What Did 9/11 Inaugurate?

The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (Viktor Vasnetsov)

W.J. Astore

On this 15th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks in 2001, we should ask ourselves what those attacks inaugurated.  In a word, calamity.  The wildly successful actions of Al Qaeda, combined with the wild overreactions of the Bush/Cheney administration, marked the 21st century as one that will likely become known to future historians as calamitous.

In thinking about the 9/11 attacks, as an Air Force officer, what struck me then, and still does now, is the psychological blow.  We Americans like to think we invented flight (not just that the Wright Brothers succeeded in the first powered flight that was both sustained and controlled).  We like to think that airpower is uniquely American.  We take great pride that many airliners are still “Made in the USA,” unlike most other manufactured goods nowadays.

To see our airliners turned into precision missiles against our skyscrapers, another potent image of American power, by a terrorist foe (that was once an ally against Soviet forces in Afghanistan) staggered our collective psyche.  That’s what I mean when I say Al Qaeda’s attacks were “successful.”  They created an enormous shock from which our nation has yet to recover.

This shock produced, as Tom Engelhardt notes in his latest article at TomDispatch.com, a form of government psychosis for vengeance via airpower.  The problem, of course, is that the terrorist enemy (first Al Qaeda, then the Taliban, now ISIS) simply doesn’t offer big targets like skyscrapers or the Pentagon.  The best the U.S. can do via airpower is to strike at training camps or small teams or even individuals, all of which matter little in the big scheme of things.  Meanwhile, U.S. air strikes (and subsequent land invasions by ground troops) arguably strengthen the enemy strategically.  Why?  Because they lend credence to the enemy’s propaganda that the USA is launching jihad against the Muslim world.

The wild overreactions of the Bush/Cheney administration, essentially continued by Obama and the present national security state, have played into the hands of those seeking a crusade/jihad in the Greater Middle East.  What we have now, so the experts say, is a generational or long war, with no foreseeable end point.  Its product, however, is obvious: chaos, whether in Iraq or Libya or Yemen or Syria.  And this chaos is likely to be aggravated by critical resource shortages (oil, water, food) as global warming accelerates in the next few decades.

We are in the early throes of the calamitous 21st century, and it all began fifteen years ago on 9/11/2001.

8 thoughts on “What Did 9/11 Inaugurate?

  1. “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” — William Faulkner

    Living in the stream of always unfolding history, people like to pick out particular dates and then claim that history “started” right then and there when, in truth, prior events and epochs of human and geological activity continue to work their influcence on all that we think, say, and do today. Just so with this predictable rehashing of 9/11/2001 and the events that transpired on that day fifteen years ago, as if they had no connection to American activities in the world — especially the middle east — over many previous decades. Rehashing the relevant and still unfolding events in the Middle East — which history goes back millenia before the founding of the United States a mere two centuries ago — would take too long here, and I don’t know enough about that history to do the job anyway. But for me, a similar and quite significant “terrorist” event of six years previous to 9/11/2001 lends a bit of perspective.

    On April 19, 1995, I found myself in Narita International Airport in Japan. I had just completed a short “pilgrimage” with some church members from the Los Angeles chapter of the Rissho Kosei Kai Lay Buddhist Association and had a few hours to pass before boarding a plane for the return trip to the United States. When I chanced to look up at the large television monitors broadcasting the days’ news (in both Japanese and English) I saw pictures of the just-devastated Federal Building in Oklahoma City. At first, details remained sketchy as to the identity of the person or persons who had perpetrated such destruction, but suspicions ran high that “some Muslims” had probably done the foul deed. Of course, as we all soon learned, one of America’s own white-Christian native sons, Timothy McVeigh, had committed this terrible crime because of some ideological animus that he bore towards the U.S. Federal Government and the “evil” that one of its buildings symbolically represented to him.

