It’s been ten years since the worst terrorist atrocity in history was perpetuated, against the United States and on US soil, on 11 September 2001. Do you remember where you were? And what does it mean today?
I remember it well; it was back in my single-boy days, and I’d been watching late-night television on Channel 7 whilst having a few beers on the evening of 11 September 2001.
Having fallen asleep in front of the TV, I woke on Wednesday September 12 at about 6am AEST (or about 3pm on September 11, New York time) to see images of Boeing 767s and 757s being flown into buildings in and near New York on the still-running TV set. “America Under Attack!” the news ticker said.
I thought I was dreaming, but I wasn’t; thought I was drunk, but instantly realised that was impossible. This was real: and had it taken me 15 minutes longer to fall asleep the previous night I wouldn’t have slept at all — I would have seen the start of it and watched the footage all night.
I got angry; very angry, very quickly.
What had transpired was an absolute affront to everything that was decent, civilised, and that was right.
I thought — as did many people in those first few days — that it had been an act by another country against the United States — possibly Iraq — and in absolute fury, remember a conversation with “a friend” in which I urged that representations be made for a colossal retaliatory nuclear strike to be undertaken against the culprit nation the instant it had been conclusively identified.
I quickly calmed down (nobody sane really wants nukes used, and there’s enough of a threat of it from fruit cakes like Kim Jong-Il without anyone rational adding to that).
Yet for a time, many people thought World War III might have begun; a prospect — with tens of thousands of multi-megaton nuclear warheads in the world with which to fight it — that was and is too terrible to contemplate.
People were nonetheless jumpy, even here in Australia; I can remember going to a football finals match at the MCG a few days after the US attacks to watch Carlton play; it felt like a footy crowd and everyone was into the game, but there was an odd mood around the ground, as if people were wondering “we’re assembled here, 80,000 of us, are we a target?”
And the media outlet I worked for at the time (in advertising) quarantined its reception area every morning whilst staff donned masks and gloves to open the day’s mail: lest some half-bake had sent anthrax powder in material posted to the organisation.
As we know, it was eventually established that Al-Qaeda operatives under the direction of Osama bin Laden, trained in terrorist camps in Afghanistan and Pakistan, who were the perpetrators — and as I remarked wryly at the time to another “friend” there’s no point trying to nuke a chicken coop.
But thus was born the War On Terror; Afghanistan was invaded and swiftly overrun by US forces; its disgusting Taliban regime overthrown for the time being, but never completely vanquished.
An intelligence dossier prepared by the Labour government of Tony Blair — arguing conclusive evidence that weapons of mass destruction were stockpiled in Iraq by Saddam Hussein — quickly led to the invasion and conquest of that country by US and allied forces.
It was later shown that Blair’s dossier was, to put it politely, predicated on falsehoods.
The USA and its “Coalition of the Willing” had acted on it in good faith.
But a military action of that nature cannot be undone, and subsequently and consequently US efforts switched to the trial of Saddam for crimes against humanity, for which he was executed; and to the reconstruction of Iraq as a continuing nation-state and member of the international community.
In regard to Saddam, despite the means, I have only two words: good riddance.
And on reflection on more recent developments, the fact US Special Forces blew Osama bin Laden’s head off — and his brain into chunks on the ground, reportedly — is something I approve of wholeheartedly. Again, good riddance.
In the years since, there have been other terrorist outrages that have been perpetrated (for instance, the Bali bombings and the London Underground bombings) as well as others that have been foiled (such as the episode in which Air France planes worldwide were grounded, lest they be exploded mid-flight over oceans).
Tony Blair is gone, as is George W. Bush; our own John Howard — proclaimed by Bush as a “Man of Steel” is also now an element of political history.
And history is likely to judge all three men very differently.
Bush — a figure of national ridicule before he was ever elected as President, and yet paradoxically an overwhelmingly popular Governor of Texas — left office amid recession in America, a time of corporate meltdowns and business failures, and of diminishing US prestige outside the Western world.
