Sunday, 11 September 2011

Sunday Supplement: On a significant anniversary

September 11th 2001 was a day like any other that summer. I was 19 and bored; in eight days I would be going to University. I probably should have been out working to earn the extra pennies that could have offset the inevitable debt university would accrue, but instead, like most of my friends, I was at home watching the lunchtime screening of Neighbours.

It ended at 14.05 BST and instead of going into whatever should have followed - probably Flying Doctors or Diagnosis: Murder. Instead, in an act of forethought that still amazes me, the BBC patched straight through to New York to report on a plane having hitting a building. (When I was 12 or 13 the IRA bombed Canary Wharf, the force of the blast shaking our windows a mile or two away. That day it took 56 minutes until we heard the first news report on the radio.) All that afternoon I sat in front of the television, transfixed by what was happening. To be there at a significant moment, was, I confess, exciting. In those days, I held strong anti-capitalist views, and couldn't help but see this as a possible first strike in a backlash against rampant global capitalism.

One of the vulnerabilities that most ideologically driven people exhibit is a tendency to put ideas before people. That is why communism went wrong, why the French Revolution led to bloodshed, why revolutions of the head scare me. Looking back, I'm ashamed that I did not see 9/11 as the crime against human life that it was. Where violence happens, and people suffer, political association doesn't matter. That stands for all the violence those events ten years ago precipitated, too. (I read an article in The Observer today in which Jimmy Carter claimed the thing he is most proud of in his premiership is that he did not commit to any wars. If only Bush had reacted with as much common sense to 9/11 as Carter did to Iran, though I am aware they are not directly correlated events.)

But I must avoid the temptation to get political. 9/11 was a significant day in my life. But not as significant as it was for Megan, who then worked for a Congressman on Capitol Hill in Washington DC and genuinely didn't know whether there was another plain coming for the. (United 93 was probably on course either for the White House or the Capitol). 9/11 and all that followed - ideologically polarisation, militarisation, anthrax and so on - led Megan to lose interest in politics and increased her determination to leave the US. For all those effected by 9/11, both then and in the decade since, I hope today provides a suitable memorial and that we can begin to move on from its aftereffects.

There's a passage of dialogue in Don Delillo's Falling Man that I'd like to end with.

 “He said, “It still looks like an accident, the first one. Even from this distance, way outside the thing, how many days later, I’m standing here thinking it’s an accident.”
“Because it has to be.”
“It has to be,” he said.
“The way the camera sort of shows surprise.”
“But only the first one.”
“Only the first,” she said.
“The second plane, by the time the second plane appears,” he said, “we’re all a little older and wiser.” 

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