    I recount this little personal anecdote not so much because I have anything much to add for the historical record, especially concerning “terrorism,” either domestic or foriegn, but because of some interesting things I learned later from a very well educated and experienced foreign gentleman who taught graduate courses in Buddhism and Sanskrit at a small, start-up Buddhist college in Los Angeles where I had gone to work as the Director of Computer Services in the period between 4/19/1995 and 9/11/2001. The late Dr. Ananda W. P. Guruge had formerly served as the Minister of Education in his native Sri Lanka. He later went on to serve his country as Ambassador to both France and the United States before serving as an ambassador-at-large for UNESCO. He had a Ph.D, naturally; spoke five or six foreign languages fluently; had written something like 35 books, and could converse intelligently and with great good humor on more topics than I can remember. I felt personally privileged that he managed to spare some of his time and energy for me after class or whenever we would have lunch together.

    Anyway, when the subject of 9/11/2001 came up shortly after the event, Dr. Guruge told me something of his own country’s experience with terrorism which related to the previous events in Oklahoma City that I have alluded to above. It seems that one day during his tenure as Sri Lanka’s Ambassador to the United States, he got a phone call from the U.S. Trade Representative. This lady official wished to lodge a complaint against the government of Sri Lanka for embargoing petrolum-based fertilizer products from the United States. As Dr. Guruge explained to her, his country currently had a vicious insurrection in progress involing the Tamil minority in that country. “Our scientists have told us that someone could make an explosive bomb from these chemical fertilers,” he said. She replied: “Well, if you had real scientists like we do in the United States, you wouldn’t believe such nonsense.” As things worked out, a few days later, Timothy McVeigh made a homemade bomb out of a truck full of chemical fertilizer and detonated it right next to the Federal Building in Oklahoma City, bringing down much of the structure and killing 168 people and injuring hunreds more. Ambassador Guruge called up the lady Trade Representative and soliciously inquired of her: “What do you think of our scientists now?”

    A gifted teacher, Dr. Ananda Guruge could really boil things down to their essence for easy assimilation by student-employees like me. When I asked him why his government had refused the U.S. military’s offer of “assistance” fighting the Tamil insurgency in Sri Lanka, he told me, simply: “If the Americans come, they will just draw an arbitrary line through a temporary problem and make it permanent.” I thought a lot about Korea and Vietnam after I heard Dr Guruge explain things to me. Today, I think a lot about Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria and … well … you know: all those other many and nameless places around the world where the U.S. miltiary keeps drawing arbitrary lines so as to make transient problems permanent while babbling euphemistic, bullshit excuses for epic failure like “generational” or just plain “long” “wars.” Yes, indeed. U.S. miltiary doctrine today: Let the grandkids figure out what to do with these unholy messes we have bequeathed to them.

    I always saw 9/11/2001 as just another 4/19/1995: a daring stunt pulled off by someone would could think creatively about how to turn everyday items like trucks full of fertizer or planes full of high-octabne fuel into devastating weapons while the clueless U.S. government and military — but I repeat myself — go on engineering more and more fantastically expensive and completely ineffective weapons having no other purpose than to sqander vast sums of blood and money accomplishing nothing of value to anyone but a handful of corporate stockholders and the corrupt political puppet-militarists that they own and operate so effortlessly.

    In my opinion, 9/11/2001 didn’t inaugurate anything. It merely recapitualated and accelerated the inevitable blowback one should expect from the powerless but fiendishly clever poor of this earth who can always turn the mundane into the murderous when they have a good reason to do so. The U.S. military and its “leadership” have enormous engineering resources as their disposal — although, to hear them tell it, they never have enough and always cry for more — yet simple, inexpensive “improvisation” seems to outwit and frustrate them at every turn. As I like to say: You can always tell when the U.S. military has lost another war the minute they start calling it “long.” I hope that Dr. Ananda Guruge would approve of my succinct formulation of this essential truth.


    1. Mike: the day before 9/11/2001, Rumsfeld gave a speech at the Pentagon about wasteful spending and the need for a full accounting in a real audit. The day after, no one talked about wasteful spending or real audits. All they talked about was vengeance and sweeping everything up, related and unrelated.

      You underrate the enormous shock of 9/11 to the USA, and especially to Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld. Yes, this trio always dreamed of “taking the gloves off,” but Bush was treading water before 9/11, an inconsequential man reading to children about goats. After 9/11, and given the shock, most Americans rallied around the flag, and gave Bush the benefit of the doubt. That opened so many doors (or a Pandora’s Box) to all that followed. The invasion of Iraq. The false “mission accomplished” moment. Abu Ghraib and torture. And so many other disasters for U.S. foreign policy.

