.
    • Lucas's original story outline of the Sequel Trilogy, before it was rejected by Disney, would have been heavily influenced by the aftermath of the 2003 Iraq War, with the New Republic struggling to maintain order after the Galactic Empire's collapse.
      Lucas: Episode VII, VIII, and IX would take ideas from what happened after the Iraq War. "Okay, you fought the war, you killed everybody, now what are you going to do?" Rebuilding afterwards is harder than starting a rebellion or fighting the war. When you win the war and you disband the opposing army, what do they do? The stormtroopers would be like Saddam Hussein’s Ba'athist fighters that joined ISIS and kept on fighting. The stormtroopers refuse to give up when the Republic win. They want to be stormtroopers forever, so they go to a far corner of the galaxy, start their own country, and their own rebellion. There’s a power vacuum, so gangsters, like the Hutts, are taking advantage of the situation, and there is chaos.
  • Star Trek:
    • The cinematic reboot of Star Trek (2009), where the Romulans were downgraded from Romans IN SPACE to swarthy, sword-bearing savages in dusty clothing. Although many would argue otherwise, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out which particular historical event the destruction of Vulcan might possibly be alluding to.
    • Star Trek Into Darkness includes bombings in major population centers and other real world contemporary issues, such as sending the Enterprise into another government's territory to launch a bunch of missiles at a terrorist. And, in true, grand Trek fashion, the proper message is that we cannot give in to our fears and devote ourselves to little more than war and militarization, even in the face of "threats". It's in the face of such things that we have to be even more noble, not less.
  • The Dark Knight Rises draws a clear parallel between the League of Shadows and organized terror cells based in the Middle East. The film sidesteps mentioning which desert country Bane and his cronies hail from, as most of them are played by Anglos.

  • In John Birmingham's Without Warning and After America the war on terror takes a bizarre turn in 2003 when an energy field of unknown origin and composition wipes out about three-quarters of the population of North America. An energized Saddam Hussein takes the offensive against a demoralized US military just before they were going to invade and drives them out then allies with Irannote  to declare a universal jihad against Israel. This leads Israel to nuke all its Islamic neighbors except Lebanon (too close) in what becomes called the Second Holocaust. Other ripples from this include the French Intifada and the United Kingdom deporting or interning all of its Muslims while parts of Germany, especially Cologne become functionally converted to sharia.
  • Flipped on its head in Matt Ruff's Mirage where the United Arab States are threatened by Christian terrorists, especially after the Bagdad Twin Towers are destroyed on 11/9, 2001.
  • A weird one: To present-day eyes, the X-Wing Series novel Isard's Revenge (set immediately after The Thrawn Trilogy) looks based on the first leg of the Iraq War, with a politically motivatednote  invasion of a villainous but neutral nation by the protagonists' nation, spurred on by fears of a bogus superweapon. The novel was published in 1999.
  • The Oncoming Storm by Christopher Nuttall seemingly has the Occupation of Cadiz as a counterpart to the Iraq War. The Commonwealth of Tyre annexed the Cadiz system for geopolitical reasons (it's unimportant but strategically located in the face of a coming confrontation with the Theocracy). At present the occupation is a clusterfuck of corporate interests, under-equipped troops, Head-in-the-Sand Management, and a bloody insurgency.
  • Caliphate also by Tom Kratman explores an dystopic future where the War on Terror escalated into Europe falling under the banner of terrorists and the United States becoming an oppressive, militaristic dictatorship.
  • America 2014 is set in the Oppressive States of America where the domestic political fallout of the War on Terror has led to the US becoming a dystopia. Most of the plot is set in America, but there's mention that the US is still waging war, and has now invaded Indonesia (presumably, because it's a Muslim-majority country).
  • The Execution Channel by Ken MacLeod takes place in an Alternate History version of the war, where Gore was elected president in 2000 and the 9/11 attacks hit Boston and Philadelphia instead, using a combination of hijacked planes and cars filled with explosives. In the years since, things have escalated to the point where terrorists have utilized nuclear weapons.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Battlestar Galactica, which over the course of the series has dealt with themes such as military occupation, suicide bombing and whether it can be justified, an enemy that blends in with the public, the results of a nuclear holocaust, the cycle of revenge and escalation, and religious conflict (both violent and cultural).
  • The 2015 Doctor Who two-parter "The Zygon Invasion" and "The Zygon Inversion". With Zygons instead of ISIS.
    • The first series satirised some aspects of the Iraq War and the War on Terror in the first two-parter of the revived series, Aliens of London/World War Three. Here aliens replace members of the British establishment and stage an alien incursion before deceiving the world into believing an alien attack is imminent as part of a plan to destroy the world and sell the remains as fuel.
  • The 2006 Robin Hood in the first season actually has the Sheriff use the words "war on terror" in late 12th century England and uses the Crusades as a (rather inaccurate) metaphor for the whole thing. It's toned down a lot for the second.
  • Stargate SG-1 with the Ori arc.
  • Star Trek: Deep Space Nine deserves a mention. Though it was written and aired in the 1990s, it dealt with many issues that would suddenly become very relevant in the post-9/11 era. The relationship between the Bajorans and Cardassians, for example, was based more on the Nazi occupation of Europe in World War II, but episodes dealt with the relative merits of terrorism, and Bajoran religious beliefs were used to parallel real-world religious extremism. The "Homefront"/"Paradise Lost" two-parter dealt directly with a security state ramping up in response to terrorist attacks and the dangers of becoming so worried about outside threats that you compromise your own freedom and turn on your neighbors.
  • Star Trek: Enterprise's third season drew heavily on current events. Earth is savagely attacked, apparently out of nowhere, and the NX-01 (bringing along a cohort of Army Guys) heads into a treacherous region of space to find the culprits. Many fans were afraid this storyline would be untrue to Trek's philosophy, but they needn't have worried: the aliens aren't all bad, Archer's new hard-edged attitude isn't always endorsed, and there's enough ambiguity all round to keep it from being Strawman Political in either direction. Prior to that, a couple of first-season episodes — "Fortunate Son" and especially "Detained" — examined elements of the war on terror. But contrary to a common assumption, the decision to name the first season's bad guys "Suliban" happened long before 9/11. They were named after the Taliban, but only because Rick Berman thought that name had the exotic sound he wanted; no one was expecting it to become a household name.
  • Star Trek: Discovery partially draws parallels from the 2012 crisis in the Levant with the Klingon House of T'vukma being portrayed as an clear parallel to ISIS - they are religiously fundamentalists, employing martyrdom to inspire its members and seek to reunite their fractured empire much like ISIS's goals to establish a caliphate, reunite all Muslim countries under their banner (in addition to all territories that were ever under Muslim control in history like Greece, Spain, Lebanon and the Philippines).

