9/11 and me

This is one anniversary where I do remember exactly what I was doing – an outpatient clinic, on the Tuesday afternoon. The charge nurse kept coming through to say the plane had hit, then the second plane – at which point, like everyone else, I knew it was something big – and then, unbelievably, the towers had collapsed. I said that was impossible, she must be mistaken, but by this point the mood in the whole clinic was pretty sombre. When I got back to the ward, one patient, an American tourist was standing crying as he watched the TV.

All bad, and it was obvious that day that Afghanistan was going to get it, which I completely approved off, rightly or wrongly. By the time Iraq came around, I had a vague idea that getting rid of all the bad guys seemed desirable, but, as discussed on previous posts, I didn’t then believe a word Blair said, particularly the drivel about WMD. It still amazes me to this day that many people did.

Reading the reminiscences of Guardian readers this week, it is remarkable how many were deeply upset, not just for the loss of life, but as much for the fact that whether they would normally admit it, the world’s “good” superpower, our ultimate protector, truth be told, was being damaged.

Within a few days of course the usual pathetic anti-Americanism reared its head, most notably on the notorious BBC Question Time which followed. For a brief time though, reflexive slagging off of America seemed a luxury that even the bien-pensant class could no longer afford.  By a  few years later it was all our own  fault, naturally. It was striking how similar such views, full of middle class self-loathing, are to those expressed to me by a Libyan colleague, who’d been “turned” by the fundamentalists after a disastrous short-lived arranged marriage had wrecked his confidence. As he put it: “it was terrible what happened to those people in the towers, but they deserved it because of America’s behaviour”. The 10 year anniversary Question Time  a few days ago revealed just how entrenched this sort of  “intelligent moron” thinking is, in a free and open democracy.

Anyway, Knife reading recommendations are The Looming Tower by Lawrence Wright, for the build up to 9/11 and its immediate aftermath, and Dexter Filkins’ stupendous The Forever War, which roams through the wars that followed, and their background. Filkins’ experience is astonishing. He happened to be in New York that day, and made it to the scene:

The image I still remember is from Ground Zero the first day: I was standing in what had been a traffic intersection, except all the buildings were gone. The ruins of the World Trade Center burned and belched a few feet away. And there in the street, spread out across the watery rubble, was a human intestine.


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