      Yes, we can talk about long term trends and so on, but 9/11/2001 was that rare date in history, a true game changer, much like 12/7/1941, which fundamentally changed the balance of power in World War II.

      One sad fact: Since 9/11/2001, America has not been at peace. Most Americans nowadays don’t even think that peacetime exists. It’s all war all the time, surging from time to time, but always simmering. War has come to define us, a choice our leaders made in the aftermath of 9/11. And I don’t think this happens, certainly not to the degree we’ve witnessed, without the events of that day.


      1. For crying out loud, Bill. You ought to know better than to run that “we’re at war” shit on me, of all people. For the record: shortly after 9/11/2001, Deputy Dubya Bush exhorted the American people to “go shopping and enjoy everything America has to offer. Buy a few tickets to Disney World.” The American people, for their part, have done precisely that for the last fifteen years, if not for the last twenty-one years since Oklahoma City. And this looks like the behavior of “shocked” people to you? Really? I would choose the word “apathetic,” if anything.

        If I recall correctly, you claim to have read Naomi Klein’s brilliant book The Shock Doctrine: the Rise of Disaster Capitalism.. In view of your comments above, I recommend that you read it again. Then the whiplash-inducing about-face of the Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld administration from just-before to just-after 9/11/2001 will make perfect sense to you. “Vengeance” or “shock” had nothing to do with it. What some Americans saw as a human tragedy, the Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld cabal saw as a heaven-sent political and business opportunity — and they wasted not a minute putting their long-planned, Chicago School corporate plunder program into effect. As Naomi Klein put the case:

        “The Bush administration immediately seized upon the fear generated by the [9/11] attacks not only to launch the War on Terror but to ensure that it is an almost completely for-profit venture, a booming new industry that has breathed new life into the faltering U.S. economy. Best understood as a “disaster capitalism complex,” it has much farther-reaching tentacles than the military-industrial complex that Dwight Eisenhower warned against at the end of his presidency: this is a global war fought at every level by private companies whose involvement is paid for with public money; with the unending mandate of protecting the United States homeland in perpetuity while eliminating all “evil” abroad. The ultimate goal for the corporations at the center of the complex is to bring the model of for-profit government, which advances so rapidly in extraordinary circumstances, into the ordinary and day-to-day functioning of the state – in effect, to privatize the government.”

        And again from Naomi Klein:

        “The idea of exploiting crisis and disaster has been the modus operandi of Milton Friedman’s movement from the very beginning — this fundamentalist form of capitalism has always needed disasters to advance. It was certainly the case that the facilitating disasters were getting bigger and more shocking, but what was happening in Iraq and New Orleans was not a new, post-September 11 invention. Rather, these bold experiments in crisis exploitation were the culmination of three decades of strict adherence to the shock doctrine.”

        Once more the key point here: “… not a new, post-September 11 invention…” Let us try and keep the relevant historical facts in focus and skip the Washington/Hollywood romanticism and bogus mythology.

        As I have said and will go on saying: 9/11/2001 did not inaugurate Shock Doctrine Disaster Capitalism (much less the Apocalypse) but only provided the opportunity for its true-believing adherents like Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney to turn on a dime and implement it ruthlessly and cynically if given anything like a chance, which 9/11 provided. None of this had anything to do with either “shock” or “vengeance” directed at Iraq or Afghanistan, since the governments and people of those two nations had nothing to do with planning or carrying out the events of 9/11. Everyone in the Bush/Cheney administration and the Congress who knew anything at all knew that the Saudi Arabians had done the deed — and for the reasons that Osama Bin Laden laid out for the whole world to understand — but that Iraq and its oil resources offered the best chance to plunder a relateively helpless target. What on earth did “shock” and “vengeance” have to do with attacking the innocent for crimes that they had nothing to do with? Just avarice. Boundless, cynical avarice. Why try to dress it up in euphemistic language as anything else?