Yet as time goes on, Bush is likely to be viewed more favourably; his actions in response to what we all know as “9/11” define and will define his presidency; and as the contemporary memory of his failures or otherwise as a domestic President fade, I believe his standing will increase as the leader who answered an existential threat to his country — and delivered.
I don’t believe history will treat Tony Blair so well; the domestic legacy in Britain of his government is already being discredited, that process ably assisted by its continuation under his successor — and Chancellor of the Exchequer — Gordon Brown, before their government finally fell to the Conservative Party last year.
In foreign policy, Blair will be forever stained by what has come to be known as “the dossier;” indeed, who can forget watching Blair’s press conferences on foreign policy in 2002, most sentences of which commenced with the word “Saddam.”
There has been and will be accusation and counter-accusation, but those who opposed a war in Iraq need to look in the direction of one Anthony Charles Lynton Blair — and not at George Walker Bush, however inconvenient, painful and heretical that change of perspective might be for some.
And John Howard was bound, let us not forget, by various defence treaties and alliances.
There are many on the Left who actually think Australia is a superpower; a country whose voice — if words alone were used — makes other countries around the globe quiver in their boots.
We live in a great country; a free, fair and relatively prosperous one; I believe it to be the best place on Earth in which to live and I love it.
But there is a world elsewhere, populated by friend and foe alike, and whether convenient or acceptable or desirable for some, we are dependent on stronger friends for our security.
Standing shoulder to shoulder with our allies in the US, Canada, the UK and so forth is not only what we had to do; it is also what we should have done. If the fateful day ever arrives and Australia needs help, Australia will need her friends.
And how has 9/11 changed our world?
Our airports and our aviation industry are supposedly far more secure, and here in Australia our major airports at least certainly are.
But go to any one of a number of regional airports — Mildura, for example, where you can walk off a plane, across the tarmac and around to the front of the terminal building without going through the terminal — and you just wonder.
I did just that in Mildura in late 2009, because half the passengers from my flight headed off that way, and being the frightened flyer I am I wanted the quickest walk to a post-flight cigarette I could take.
But if we could walk out that way unimpeded, who could just walk in?
It’s a scenario just as relevant in other Australian airports and, I dare say, around the world.
Passports are more secure, using biometric technology, which isn’t a bad thing at all, but does it help?
And have our intelligence services and those of our Allies improved to the extent that a repeat of the Blair-induced Iraq debacle can never be repeated?
I’ve been looking with great interest at the progress of construction on the old World Trade Center site in recent weeks. Forgive me the brief use of US English, but it seems appropriate.
There’s a magnificent precinct being constructed in Manhattan to replace the buildings lost in 9/11; the architectural impressions of the buildings are stunning, and the project is being done respectfully in memory of that terrible event which transpired ten years ago.
Yet I gather New York will never be the same; and it’s understandable. That legendarily-reputed fine town is next on our travel list, and I can’t wait to go.
I’m told New Yorkers have resumed their usual way of life (read: “Our town is the center of the universe!”) but that under the surface, real angst and apprehension remains that one day — maybe even on 11 September this year, in a few days’ time — the whole thing could happen again.
But what transpired in New York on September 11, 2001 — at the cost of some 3,000 lives and the traumatisation of hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of others — has fundamentally changed the way we live.
Even here in Australia, and even now.
And probably for as long as our free Western society exists.
I’d love to hear what readers think: what their memories are, where they were, what they were doing, and what their thoughts on the whole chain of events 9/11 unleashed might be.
But above all, shut your eyes, and think about the world. How do you feel about it now, compared to the way you felt about it ten years ago?
In your own mind, with all the noise shut out, how do you feel about the world?
Or, if it applies to your headspace, does it make no difference at all?
I thought it right to talk about this a few days prior to the actual anniversary so people can think about it a little.
And in closing, I would like to say, Lest We Forget, the thousands of civilians and emergency service workers who lost their lives in buildings and on planes in New York, and in Washington, and in Pennsylvania that day, is a tragedy we should all remember.
And remember that it’s a warning, too: as thoroughly and genuinely good as most people are, there are evil specimens in the ranks of humankind, and likely capable of far worse than what transpired on that faultlessly beautiful Autumn day in New York ten years ago.
What do you think?