The 11th of September

On the fifth anniversary of the attacks, I thought I would write a post about my memories of that day. This is partly because it is really the first news story in my life where I might be asked the question, “where were you when you heard…?” Well, there was Princess Diana’s death, but I couldn’t give two shits about that, and it’s a really boring story anyway: I was in bed and my brother was in my room because he wanted to play the PlayStation.

When the attacks happened I was sitting in a classroom waiting for the most dreaded subject to be taught to us. German Writing, the worst subject I have ever had by a country mile. It got so bogged down in mundane technical stuff like grammar and suchlike that they actually separated it from the rest of German.

But ten minutes had gone since the period started, and there were no scrawls on the whiteboard. Our teacher went in between our classroom and the staff room sporadically. Eventually, one of the times he came back into the classroom, he did so while wheeling in a television. Needless to say, we weren’t going to be taught any German Writing that day.

He said something to the effect of: “I just want to show you this, because this is going to have some major implications for foreign policy in the future…” He explained that planes had crashed into the Pentagon. That scared me a bit, because I thought if the Pentagon’s been destroyed, how can the USA defend itself?

I guess in hindsight the really important defence work (as opposed to paper-pushing, which I guess is what the Pentagon is for) is probably done 300 miles underground and not in a big distinctive, conspicuous building which practically has a pentagonal sign saying “bomb me” written on it.

But the pictures on the television were showing a very fuzzy shot of the World Trade Centre from long distance. Our teacher chose to show us ITV News’ coverage, which seemed to be a bit poor to me, not that I could see what the BBC were showing at the time. By the time we started watching one of the towers had collapsed. I didn’t know what the World Trade Centre was, and I remember just thinking, “what’s that?; it’s just a tall building”.

Then, still on the same long-distance, shaky shot, we saw the building collapse. The feeling in the room was that the collapse was a bit of a foregone conclusion. We’d already heard that a building had collapsed, and I wasn’t sure if I was watching delayed footage of the first collapse or what. If I recall correctly we were initially told that the building had 20,000–30,000 people working in it, which made the enormity of the situation sink in. Never mind the fact that the actual figure ended up being around a tenth of that.

Over the course of the coverage we began to piece together what happened. One of my classmates in particular had real trouble understanding it. He could just about understand that somebody had hijacked a plane. He could just about understand that a plane had crashed into a building. But he had real difficulty comprehending the fact that somebody would hijack a plane then deliberately crash it into a building. We all laughed at him, but I guess his was in some ways the most reasonable reaction: disbelief.

That was my last class of the day, so I went on my way home still thinking that the proper big event of the day was the Pentagon crash. Although we’d seen pictures of the World Trade Centre collapsing, the picture was poor and it really just looked like a tall building falling down.

When I got home I found my parents watching the BBC — my father had coincidentally taken the day off work. I stayed glued to the coverage until about 6pm. It was those later pictures taken from the ground, of fast-approaching dust clouds and hysterical pedestrians, that really made the horror of the situation sink in.

The endless repetition of those pictures could have lessened the long-term power of the images. In some ways I think they have, but the images are so unique that it’s still shocking to see the fast-approaching dust cloud engulfing the bus station and suchlike. I noticed that radio has its own way of reminding you of the situation: a sound clip of a rumble and somebody shouting “holy shit!” Even though there are no pictures, you don’t need to be told what that clip is of.

The following week felt very scary. But I think today is more dangerous than the 12th of September 2001. It might have been different with wiser leaders. Instead, over the past five years our leaders have repeatedly stuck our cocks into hornets’ nests — 77% agree.

It’s not just fear of a terrorist attack or worrying over the situation in the Middle East. It’s the fact that our civil liberties are being eroded to the point where you can be stopped under anti-terror laws for taking photographs or walking on cycle paths. What’s the point in preaching to the rest of the world about freedom?

In some ways it’s difficult to believe that the attacks happened five years ago. In other ways I feel as though I was so young at the time. I’ve lived a quarter of my life in a post-9/11 world, which is mind-boggling to me.

Update: Cynical Chatter From The Underworld: Five Years On:

For days, if not weeks, the USA was in a powerful position, as one French newspaper put it, “we are all Americans today”. America was the underdog, a wounded one at that, but its leadership squandered the good will.

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