        I could go on and on with example after example of rule by America’s corporate oligarchy and its handmaiden military enforcers before and since 9/11, but I’ve run out of time and energy. Suffice it to say that what you mean by “shock” and “vengeance,” I mean by “cynical political and economic opportunism.” As my fellow Vietnam veteran Daniel Ellsberg so accurately observed: “The Bush administration invaded Iraq for three reasons: Oil, Israel, and domestic political advantage.” Can we please stick to this truth about the real world and not go on inanely repeating the nonsensical “we are at war” canard. I say, “No, we are at AUMF.” Therein lies all the difference and we should keep that clearly in mind at all times.

        I won’t get into the absurd Pearl Harbor and WWII analogies. They don’t even deserve a rebuttal. One might as well do a film review of Independence Day.


      2. Regarding some of the detailed history that provides a necessary context for our discussion above, Eric Margolis has some pertinent observations to make in his article, Truth About 9/11, which appeared at the Information Clearing House web site on September 11, 20016. I don’t want to recapitulate the entire article here, but I do think a few key paragraphs set the story straight. I mention these excerpts because of Bill Astore’s claim that America launched the so-called War on Terror (or Terra) because of a desire for revenge against the perpetrators of the 9/11 attacks. Yes, revenge does enter the picture, just not on the part of the disaster-capitalist/Milton-Friedman acolytes infesting the American government at the time. As Mr Margolis reminds us:

        “9/11 was a revenge attack conducted by mostly Saudi nationals who claimed they wanted to punish the United States for supporting Israeli oppression of Palestine, and for what they claimed was the US ‘occupation’ of Saudi Arabia.”

        Yes. Not revenge by Americans but revenge directed at Americans. Big difference. But revenge for what?

        “America was attacked for what it had been doing all over the Muslim world, not for what it was. Most Americans don’t know that the first CIA ‘regime change’ in the Mideast occurred in Syria, way back in 1948. We’re still at it today.”

        So, the suicidal Saudi maniacs who exacted their revenge upon 3,000 American citizens did so for understandable reasons. Osama Bin Laden made these quite clear to anyone who card to listen. One doesn’t have to agree with their reasoning, but given the draconian policies of the U.S. government in the middle east since World War II, and especially since the start of the Tenth Crusade in Palestine — this time by zealous, land-grabbing Zionist Jews instead of zealous, land-grabbing Roman Catholic Christians (like the previous nine crusades of the Middle Ages) — one can understand how the dispossessed and abused natives of the region see things. Nothing to do with “hating us for our freedoms,” as if we had very many of those left.

        Anyway, now that the United States has gone back to arming, funding, and training the Al-Qaeda — I mean, ISIS (or whatever their name is tomorrow) — terrorists who attacked us on 9/11/2001 (because now we need them again to fight our proxy wars for Big Business, Saudi Arabian and Apartheid Zionist interests), we can finally recognize the depth of opportunistic cynicism which has always motivated the so-called “War on Terror” waged by a succession of U.S. administrations. As Eric Margolis summarizes the awful truth of our own pathological perfidy:

        “ISIS is a military pipsqueak – a bunch of 20-something hooligans. North Korea only wants to be left alone to its misery. Washington, Paris, and London need the ISIS bogeyman today, just as they needed al-Qaida and the Soviet Union before, to justify budget-busting new arms spending and keeping the population whipped up with bogus war fever.”

        I like that phrase, “bogus war fever,” or what I like to call “AUMF” (pronounced “owmpf”): the Assiduous Utilization of Mendacity and Fraud. For some reason, though, even after fifteen years of epic failure and things only getting worse, the American people still can’t seem to recognize whom they realy have to fear and why. “Bogus war fever,” or “AUMF,” indeed. Whatever.


  2. I’ve got this problem with logic and the Engish Language, especially in regard to what I like to call the Assiduous Utilization of Mendacity and Fraud, or AUMF (pronoiunced “owmpf”), passed by the U.S. Congress on September 14, 2001, only three days after the Saudi Arabian attacks of 9/11/2001. Talk about “shock and awe.” That certainly didn’t take long for a Congress notorious for taking forever to do little, if anything. Anyway, according to Wikipedia, the AUMF:

    “authorizes the use of United States Armed Forces against those responsible for the attacks on September 11, 2001. The authorization granted the President the authority to use all “necessary and appropriate force” against those whom he determined “planned, authorized, committed or aided” the September 11th attacks, or who harbored said persons or groups.”