    Tabletop Games 
  • War on Terror: The Boardgame is ... well, guess. It's also quite satirical. And the "Axis of Evil" is a spinner in the middle of the board.

    Video Games 
  • Halo:
    • The series, debuting a few months after 9/11, has Scary Dogmatic Aliens who are religious extremists going to war with the UNSC (humanity's united military, modeled after the United States Marines), though this aspect of the plot had already been shown in previews for the first game before 9/11 happened. It was subtle in the first game, but was more obvious in Halo 2, where the War was on the developers' minds more; the aliens' religious motivation ceased to be an Informed Attribute. The allegory, if it was ever intentional, sort of falls apart when the Flood shows up. However the developers have also said that The Culture was an influence. Seeing as how that series had Scary Dogmatic Aliens in the first book it might just be coincidental.
    • The UNSC were also in a revolution by "The Insurrection," which had turned to terrorism to fight for freedom. However, in many ways this is more reminiscent of The Troubles than any more recent conflict.
  • Deus Ex is a rare example, since it came out before 9/11. The game deals with the issue of if terrorists are doing their actions because they are simply violent, or because they have been left with no other option. The issue of increasing security at the cost of personal freedoms comes up throughout the game, especially as the Crapsack World setting becomes more so.
  • Deus Ex: Invisible War had the tagline "The future War On Terror" since it came out in 2004 when it was fresh on people's minds.
  • Again, Modern Warfare 2. The basic plot for the American portion of the game is obviously influenced by the real War on Terror: a group of terrorists (Makarov's group) launches an attack on a country's famous landmark (Russia, airport named after a major character from the previous game), said country finds a link between the group and another country (the US — the player controls an undercover CIA agent going with the attack, who is killed by Makarov specifically for his corpse to link America with the attack) and invades them on this pretext. As noted above, though, even with a few missions both at the beginning and end explicitly taking place within Afghanistan, things aren't quite what they seem to be.
    • Call of Duty: Black Ops II makes a small Call-Forward to this in a flashback mission set during the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, with a side-order of Historical Villain Upgrade; the player fights alongside the Mujahideen to drive the Soviets off, only for them to immediately turn on the player once the threat has passed, claiming "you are, and always will be, our true enemy". It also makes a pair of small Call Backs in the regular missions set in 2025, once where Harper refers to the Big Bad Raul Menendez as "the most dangerous terrorist since Osama bin Laden", and then again if the player fails to complete the Strike Force missions and secure an alliance with China before a specific mission, where General Petraeus and Admiral Briggs briefly discuss the last time America moved up to DEFCON 3 "almost 25 years ago".
  • Star Trek Online has something of this with the True Way in the Cardassian story arc, The Remnant of the pre-Dominion War old order who have now become terrorists, much like many al-Qa'ida in Iraq and ISIS leaders served in the pre-invasion Iraqi military. Unfortunately most of this flavor was removed in favor of a Mirror Universe plot when the arc was revamped in 2015.

    Web Animation 

    Western Animation 
  • The Simpsons:
    • Touched during the "Treehouse Of Horror XVII" segment "The Day The Earth Looked Stupid", where Kang and Kodos decide to invade Earth. Incidentally, the scene originally ended with the line "This sure is a lot like Iraq will be", tossing an anvil straight through the Fourth Wall. This was cut at some point down the line, but it still aired on some channels.
    • Many other episodes, such as "Bart-Mangled Banner", have satirized post-9/11 America.
    • The entire plot of "MyPods and Boomsticks" is about Homer's attempt to reveal that the family of Bart's newest friend are terrorists. It turns out they aren't terrorists; the husband is just a construction worker, the building he destroyed was with a construction team as a sanctioned demolition for a future building project (his wife's concern was because construction sites can be dangerous), and his talk of a better place referred to being promoted to a higher-paying position in his company.
  • In The Legend of Korra, Tarrlok's treatment of non-benders is similar to this, as he at one point issues a curfew forcing the non-benders to remain in their houses, under the justification that any one of them coulld be working for the Equalists.

See Post-9/11 Terrorism Movie for the subject of terrorism in some depth. Also see Turn of the Millennium.

Alternative Title(s): War On Terror, Iraq War, September 11 Attacks, Nine Eleven Attacks, Nine Eleven