    “The AUMF was signed by President George W. Bush on September 18, 2001. As of December 2015, the AUMF provides Congressional authorization for the use of force against ISIS and other Islamic militant groups.”

    Now, my problem with logic and the English Language — not to mention official U.S. mendacity and fraud — arises from an article I read today entitled Fifteen Years After 9/11, Neverending War,” by Alex Emmons, courtesy of the Intercept and Information Clearing House web sites. Specifically:

    “Al Qaeda, the original enemy, today controls territory in Yemen and Somalia, but it is no longer considered a priority. In the span of one year, for example, the U.S.-backed war in Yemen quadrupled the size of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula — the terror group’s most dangerous offshoot. The CIA has continued to arm Syrian rebels, despite the fact that those weapons have found their way to a former al Qaeda affiliate. Retired General David Petraeus, formerly the commander of U.S. forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, actually suggested arming al Qaeda directly to help fight ISIS.”

    As I read the language and logic of the AUMF, the President of the United States now has the authority to militarily attack his own Pentagon and CIA, not to mention former General David Petraeus, for funding, arming, training, and otherwise facilitating the spectacular growth of the very organization, Al Qaeda and its various affiliates, that attacked the U.S. on 9/11/2001. So, why doesn’t the President of the United States do what the law requires him to do: namely, attack and destroy anyone and everyone — including those in the U.S. — having anything to do with Al Qaeda, or whatever that continually morphing mob calls itself today? Something really, really, really stinks here. A great many present and former officials of the U.S. government and military stink even worse. Do the families of the 9/11 victims actually understand what their own government is doing in support of those — and those like them — who killed their relatives and friends fifteen years ago?

    If 9/11/2001 inaugurated anything, it has to be the Assiduous Utilization of Mendacity and Fraud, perpetrated upon not just the middle eastern victims of our government’s venal, cynical avarice, but upon the American people themselves. What unadulterated, schizophrenic insanity.


    1. Mike: I appreciate all your comments here. My point is that, whatever you want to call it, whether it’s the war on terror or AUMF, it’s been employed to change fundamentally the way Americans look at the world. Yes, most Americans are not “at war,” not in the way we were in WWII, yet virtually all Americans buy the notion that there are multiple enemies that must be resisted or even obliterated. This mentality (or myth) serves to justify a colossal national security state, militarism at home, intrusive and illegal surveillance, and a burgeoning empire overseas that continues to spread chaos (and which facilitates disaster capitalism).

      The events of 9/11 aren’t the sole cause or driver of this mentality/myth, but they were the shock that facilitated the power grab of Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld, which led to all the cataclysm in places like Iraq, Libya, Yemen, Syria, and so on.

      That’s the original point of my article — a valid one, I believe. Here in Homeland USA, this point is rarely discussed. What we get on 9/11 is a celebrations of heroes (such as the first responders, which is fine as far as it goes) and reminders of how “unified” we were after the attacks, with lots of patriotic bunting, flags, and so on. Theater, in other words, with no thought given to what the U.S. government unleashed in the aftermath of 9/11. Nor is there any talk of the persistence of war/AUMF; it’s taken as an unquestionable given, like the air we breathe and the water we drink.

      This endless war will eventually destroy our democracy, for some of the reasons you yourself have articulated.


  3. Another take on 9/11:

    “The Washington Post reported that over the Labor Day weekend, while most Americans were relaxing and enjoying the end of summer, the United States bombed six different countries (Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Libya, Somalia, and Afghanistan) with dozens of airstrikes. Has waging war become so numbingly routine or do we just not want to pay attention? With this depressing state of affairs, shouldn’t we be asking, fifteen years on, if we have learned the right lessons from 9/11?”


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  4. Just six weeks after the September 11 attacks, a panicked Congress passed the “USA PATRIOT Act,” an overnight revision of the nation’s surveillance laws that vastly expanded the government’s authority to spy on its own citizens and reduced checks and balances on those powers, such as judicial oversight. The government never demonstrated that restraints on surveillance had contributed to the attack, and indeed much of the new legislation had nothing to do with fighting terrorism. Rather, the bill represented a successful use of the terrorist attacks by the FBI to roll back unwanted checks on its power. . . . Under these changes and other authorities asserted by the Bush Administration, U.S. intelligence agents could conduct a secret search of an American citizen’s home, use evidence found there to declare him an “enemy combatant,” and imprison him without trial. The courts would have no chance to review these decisions — indeed, they might never even find out about them.”

    –Jay Stanley and Barry Steinhardt, “Bigger Monster, Weaker Chains:
    The Growth of an American Surveillance SocietyState,”
    ACLU Technology and Liberty Program, 1/15/03

    The Patriot Act was planned before 9/11:
    The invasion of Iraq was planned before 9/11.

    Evidence suggests that the Saudi activity was part of a joint operation with the C.I.A.. The CIA’s bin Laden unit, Alec Station, deliberately withheld information from the FBI about the presence of the two al-Qaeda operatives discussed in the 28-pages, and did so on multiple occasions. Visas that normally wouldn’t have been granted (sketchy applications) were expedited. Operatives were known and tracked. The flight schools and “warnings” were part of the set-up. The Able Danger records (knowledge of the operatives) were destroyed. Anomaly after anomaly next to impossibility after impossibility is the essence of the government’s conspiracy theory and explanation for the events of the day. And it stretches credulity to think that Bandar Bush, implicated in the 28 pages, would have been unaware of any Saudi intelligence operation in the States…and he apparently had the pull to get the bin Ladens and other Saudis out of the country while everyone else was grounded in the immediate aftermath.
    And as Alan Dulles steered the Warren Commission, Zelikow and the White House perpetrated the fraud that was the 9/11 Commission.

    The Pet Goat? Not being in charge, Bush was put and kept out the way, and wasn’t immediately moved because he wasn’t in danger. And the task of commandeering airliners into what were the trade center buildings is simple, right? Experienced pilots say otherwise (in fact, the degree of difficulty is beyond remarkable), but novice hijackers were two for two. And a third novice made an even more incredible strike on the Pentagon at a curiously precise location. Not to mention the fact that the “hijackers” were four for four on their takeovers without a single hijack code signal enacted (a simple protocol that would have taken a pilot or co-pilot mere seconds to perform). For some reason, air traffic control and our vaunted military couldn’t get their protocols together in a timely fashion either…even though the “escorting” of deviant flight paths had always been a matter of efficient routine. And the Pennsylvania “crash site” was anomalous to a truly exceptional degree.
    Tip of the iceberg folks. Physical laws were suspended that day as massive amounts of steel and concrete were pulverized by magically symmetrical and free fall “pancaking”. By the way, the motives underlying the trade center and Pentagon destructions go beyond psy-op induction of shock. Other “financial” matters were being “covered” (http://decryptedmatrix.com/bushs-project-hammer/), and “defense” budgets and “war justifications” were being secured.
    Still tip of the iceberg. But I’ll try to be brief. It’s okay if people want to believe a handful of Saudi operatives who liked to drink, snort, and otherwise entertain their vices while being known and tracked by intelligence “services” were able to pull off their religiously motivated mission with nary a hitch in some of the most protected airspace on Earth. And no one associated with the duties to stop such an occurrence was held accountable. In fact, some were promoted or otherwise rewarded with eventual windfalls. And George the Younger got to blow through a bullhorn, play dress up, and finish off Iraq. Tenet got a shiny medal for “fixing intelligence”.



    I highly recommend the following books:

    9/11 and the American Empire: Intellectuals Speak Out (edited by David Ray Griffin and Peter Dale Scott)

    The New Pearl Harbor Revisited: 9/11, the Coverup, and the Expose (D. Griffin)

    America’s “War on Terrorism” (Mchel Chossudovsky)

    The War on Truth: 9/11, Disinformation, and the Anatomy of Terrorism (Nafeez Ahmed)

    Black 9/11: Money, Motive, and Technology (Mark Gaffney)

    Visas for Al Qaeda: CIA Handouts that Rocked the World (J. Michael Springmann)

    Disconnecting the Dots: How CIA and FBI officials helped enable 9/11 and evaded government investigations (Kevin Fenton)

    Another Nineteen: Investigating Legitimate 9/11 Suspects (K. Ryan)

    The 2001 Anthrax Deception: the case for a domestic conspiracy (G. MacQueen)

    Conspiracy Theory in America (Lance deHaven-Smith)


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